July 19th 2007 was the day the world was first introduced to Don Draper, a silver-tongued and mysterious ad man living and loving hard in the NYC of the 1960s. The show was AMC’s Mad Men, created by The Sopranos writer Matthew Weiner, a series that would quickly be considered one of TV’s best. Not only did the show grant viewers a fascinating glimpse at a compelling period in time – showcasing the morals, politics, tastes and troubles of an era -, but first and foremost it worked as a beautifully constructed and intelligently written drama about the personal and professional lives of its colorful and diverse cast of characters. Now, after seven seasons and 92 episodes that spanned an entire decade, Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men has come to an end, going out entirely on its own terms.
After having watched the second half of Mad Men‘s seventh season, one thing is abundantly clear: both halves of Season 7 clearly have their own identity. While they compliment each other tremendously and both 7a and 7b function flawlessly as parts in an on-going story, Season 7b’s themes are much different: 7a was about Don and many of Mad Men‘s characters trying to find their footing and success within boundaries created for them, while 7b is all about the reevaluation of those boundaries and the characters asking themselves if their lives are what they really want them to be. The last seven episodes are about old habits and familiar patterns and the question ‘Will or won’t they be broken?’ It’s a smart thematic choice: it allows the show to bring all the elements loyal viewers have come to expect from Mad Men, but to spin those in new and interesting directions. The keyword here is ‘reinvention’, something that both describes the creative choices of Weiner and his writers, and the journey Mad Men‘s characters are on. This results in a beautiful and entirely satisfying finale of a season that’s both surprising and immensely affecting.
Another reason why this season works so well – and the series always has -, is its gifted cast. Especially Jon Hamm is completely mesmerizing and he solidifies Don Draper as one of the best characters to have ever graced the TV screen. The material he has to work with allows him to show a broad range of emotions throughout these final outings and it’s notable that Weiner and company still have new sides to show of a character that’s been around since 2007. Mad Men, primarily, has always been Don’s story and the bulk of 7b’s time is indeed devoted to him, but all the other characters also get their chance to grow and shine, and all characters are granted fitting sendoffs. Elisabeth Olson’s Peggy, Christina Hendricks’ Joan, John Slattery’s Roger, Vincent Kartheiser’s Pete and all the other mainstays of the show are present and accounted for, and their final arcs are all as wonderfully concluded as Don’s is, allowing the actors to show how well they know these characters and how good of an actor they are. Peppered with a couple of surprise appearances of characters we haven’t seen in a while, Mad Men‘s last episodes really hit the sweet spot for everyone who has followed the show over the years and has grown quite attached to all the people who are part of the show’s world.
Don’t confuse the loving and moving approach to Season 7b for fan service, though; Mad Men‘s final episodes are never cheap or lazy, never go for the quick and easy out, and risks are taken throughout. Weiner keeps throwing viewers for a loop and definitely marches to the beat of his own drum, dictating the pace of these last outings. These final episodes are as character-driven, intelligent, stimulating and layered as the story Weiner set out to tell eight years ago has always been. There’s a clear vision and direction behind everything you’re watching and Weiner proves you’re in good hands until the inevitable end.
Mad Men‘s final episodes are strong, smart and satisfying, culminating in a beautiful and poignant end to one of the best TV shows of all time. 9/10