Arts & Culture · Film & Television

The ‘Mad Men’ Final Act: Same As It Ever Was?

mad-men-season7-08Mad Men, the final season, airs on AMC.

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) stands against a window, cigarette in one hand, coffee in his other. He smoothly issues directions to a beautiful woman dressed in a chinchilla coat and lingerie. “Look at yourself in the mirror,” he tells her. “Now, let the coat slide down your leg and show me how smooth your skin is.”

Flashback to the hotel scene with mistress Sylvia (Linda Cardellini) in season 6? Flash forward to 50 Shades of Grey (heaven forbid)?  No, just a typical day at Sterling Cooper & Partners, now a subsidiary of McCann-Erickson, and as much a boys’ club as it ever was. You see, the agency is casting an ad and, apparently, as the camera pulls back to reveal an appreciative audience, every male member of the team needs to watch this titillating casting call. Well, titillating unless you’re the one in the coat.

It’s officially here. The final season (technically, final half-season) of Mad Men. And from Scene 1 the message is clear. Have no doubt about it; Don Draper is back. (Watch Season 7, Episode 8 streaming free on AMC.)

In short order, we get two more scenes that reinforce that our favorite player is playing again. Don and Roger (John Slattery), in rumpled tuxedos, enjoy an after-hours cup of coffee in a diner with three women. Roger (with longer hair and a truly awful mustache) insults the waitress, then leaves a hundred-dollar bill for a ten-dollar tab. Once Don arrives home, he checks his service and gets multiple messages from willing sleepover companions. He chooses the stewardess. Naturally.

In many ways, it’s back to business as usual at the office too. Don instructs his secretary to wake him in time for his next meeting. The booze is still flowing. The men, several of whom have been made very rich by the McCann acquisition, still think they rule the roost. Indeed, there’s a veritable chorus line of mini-skirted beauties hanging up their coats, fielding phone calls, and fetching coffee.

And then there are the exceptions.

Joan (Christina Hendricks) and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), who have been running the agency from behind the scenes for years, are front and center now, meeting with long-time client Topaz stockings. The immediate threat is a discounted brand called L’eggs, which has novelty packaging and is outspending—and outselling—them. Despite resistance (and a monumentally mediocre creative idea) from the clients, the women devise a new strategy. Topaz will become a department-store brand, allowing it to maintain its higher quality (and higher price point). Sterling Cooper is a McCann agency; Marshall Field is a McCann client. It should be easy to put together a win-win-win deal.

In short order, Peggy and Joan are in a meeting with three men from McCann, who begin by expressing their surprise at the gender and appearance of their interagency colleagues and then proceed to exhaust every sexist and suggestive double-entendre you can imagine. Peggy and Joan push through, but then turn on each other in the elevator as they leave. Peggy implies that Joan has to expect that kind of behavior if she chooses to dress and act the way she does.  “You can’t have it both ways,” she tells her. Joan lunges back, “What you’re saying is, I don’t dress the way you do because I don’t look like you, and that’s very, very true.” Ouch.

The two women deal with their frustration in different but telling ways. Peggy accepts a blind date and after a few drinks pretends to be the kind of girl who would run away to Paris for a weekend (unfortunately, back in her brownstone, she can’t find her never-once-used passport). Joan, meanwhile, goes on a shopping spree, celebrating her financial independence and buying exactly the kind of clothes that (to Peggy’s point) draw attention to her—shall we say—assets.

For the past six and a half seasons it has killed me that the above scenes (impeccably written, by the way, and as brutal as anything Mad Men has ever given us) leave no doubt that while the women may be fighting the same war, there aren’t enough supplies or ammunition for both. It’s the epitome of what Oprah calls a “scarcity mentality.” It’s every woman for herself; they can’t afford to support each other.

Not that the men really support each other either. Roger is quick to let Ken (Aaron Staton) go in order to appease the McCann powers that be. This despite Ken’s having lost an eye in a client’s shooting accident. “Thank you for your loyalty!” Ken snaps as he leaves. The tables are soon turned as Ken comes back with an announcement that he won’t need severance after all. He’s going clientside, and it’s understood that he plans to make life pretty hellish for his old agency colleagues.

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  • Judith A. Ross April 7, 2015 at 10:58 am

    Oh yes to your hope for Peggy and Joan. Unfortunately, the behavior we witnessed during their meeting with Topaz has not been left in the past. When I worked at a consulting firm in the early 2000s it was still alive and well.

    I, too, am waiting with bated breath for Don’s ultimate fate. Like you, I’m wondering if that falling man is some sort of omen….