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When I first heard that this seventh season of Mad Men would be its last, I stopped and reflected on what an incredible game changer the series had been. And I imagined, with great anticipation, what its brilliant creative team would do for a finale.

When I soon after heard that the season would actually be split into two half seasons a year apart, I told my husband that it was “lame.” (My actual words were more colorful, having to do with poultry and excrement.) Really, is it the final season or not? I’m old enough to remember when a limited number of television networks all started their seasons in September and ran 20-some consecutive weeks. Mad Men may be set in the late 60s, but it certainly isn’t adhering to a traditional pattern. Season 7, which starts Sunday, April 13, will run just seven episodes. Season 7.5 will complete the series with seven more episodes next spring.

I was tempted to boycott in protest. 

Right. Like that would ever happen.

After six years, I’m still a confirmed “Maddict.” I’ve watched every episode, every season (usually in real time—no mean feat in our perpetually exhausted household). I’ve marveled at the historical references, the art direction, the meticulous detail. I’m sorry to see it all end. And I’m certainly not going to miss whatever Matthew Weiner and his team have in store for that dashing, damaged enigma, Don Draper.

When we last saw Don (Jon Hamm in the role of a lifetime), he had hit rock bottom. His wife was leaving for California, choosing her acting career over their dysfunctional marriage. His daughter had walked in on him with his mistress. And his business partners had decided—unanimously—that he needed a leave of absence after he regaled a potential client with tales of his sordid childhood in a bordello. The final scene of Season 6 was brilliant and redemptive. With nothing left to lose, Don took his children to the whorehouse. “This is where I grew up,” he said. His daughter Sally, who had been the image of preteen disdain, looked up as though seeing him for the first time.

Since Day One, Don’s personal life has been a train wreck, but he was always able to weave magic for clients. He finally crashed and burned in the conference room, but he started to reconcile his personal past. He’s an abhorrent human being, but we root for him. He is the anti-hero’s anti-hero. Yet the wonder of Mad Men is that Don Draper, despite his womanizing and whiskey, has somehow been the moral compass of the show for us all along.

Over the years, the men of Sterling Cooper (and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Cutler Gleason Chaough, and finally Sterling Cooper & Partners) have had to deal with enormous change: civil rights, women’s rights, Vietnam, the youth culture. Although younger staffers have joined and the agency’s been redecorated, by and large the partners have stayed the same: the same dark suits, the same bad behavior. If anything, they seem a little puzzled when success isn’t as easy as it once was.

The women, meanwhile, have come into their own. And it’s their continued growth and evolution that interests me most as the series ends.

The most striking before-and-after would probably be career girl Peggy Olson (Golden Globe winner Elisabeth Moss). Grudgingly given an opportunity to write copy (for a cosmetics account, working at a desk in a supply room), she has made a name for herself. With Peggy we see the typical woman’s struggle between family and career. She was doubly unlucky in love in the last season, accidentally stabbing her live-in boyfriend (and then getting dumped in the ambulance on the way to the hospital) and later losing her married lover to his wife and a convenient relocation to California. Nevertheless, our last view of Peggy was gratifying. With Don on open-ended leave, Peggy became the agency’s Creative Director. She succeeded beyond her own expectations in a man’s world, but she had to give up a lot to get there.

Her colleague Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) also succeeded, but through strikingly different means. The agency’s femme fatale office manager grabbed the brass ring a few seasons ago when she married a doctor. But, her happy ending proved less than happy and she returned to work, “sleeping her way to the top,” quite literally. Sold to an amorous prospective client, Joan put her outrage aside and negotiated a partnership in exchange for her favors. Even in that unspeakable situation (can you imagine?), Joan made her own decision.

One of my favorite scenes last season was when Joan’s husband decided to go back to Vietnam.

Greg: I’m glad you came around. It’s only a year.

Joan: No, I want you to go and never come back

Greg: Damn it, Joanie, they need me.

Joan: Well then, it works out, because we don’t.

The scene was at once heartbreaking and empowering (not to mention pitch-perfect writing). As we start Season 7, Joan is divorced and a single working mother. Like Peggy, she isn’t where she expected to be, but she got there herself.

Don is flanked by powerful women at work—who are quickly moving ahead of him. He has to cope with changing roles at home as well.

When we met first wife Betty Draper Francis (January Jones), she was living in a fool’s paradise. Over the years, she’s had a veritable roller coaster of ups and downs, culminating most recently in her “Fat Betty” and “Brunette Betty” phases. Despite living in a time of major change, Betty clung to her image of the happy housewife, and when she learned (some of) Don’s past, she hired a divorce lawyer and quickly remarried a conservative political figure.

Don didn’t stay adrift long, either. He soon married his secretary, Megan (Jessica Paré). Younger and sexier than the first Mrs. Draper, Megan became Don’s protégée at the agency, only to reject copywriting for a career as a soap opera actress. On the surface, they were living a dream: beautiful couple, fabulous apartment. But, finally, Don’s drinking, broken promises, and angry outbursts (given his perpetual philandering, not to mention his background, he had the gall to equate Megan’s kissing another actor with prostitution) were too much. When we last saw Megan, she was moving to California, without him.

Like Mad Men’s millions of other fans, I’m eager to see what the future has in store for these four women. But the person I’ll be watching closest is Sally.

Don and Betty’s daughter, Sally Draper (the remarkable young Kiernan Shipka), is a fascinating character. With her overpowering (often monstrous) mother and her sexy, mysterious father, she’s a Freudian analyst’s dream. Two seasons ago, Sally saw a couple of parent figures once removed (her father’s partner, her stepmother’s mother) in a compromising position. This past season, she walked in on her own father in bed with a neighbor. Precocious Sally has a creepy admirer and was kicked out of boarding school for drinking. Under the blonde hair and knee socks there’s always been something a little odd about her (think Father Knows Best meets The Addams Family). She’s the show’s collateral damage. And I have a feeling that the writers have something fairly dramatic in mind for her.

I’m still disappointed that we’ll have so few episodes to savor this spring. Then again, I guess there’s something to be said for making the finale last. Regardless, I’ll be there.

Miss the first episode of the almost-kinda-sorta last season of Mad Men? Not a chance. That would be like cutting off my vermouth to spite my martini.

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