Where ‘Mad Men’ Left Off: A Primer for Season Seven
After seven glorious years, Mad Men—the story of bigwig executives who drink all day, charm clients, and sleep with their secretaries—is set to embark on its seventh and final season on April 13. The first episode of the season is ironically titled “The Beginning.” The season will be broken up into two installments of seven episodes, meaning that the final 14 episodes of Mad Men will be spread over a two year time span. In preparation for Sunday, we're recapping where season six left the series' main characters—though God only knows where they'll end up.
Oh, Don. This character started as the sexiest ad man on Madison Avenue—now he’s just a sad, drunk uncle who insists on commandeering the Thanksgiving table, aka the pitch meeting, with his embarrassing tell-alls. Don opened Season 6 reading Dante’s Inferno in Hawaii, a smoking gun that alluded to more than just the fact that Don Draper doesn’t really understand the concept of a beach read. The season proceeded to dutifully chronicle Draper’s descent into the ninth circle of personal and professional hell, as he obliterated his body with alcohol while simultaneously wrecking relationships with his wife, mistress, and daughter.
For Don Draper, inflicting emotional trauma on the women he loves is a full time job—to the extent that the job he actually gets paid to do has taken a back seat. By the finale of Season 6, Don seems about as sick of himself as we are of him. In a Hail Mary attempt to save his marriage, he decides to steal Stan’s idea of opening a solo office in Los Angeles, and makes an impassioned speech to Megan about starting fresh on the West Coast. He also promises to quit drinking, cold turkey. Like so many gullible clients, Megan buys Don’s pitch. There’s no way this could possibly go wrong, right?
Apparently exhausted by the effort of selling his wife on the merits of their marriage, and really feeling the effects of his newfound sobriety, Don wrecks a meeting with Hershey’s Chocolate by launching into a sordid tale from his Dickensian, Dick Whitman childhood. While the story is somewhat related to Hershey’s, the chocolate executives seem unimpressed, and the other partners look downright scandalized. Turns out this agency does have standards of professionalism, and while drugs, drinking, and sex in the office don’t appear to violate them, starting a pitch with “I grew up in Pennsylvania…in a whorehouse” sure does.
Don follows this professional faux pas with a personal one, ceding the Los Angeles opportunity to Ted, and enraging Megan in the process. When Don comes into the office on Thanksgiving Day, he’s greeted with an intervention—and told that he’s about to take a mandatory leave of absence. The episode ends with Don picking up his children and driving them to the former brothel where he grew up. As the credits roll, we’re left to wonder if Don Draper is actually coming clean in coming full circle—or if he’s merely sinking in to a downward spiral.
Peggy and Ted
In Season 6, Mad Men’s heroine, Peggy Olson, gave its anti-hero Don a run for his money. Peggy is infinitely more likable—she’s talented, ambitious, and relatable. We’re naturally inclined to root for her as she struggles to have it all, in direct contrast to Don, who seems intent on squandering everything that he’s been given. This season, Peggy’s narrative has seen her torn between two bosses—Don and Ted. Peggy falls in love with Ted, probably because he’s nice, smart, and can fly a plane. He also says “groovy” a lot and isn’t a narcissistic, self-destructive alcoholic. Ted looks like a good guy, and he’s certainly easier to work with than Don. Then again, he’s married. And, unlike most of the men on this show, that small fact has made him reticent to start a relationship with his new protégé.
Like any unappreciated woman, Peggy goes on a mission to show Ted what he’s missing: cleavage and fishnets. Parading her “I’m going on a date outfit” around the office has its desired effect: Ted shows up at Peggy’s apartment that night, makes a few vague, slurred promises, and stays the night. The next day he tells her that he’s going to move to Los Angeles with his wife, which is basically the opposite of everything he told her the night before. Men, right?
For Peggy, this season was all about professional success and romantic whiplash. While the men in her life seem hell bent on making her feel disposable, she’s proven herself to be an invaluable asset at the agency. Don might still treat her like she’s his property, and Ted was certainly bad news—but the image of Peggy wearing the (literal) pants at work for the first time ever in the Season 6 finale is one of the clearest victories Mad Men has ever given one of its protagonists. And with Don taking a leave of absence, Peggy seems poised to take acquire his corner office (and extensive bar set up) in Season 7. Meanwhile, it seems like Ted is taking his nice guy charms and aviator collection to sunny Los Angeles—for now.
Pete and Bob Benson
Just because Pete Campbell’s the worst doesn’t mean we don’t feel bad for the guy. His wife Trudy hates him, his mom’s senile, and he consistently gets outshined at work by con artists with stolen identities and fake resumes. Throughout Season 6 we watched as the perennially dissatisfied Pete came up against his own futility, an internal battle that manifested itself through his trademark super-slappable snarky facial expression. In a serious case of identity fraud déjà vu, Pete discovered that Bob Benson, the co-worker who made a pass at him just a few episodes before, has seriously doctored his professional credentials. Mad Men aficionados will recall that Pete also discovered Don’s true identity seasons ago—and was promptly told to ignore his righteous indignation. Once again, Pete is essentially powerless, as Bob has managed to forge a place for himself at the agency.
In the season finale, Pete’s helplessness comes to a head. Bob forces Pete to embarrass himself in Detroit by pressuring him to commandeer a car he can’t drive at the GM showroom. He then learns that his mother has married her caretaker Manolo on a cruise ship only to be promptly cast overboard and lost at sea. Humiliated professionally and personally, Pete returns to New York appropriately humbled—though it remains to be seen if he was downtrodden enough to surrender his pathetic single sublet and beg for Trudy’s forgiveness.
Despite the revelation that he lied about his education and previous work experience, Bob Benson is still working at the agency. A potential sociopath with a hundred-watt smile, Bob is essentially Don Draper 2.0, except totally different. Where Don is confident and arrogant, Bob is servile and accommodating. But his good-naturedness makes his bold deception all the more sinister, as it points to a total lack of guilt or inner turmoil. As he continues to rise through the ranks, Bob is set to have one of the most fascinating character arcs of the upcoming season.
And Everyone Else
After walking in on her father having sex with his girlfriend, Sally Draper decides to go on her own rampage of bad behavior. After using her fake id to get all the girls at boarding school wasted, Sally is promptly suspended. In a phone call to Don, Betty blames her daughter’s actions on the fact that she’s from “a broken home”, and complains that “the good is not beating out the bad”—which should probably be Mad Men’s new tagline. Meanwhile, Joan is letting Roger be a part of their son’s life on a trial basis. Stan, who actually came up with the idea of moving to Los Angeles in order to expand the agency, is rightfully pissed. Also, Ken Cosgrove got shot in the face on a hunting trip with some of the GM executives. Season 7, here we come!