Mad Men gets ready for a sentimental finale

Mike Colonna, Staff Writer

“Are you ready?  Because I want you to pay attention.  This is the beginning of something.”  These are the first words of Mad Men’s seventh season premiere.  In a way, they signal a change in direction for the show’s characters, who are constantly in flux, starting new lives and experiencing things they have never encountered before.  Yet, it does not feel like the beginning of the end for Don Draper.  It feels like the beginning of a new life.

Mad Men follows Sterling Cooper & Partners, a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the 1960s.  Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a founding partner of SC&P, is the show’s protagonist.  His alcoholism and promiscuity are infamous as Mad Men staples. Megan (Jessica Paré), his much younger wife, is an aspiring actor, living in California at the time of the season premiere.

The show dives deep into his connections with not only his internally crumbling family, but also his coworkers and clients.  Alongside Don in the office are Roger (John Slattery), Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), Joan (Christina Hendricks), and many others, each character driving the show with complex human emotions and situations.  These situations usually begin with characters erring and sinning as they go, always reminding us that humanity is never perfect.

When we left Don in season six, he was at the lowest point of his career.  As SC&P begins expanding nationally, Don is put on mandatory leave by his partners due to irresponsible behavior.  This premiere gives us new hope for Don.  Despite a constantly on-the-rocks marriage with Megan, Don shows genuine interest in repairing the remains of their relationship.  This is the most reflective the audience has seen Don in a long time, as his absence from work has clearly given him time to think about his actions.

The season’s final shot of him sitting on his balcony, alone in the cold, gives the audience a sense of his realization of the wrongs he has committed, that he is attempting to punish himself, and that he will change his ways.

The series as well spends time catching up with other characters in the premiere.  Moss, as Peggy, gives a surprisingly powerful performance in the episode, as she relates to a strong-willed woman, shunned by a former lover and increasingly isolated in the workspace coming to grips with her real and shocking loneliness.  Slattery, on the other hand, eases the tension as the common laid-back, hilarious Roger (who wakes up naked in a smoke-filled room with a bunch of similarly unclothed hippies in this episode).  His bewilderment at his daughter’s attempt to reconcile the hostility between them is extremely consistent to his character, as tragic as it is.  Her interplay with Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Stanton) reveals both her increasing confidence and her quick wits.  Each character is set up for what should be a bracingly powerful final season.

The door truly feels open for each character of Mad Men’s large and critically acclaimed cast.  The premiere gives us hope for the future, and as well reminds us that each character has a long way to go before their problems can be resolved.  Even though the 1960s are coming to a close, it really does feel like the beginning of something.