Although I had hoped for something more from Mad Men‘s final season premiere, it did not completely let the viewer down. Firstly, we all would have appreciated a 2-hour premiere to get the ball rolling — which I think could have remedied my next point, which is that this episode was nothing special. It seemed just like any old episode of Mad Men, a middle-of-the-season episode if you will. Partially the writers were forced into making the premiere like this because the Season 6 finale left lots of plot points to be explained, and consequently the writers were playing a game of catch-up.
However, playing catch-up is no excuse for writing the same story lines over and over. For example, nothing happens to Peggy in this episode. She’s creatively frustrated — what else is new? Then there’s Joan. Now, Joan must be my favorite female character in Mad Men, but the way her character pursues her goals has always been somewhat passive, which was exemplified once again in this episode in her hunt for Butler Shoes. And what about Megan or Roger? What about Don, whose life is falling apart — again. For all of these characters, it was the same old, same 0ld. Will we see something new for them in the coming season? I can’t be sure from this premiere, although I have the utmost faith that the writers will make something of each of them. However, this episode did not set the tone that I hoped it would have for character development.
Though, even admitting that Roger is once again portrayed as a hedonist and nothing more, I particularly enjoyed all of his scenes in this episode. In fact, I thought that they were fantastic. He is now for all intents and purposes living in some girl’s apartment, where anyone and anything is welcome. These scenes there are wonderful as his eyes look particularly vacant; he just doesn’t care anymore, he doesn’t know how. This is highlighted during his Sunday brunch with Margaret, where he continues trying to throw money at the problem. He doesn’t know how to love, live, or exist. He just goes through the motions, oblivious to the consequences until they’ve caught up with him. Despite this storyline being Roger’s perpetual storyline, I will never stop loving his character. He’s entertaining, and I believe an accurate depiction of many business men during this time period. Moreover, John Slattery is a brilliant actor and brings Roger Sterling to life in a way that many could not.
Pete Campbell was also a joy to see in this premiere. His character is going places — and you can tell. Pete Campbell is the master of the small game; he quickly figures out exactly how to fit in, gain power, and get what he wants in every situation. This is proven to be true when we see how well acclimated to California he is — or, at least, how well acclimated Pete Campbell ever can be. I had doubts as to whether his character would assimilate, but he did it. He knows the local slang at the restaurant, dresses like a true-Californian, and even wants to enjoy every moment of his life. His antithesis is embodied in Ted, who never goes outside and constantly works. He was the one in Season 6 who chose to go to California to fix his marriage, so I would have thought he would have tried vehemently to embrace the Pacific lifestyle. Yet, he didn’t. So, does this forebode a continued romance between himself and Peggy? Only time will tell. Either way, I am excited to see just what this season has in store for both Ted and Pete.
Last, but certainly not least, Don Draper. Although his character is following the same old patterns, I was pleased with him in this first episode. It was not all that I had hoped for; I had wished for a tidbit more drama and an explanation of what happened with his children when he took them to Pennsylvania, but that can certainly be left for future episodes. What I liked most about Don in this episode was that you could really see him struggling to be out of work, out of stimulation. This is emphasized in his bi-coastal lifestyle. He continues to travel back and forth in search of something, but he can never find a place for himself in either life. In California, he is unwanted by Megan — sleeping on the couch one night and begrudgingly in the bed the next. He also buys her a TV, hoping that this would not only please her, but bring back something of their old life together. However, this angers her as he just doesn’t understand what it’s like to live without money, illustrating how he thinks money can buy happiness. Back in New York, the writers really hit their point over the head. When Don’s balcony door won’t shut, it is apparent that he is stuck between two worlds. Literally, he’s stuck between the outside and inside because the door won’t shut. He’s also stuck between the worlds of New York and California. However, the more important note is that he’s stuck between who he was raised as and who he made himself into; he’s stuck in his own lies and impulses. So, although the writers make this point quite blatant, I think it was an important point to make in the season premiere because this final season will necessarily resolve that tension somehow.
Overall, I think this season shows promise. Certainly, this episode could have done more with the characters and brought us a little more drama and intrigue, but it sets the tone for the season clearly. This season is about Don and how his life will resolve itself. The rest of the characters that we know and love, while developing somewhat further, will mostly be left to the wayside. I hope beyond hope that this final season of Mad Men closes brilliantly, and from this premiere I think the potential is there to do just that.