The first half of Mad Men‘s seventh season wrapped up last Sunday and it has set the bar high for 7b, to be aired in 2015. While it’s a long wait we’re not left in such an excruciating place as AMC’s other show Breaking Bad left viewers in back in 2012; instead 7a felt like a well-rounded mini-season of the show, consisting of seven wonderful episodes, some of which rank among the series’ best. At the start of the season we found Don Draper pretty much where we left him after the sixth season: he’s on paid leave because of his fatalistic confession during the meeting with Hershey’s. Don being Don though, he’s told no one about his circumstances and keeps up appearances toward his wife Megan, ex-wife Betty and his children. Without spoiling anything, Don wouldn’t be Don if he wouldn’t try to come out on top and that’s what 7a is mostly about: does Don have what it takes to become the top dog of agency SC&P once again?
This simple and immediately compelling premise gives way to many greater questions though, which eventually cause Don to reevaluate a lot of things in his life. Are Megan and he in a good place? How do his children view him? Is a future in advertising really what he wants? Set against the backdrop of the late ’60s these questions get tackled in an interesting way, giving us a more vulnerable, kind and human Don Draper than we’ve seen in quite some time. The other characters have just as much to do: Peggy is struggling with her new position at the firm, Roger has problems of a more personal nature, and because of bi-coastal nature of the new agency, Pete and Ted are trying to build up their lives in sunny Los Angeles. All these threads come together in organic and tantalizing ways, leading to some of the best moments of development for Mad Men‘s characters and their often complicated dynamics. The outings ‘Strategy’ and ‘Waterloo’ in particular rival some of the show’s best moments and episodes; ‘The Suitcase’ and ‘The Wheel’ respectively.
Given AMC’s decision to split the season into two, making for one larger season or two smaller seasons depending on how you look at it, showrunner Matthew Weiner and his team of writers must be commended for delivering such a tight and self-contained arc that flows beautifully from season 6 and ends on an interesting and strong note similar to season 5’s finale ‘The Phantom’, with Don seemingly at a crossroads again, but one of an entirely different nature. It’s a moment that revels both in Mad Men‘s more whimsical nature, as well as in its darker subcurrent of unpredictability and impending doom the series frequently goes back to. It’s a moment that may split audiences and will leave viewers guessing, but mostly it just makes you look forward to the last seven episodes 7b has to offer before this iconic show comes to an end.
Mad Men‘s final season’s first half was marvelous: wonderfully written, beautifully acted, artfully directed and shot, it gave fans everything they’ve come to love about the show. 9/10