What’s It About? Mad Men’s seventh season will also be its last – in part 1 of the season the 60s are coming to an end and the ad firm is split between Los Angeles and New York. It seems that most of the characters – in their own way – are falling apart.
Verdict: Mad Men has only ever been as strong as its characters. That is essentially what the show is: the period detail is always strikingly refined, the overarching plotlines are usually interesting enough but the real joy of the show emanates from delving deep into the lives of an array of characters, observing their reactions to new developments and situations, having by this point already obtained intricate understandings of their personalities.
As someone who remains unconvinced by any argument proposing television’s new found superiority over cinema, I can still freely admit that there are a few shows that fully and expertly take advantage of television’s innate advantages. Mad Men is certainly one of them. In terms of character development not many other television shows can compete (and film certainly can’t). The time given to television series also gives Mad Men the chance to explore the landscape, politics and quirks of 60s America along the way – even if pressing issues can sometimes get simply trivialised or glamourised.
Some of the greatest moments Mad Men has produced derive from the clash of cultures between the bourgeois ad men and the counter-culture developing around them. In this season Roger Sterling’s daughter, Margaret, leaves her comfortable life and starts living communally on an old farm. When her parents go to visit her – Roger in his suit and Mona wearing fur – the contrast is comical, and Mona’s initial reaction even more so: “These people are lost, and on drugs, and they have venereal diseases. That’s not for you.”
Don Draper is drinking too much and moving between Los Angeles and New York while suspended from work. He doesn’t know whether they want him back or not, so he keeps the news from his wife Megan. He also keeps daughter Sally in the dark, these days she’s smoking cigarettes and much more wise to the manoeuvring and shenanigans of her father. In each scene in which she appears the resemblance to her mother Betty grows stronger. Betty herself is as bitter and callous as ever, now bending to the will of her domineering husband, Henry, whose burgeoning political career begins to fracture household relations further.
Pete is out in Los Angeles wearing the coming decade on the top of his head and enjoying his new environment: “This city’s flat and ugly and the air is brown – but I love the vibrations!” That west coast air seems to have – if anything – made him even more insufferable. With Trudy gone his new love interest is Bonnie, who he insists on introducing as his real estate agent. While Elisabeth Moss shines again as Peggy, of all the great performances on offer hers is easily the best. Peggy continues her struggle against the odds culminating in a successful boardroom pitch to a fast food chain, proving yet again that Mad Men is at its peak when focusing on Peggy and Don, both individually and on the relationship between the two.
When all is said and done the story of Mad Men is the story of the mask slipping. This has always been the case; Don Draper the self-made man who turns out to be not Don Draper at all but Dick Whitman; Betty the perfect mother who puts image before all else, to the detriment of her children’s well-being; and the constant deaths and rebirths of Sterling Cooper. Mad Men has always possessed the ability to indulge in its characters excesses and then swiftly knock them off their pedestal for taking things too far – part two of the season will reveal how the show’s makers want to leave these characters: punished for their many sins or let off the hook to pitch another ad campaign.
Extras: As well as audio commentaries the extras include a couple of interesting documentaries on some of the big counter-cultural issues of the late 60s: the fight for gay rights and the trial of the Chicago Seven.
Final Words: Change is coming and so is the 70s (as exemplified by Pete’s new hair style). If you enjoyed the first 6 seasons, season 7 is more of the same – the same attention to detail, deeper character development and some of the best acting on television. Part 1 ends with a touch of absurdity and leaves you impatiently awaiting part 2.
Mad Men Season 7 – Part 1 is available on Blu-ray and DVD on 3 November 2014.