TV Club

Mad Men season 7 preview: Slate’s TV Club dissects each new episode.

Why I’ve reached a Zen-like state about the end of Mad Men.

Mad Men Season 7
Rich Sommer as Harry Crane, Jay R. Ferguson as Stan Rizzo, Aaron Staton as Ken Cosgrove, Kevin Rahm as Ted Chaough, and Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson in Mad Men.*

Photo by Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Dear Hanna and Julia,

I found myself playing a little parlor game in my head last night: What if Matthew Weiner decides he just isn’t ready to abandon the world of Mad Men quite yet, and, inspired by Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan, embarks on a prequel project? What might that look like? I came up with a few elevator pitches:

Better Call Paul: A new series takes us back to 1962 and chronicles Paul Kinsey’s fateful journey to Mississippi to register black voters. Kinsey’s passion for the stage, and mohair, are explored.

Better Call Sal: We follow Sterling Cooper’s sorely missed design director, Salvatore Romano, as he breaks into the graphic design game in his native Baltimore. Michael K. Williams co-stars as a bellhop/unrequited love interest.

Better Call Parkhurst Hall: Pete Campbell’s Dartmouth days.

Better Call Blankenship: Before there was Joan, there was Ida. John Slattery reprises his role as incorrigible secretary snogger Roger Sterling. (It turns out his hair was always that white.) Chris Hemsworth plays a young Bert Cooper.

I think you’ll both agree that these are all very promising ideas. And yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I am ready for Mad Men to be over. We’ve been living with these tortured souls since the summer of 2007. In the nearly eight years since the pilot aired, I got married, had a child, and revealed to my wife and colleagues that my real name is Jim Emerson and I speak hobo. It’s time.

This is not to say that I’m uncurious about how Matthew Weiner will tie this whole thing off. I am extremely curious. But I am pleasantly, uncomplicatedly, happily curious. In the past, the arrival of a new Mad Men season often filled me with a less pleasant range of emotions, straight out of the Don Draper psychological work-up: fear, anxiety, self-loathing. Would the series live up to my ever-growing expectations? Would it prove itself worthy of the kind of critical scrutiny my hero Ken Cosgrove reserves for the short fiction of the Atlantic Monthly? Would Mad Men prove to be more than As the World Turns in impeccable period dress? Would it make the Big World Event Clearly On The Horizon—the Kennedy assassination, the British Invasion, the invention of Cool Whip—come alive, or choke the life out of it with heavy-handed historical irony? Why had I devoted so much time to this series when I could have been writing in my journal or swimming laps at the sports club, like the briefly clean-living Don Draper of Season 4? Oh, and: WHAT YEAR WILL WE BE IN WHEN THE SHOW PICKS BACK UP? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHAT YEAR WILL IT BE?

Today, however, I stand before you a saner television viewer. Julia, in your preview post before Season 7, Part 1: The Desolation of Chaough, you pointed out that, for all its historical and high-literary trappings, what Mad Men has truly excelled at is “finding drama in small moments.” The show is at its best, you wrote, when it’s “emotionally incisive, tracking the subtly shifting psychic terrain of an ad executive who hates his interior office, or a dad taking his kid to a movie that’s too grown up for him on the day after MLK gets shot.” I completely agree, and it’s those moments that I’m looking forward to in this final run of episodes, more so than any specific plot development—Peggy finally getting a job worthy of her talent (though that would be nice!)—or any depiction of a specific historical event: Roger dropping tabs at Woodstock, Harry Crane buying media time against The Brady Brunch, Roger dropping tabs at Altamont. As fun as it was to see Roger swoop in and save SCDP in episode 7—a now somewhat familiar deus ex machina moment from this series—the sequences I enjoyed most in the first half of this final season were quieter, smaller, more private, like Don’s halting efforts to be a better mentor to Peggy and father to Sally. I just want a little more of that. I don’t need the series to arrive at some grand statement about the soullessness of our consumer culture or the duplicity that lurks within us all. I would take one more great dance scene though.

And just for old times’ sake: I happen to know that this season will take place in 1970. How do I know? Because in the typically cryptic teaser trailer for the final episodes, Harry Crane is seen brandishing the keys to a ’69 Camaro. And Matthew Weiner is totally the kind of guy who shows you a ’69 Camaro so you’ll think the final seven episodes, like the first seven, take place in 1969 when in fact, because of a problem with the carburetors on the Chevy assembly line, the ’69 Camaro actually didn’t hit the streets until February, 1970. (N.B.: I have no idea if this is actually true, but I’m sure something like it is true, and that my logic is airtight. 1970, I tell you. 1970.)

Julia, Hanna: How are you feeling as the end draws nigh? Have you reached something like my Zen-like state? Or are you filled with dread? Julia, after episode 7, you pointed out that all of our heroes were up and all the villains were down, and you expressed concern that, in the topsy-turvy Mad Men world, surely nothing gold can stay. Are you still worried that our favorite characters are primed for that fall we see each week in the opening credits? Hanna, what’s on your wish list for this final half-season? What would be a satisfying end for the career women we root for (Peggy and Joan) and the hilariously horrid homemaker we jeer (Betty)?

Very much looking forward to taking these final pitch meetings with you guys. Let’s go sell some burgers.

Read the next entry, by Hanna Rosin.

*Correction, April 2, 2015: Due to a production error, the photo caption in this article originally misspelled Aaron Staton’s last name.