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The beginning of the end for ‘Mad Men’

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SPOILER ALERT

“Mad Men” began the first half of its seventh and final season on AMC this past Sunday – and there’s a lot to discuss. The episode, titled “Time Zones,” is the beginning of the end for the critically acclaimed show, so let’s get into it.

“Mad Men” is a difficult show to write about; the subtleties of the acting, the minimal amount of action and the endless number of things to overanalyze can leave one’s brain spinning. The season opens at the cusp of 1969, amid the rise of counterculture, the atmosphere of social change and Nixon’s induction. Chronologically it’s only been about two months since the last season left off, but a considerable number of things have changed.

The episode begins with a close-up on Freddy Rumsen, who has been absent from the show since season five, pitching an ad to Peggy Olson. It’s electric, of course: Don wrote it. Since his suspension from Sterling Cooper & Partners, he’s been feeding Rumsen pitches, unable to give up his work despite the lack of recognition. The pitch is ultimately turned down by new creative director Lou Avery.

Avery is not Don Draper. His Mr. Rogers demeanor is almost as off-putting as his rudeness, and it’s hard not to see him as a man on the edge. The rest of the agency tolerates him, though, but even Jim Cutler admits that the man is just not fun.

But where is the fun? In California, of course. “Time Zones” is aptly named as it brings our characters to the west coast. The choice to go bicoastal seems obvious since the fervor of the 1960s was very much rooted in California. Much of the episode is spent in the Golden State, as Don visits his wife Megan who is pursuing her acting career there. He also grabs lunch with Pete Campbell, who has completely changed since we last same him. With a preppy new wardrobe and a focus on the “vibrations” around him, it seems that Pete has finally learned how to loosen up.

Back in the office we catch up with Joan Holloway and Kenny Cosgrove. Kenny is still rocking an eye-patch, and his lack of depth perception provides a few moments of hilarity. Kenny is certainly not laughing, though, as his workload has overwhelmed him. He decides not to take a meeting with Butler Footwear so he asks Joan to cancel it. It is interesting that Joan continually takes orders from Kenny despite being in a higher position than him at the agency, but she gets her due when she takes the meeting herself and ends up proving her prowess in the process. It is apparent that Joan won’t be allowing herself to fade into the background any longer.

At the end of the episode, Rumsen visits Don and thanks him for the advice that he’s clearly benefiting from, but then warns Don against living his life this way. He encourages him to get a job somewhere else before he becomes “damaged goods.”

By the end of the episode it does feel as if Don is quite damaged. As he sits alone on his balcony, looking defeated while smoking a cigarette, it’s hard not to notice how lost this man is. The man who always had it together is now struggling to find direction. He’s caught in limbo. His career prospects are as unstable as his marriage. Where does he go from here?

It makes sense, then, that he would find solace in a woman on an airplane. The woman, played by Neve Campbell (since all former ‘90s cool girls have to end up on Mad Men at some point) tempts Don, who “really thought [he] could do it this time.” Despite how much has changed around him, Don remains the same man he’s always been (or at least the shell of that man.) His instincts tell him to cheat, but he doesn’t, because even he realizes that he has to break his old patterns before he’s left behind, sitting alone lamenting his glory days.

The woman on the plane talks about her late husband, who died of “thirst,” and it seems to hit the nail on the head concerning where our characters are at this point in time. Peggy is thirsting to be heard; Joan for power; Roger for excitement (which he tries to find via orgies); and Don for some sense of control. It seems more than ever that our characters are struggling with what they want and how to get it, and this seems to be what season seven will explore.

Next week on Mad Men: Don laughs, Roger answers the telephone, people ride the elevator … yup, things are as vague as ever.

Alexa Hoyle can be reached at [email protected]

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