by K.M. Zahrt
If it seems like it has been an entire year since “Why Watch the Final Season of Mad Men?” appeared on Michiganders Post, it’s because it has been — one year exactly. But, here we are, once again, in the throws of the Mad Men fervor, careening toward what promises to be an epic conclusion to a beloved series. (Is “beloved” too over-dramatic for a television show? Maybe for some, but just dramatic enough for this one.)
Nearly one year since the mid-season finale aired in May of 2014 (and thank goodness there wasn’t a Breaking Bad-style cliffhanger to make the interim wait torturous), we are now only one regular episode and one lengthy season/series finale away from never being able to watch a Mad Men episode for the first time again.
Thus, it’s time to pause, to reflect on our journey and savor what’s left of it.
Early in the series, as I pointed out in Part 1, “the praised historical element of the show weaved throughout the narrative seamlessly.” The costume design and the sets served as interesting surroundings for these intriguing characters, whose lives were often subtly informed by the times with the occasional disruption of a major historical event. That was a large part of the show’s attraction (that and Don Draper), at least it was for me, because it feels the most real. On a daily basis, social and cultural contexts subconsciously inform our thoughts and actions more than we’re aware (and probably more than we care to know), and it’s only a sprinkling of major events that form our shared memories — the “Where were you when (fill in the blank)?” moments. But then, during the middle seasons, the “historical element of the show was forced to the forefront only to demonstrate how it worked better as a backdrop.”
But, my friends, the balance has returned to the Mad Men Universe. Although the timeline has moved the characters into a different decade — with sets and costumes and ridiculous facial hair all appropriately du jour — there’s too much story left to tell in the final episodes to focus heavily on historical context.
Our beloved Don Draper (I’ll use that word again, consarnit) arises from the ashes of the first half of Season 7, not to return to former glory, but to reemerge as someone at once renewed yet recognizably changed. Unfortunately, he does so only in time to see that the landscape has shifted and has pulled the fashionable rug right out from under him, everyone else at the firm, and the firm itself.
With two episodes remaining, the character arcs are developing to full maturity, and it feels somehow like the journey is coming full circle while feeling like we’ll never be returning to where we started. And, that feels real again.
I wasn’t even offended when, in Episode 12 “Lost Horizon,” the Miller Brewing Company comes to New York to discuss their advertising campaign for their new “diet beer” and describes their target audience (Midwestern men) as mid-brow managers who only care to drink beer and cut their grass, and if they could only control their lager-enlarged midsections, they’d be living the American dream. Not offended in the slightest.
Lately, my favorite character has been Pete Campbell, whose age has outgrown his snobby, rich-kid childishness only to make his perceived afflictions even more laughable. When, for example, Don shows up for a golf outing with a client — and Pete, clad in plaid pants, points out that Don is inappropriately dressed — Don says, “I’ll take off my jacket and roll up my sleeves. They’ll love it.” “They probably will,” Pete replies, storming out of the room in frustration. It’s pure comic relief.
God, it’s getting good, again. The show is peaking, perhaps reaching for its highest peak, at the right moment. If the biggest downfall for series finales is the high expectations, Mad Men might be in danger of the largest letdown we’ve seen in a long time. I hope not, because I’m now back on the edge of my sofa, waiting as anxiously for the next episode as my wife has waited for each and every one.