Why Watch the Final Season of Mad Men?

by K.M. Zahrt

This isn’t a spoiler. If you aren’t up to date with the latest episode of AMC’s Mad Men, don’t worry. If nothing else, I’ll make the case that you should tune in for this, the first half of the first half of the seventh and final season. I put it that way because, following the success of Breaking Bad‘s final season, which was split into two blocks of eight episodes that aired nearly a full year apart, this victory lap for Mad Men will follow the same format.

Much ado has been made in the media outlets about the weak ratings of this season’s premiere, “shedding 1.1 million viewers” since last season (Toomer, Huffington Post, April 14, 2014). Almost in the same sentence, these reports counter that with what feels like fans making excuses for the low ratings: “Mad Men has never been able to attract the amount of viewers fellow AMC shows The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad commanded, but it normally performs pretty steadily in the ratings department.”

From my experience as a viewer, the first two seasons were the most interesting. At that time, the show was new and fresh with a magnetic quality that won over my interest like Don Draper closing on a client. In the early episodes, the praised historical element of the show weaved throughout the narrative seamlessly. In season three, that magic seemed to fade, but was still strong enough to carry interest from seasons one and two.

Throughout seasons four, five, and (most of) six, it seemed as though Mad Men was inching toward the all-too-long list of former TV hits that tried to make their moment in the sun last longer and got burned. Although season six had a sprinkling of really interesting episodes, you wouldn’t need a full hand of fingers to count them all. As for the rest of the episodes from seasons four through six, let me sum them up for you: So-and-so is mad at so-and-so for such-and-such, and Don is being a mysterious douche bag, but so-and-so will eventually settle the score or get over it, and we won’t remember all that much about it once the next season starts. Also, as the plots seemed to lose direction, that historical element of the show was forced to the forefront only to demonstrate how it worked better as a backdrop.

During those years, I kept watching largely because it was something I did with my wife, but it’s likely I would’ve dropped the show from my queue entirely if that wasn’t the case. There seems to be some evidence to suggest my experience wasn’t isolated. According to Rick Kissell at Variety, “Mad Men’s ratings peak to date was its fifth-season premiere in March 2012 — the first episode of the show in 17 months — which drew 3.54 million and a 1.2 rating in adults 18-49″ (April 14, 2014). And, I would guess, the low ratings of the seventh season premiere were a result of a steady drop-off of regular viewers ever since.

But, new and lapsed viewers alike, I assure you there’s good reason to come back for this season. That magnetic, magical quality that Don once had is long gone, which ironically makes for good TV once again as he tries to deal with the post-Don Draper, alcoholic, has-been who he is now.

You don’t even have to catch up on anything you missed in seasons four through six. Here’s all you need to know:

  1. Don is in trouble with his latest wife, Megan, because she quit her soap-opera acting gig because Don said he was going to move to the firm’s L.A. branch, but…
  2. Don got in trouble with his partners at the firm, who unanimously put Don on an indefinite, paid leave (that worm, Pete Campbell, got sent instead and Megan moved to L.A. without Don to continue her acting career), and…
  3. Don did not tell his family that he has been put on leave.

So, jump in and catch up on the first half of the first half of the final season of Mad Man. And, once you do, listen to this great interview with creator Matthew Weiner from NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Weiner discusses a few key elements of these episodes in depth (spoiler alert).

And, finally, if Mad Man follows directly in Breaking Bad‘s footsteps, we’ll likely see a shocking cliffhanger at the end of episode seven, causing the break before the final half of the final season to feel excruciating. You won’t want to miss out on all the buzz surrounding that anticipation.

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