“This is the beginning of something,” Freddy Rumsen says, delivering lines we’d later learn were written by Don Draper. This is how the seventh and final season of Mad Men begins, and appropriately, it’s a pitch for Accutron Watches, a popular time piece manufactured by Bulova that, not coincidentally, began to lose its popularity in 1969 after the Seiko Astron, the first mass-produced quartz movement watch, hit store shelves. The Seiko was easier and cheaper to produce, and that’s one of the themes running through the premiere episode: Clients are looking to cut costs, and full-service firms like Sterling Cooper & Partners (SC&P) may end up taking the brunt. The beginning of “something” is looking a lot like the beginning of the end.
Rumsen also pitches for his Accutron commercial a first-of-its-kind effect: Switching from black-and-white to color, transitioning from one era into another, a nod to Don Draper’s own struggles with that same transition; he’s hanging on to the past while the present moves ahead without him. He’s bi-coastal now, traveling back and forth between New York and Los Angeles to visit Megan, who he’s trying to hang onto though both Don and Megan know that he’s “a terrible husband.” He’s two months into his suspension, but he’s still collecting checks from SC&P, and as far as Megan knows he’s still going back to New York to work there.
Meanwhile, Megan is finding some success (and maybe some cocaine, too) in Los Angeles, landing a callback for a network pilot (SPOILER ALERT: She wasn’t cast). But she’s unsure of Don. She’s hesitant to make love to him because she doesn’t want to invest herself in something she knows she’s going to lose, especially because she knows that, once she gives in to Don’s charms, she’s right back in it, vulnerable, primed to have her heart broken by a man who doesn’t know any other way, as he demonstrates once again on his flight back home. Don meets a widow (Neve Campbell) who, interestingly, lost her husband to alcoholism, a fact that sits heavily with Don. Nevertheless, he flirts and he makes a connection with her, because Don Draper is a philandering a-hole. But instead of fighting it, Don seems to be owning up to it. Admitting it to himself.
But the thing that keeps him from sleeping with the widower is his work, even though he’s not even getting credit for it. He’s using Freddy Rumsen to pitch his ideas because Don wants to be a part of the game. He wants to be involved. It’s his lifeblood. For Don, women come and go. He’ll never find stability in women or in family; his only stability is in his work, and that lack is what leaves Don — by the end of the episode — drunk, crying, and freezing out on his patio, trying to wake himself from a nightmare of unemployment. His life, like that balcony door, is broken. He may be a terrible husband and a lousy father, but he’s a damn good ad man, and losing that is more painful than losing anything, or anyone, else.
While she may not want to admit it, no one values Don more than Peggy. Their connection continues to be strong, even through Freddy Rumsen’s pitches. Peggy wants to run with Don’s pitch, but Lou is “immune” to Peggy’s charms. Peggy just wants someone who values good work, someone who gives a damn, like Don did in his own way. Lou is a heel, a 9-5er who doesn’t take work home with him. He’s a passionless old ad man. Peggy, like Don, is adrift in a firm that no longer appreciates her and, what’s more, she’s still dealing with the grief of losing Ted, who stumbled in from Los Angeles (where he’s working with Pete on the Sunkist account) to inadvertently twist the knife in Peggy’s heart.
Don and Peggy are two halves of the same whole. They may be mentor or protege, but their relationship is symbiotic. They need each other. They feed off of each other, whether they’re working together or against one another.
One guy who refuses to be passed by is Roger Sterling, who, unlike Don, is plunging headfirst into the 1970s. He’s into free love. Hell, Roger Sterling was born for this. Commitment-free relationships with multiple partners, and an open bed? That’s Roger Sterling’s wheelhouse, if only his body can keep up with his mind. His daughter, Margaret, is into the spirit of 1969, too, in a different way. She’s apparently discovered some new-age way of thinking, which prompts her to forgive Roger for all his misdeeds, though Roger clearly liked it better the way it was before. At least he had some power over Margaret, and now that Margaret is on a forgiveness kick, he can’t even wield emotional abuse as a weapon.
Not everyone on Mad Men is adrift. Joan continues to prove her worth as a partner, filling in for one-eyed Ken Cosgrove on the Butler Shoes account, and ultimately putting her business savvy to good use. She and a college professor have found reciprocal use for one another: the professor teaches her about business, while Joan teaches him about advertising, and that may ultimately give Joan an out if she ever gets fed up with life at the firm. With the professor’s advice, Joan ultimately convinces Mr. Barnes (Cougar Town’s Dan Byrd) not to transition Butler Shoes in-house, though Joan understands that it’s only a matter of time before he eventually moves on. Joan is rocking the ad game.
It’s only a matter of time is the biggest theme in the season premiere. Time is not on the side of SC&P. The second hand on the final season is moving with a fluid sweep. Not only does the watch keep ticking, but the watch itself is changing from an expensive Swiss timepiece to a mass-manufactured wrist watch. Fashion is changing. Relationships are changing. Business models are changing. Those that hang on to the past will be left behind, while those that adapt will succeed.
Mad Men Theorizing
— Those who subscribe to the D.B. Cooper theory got some validation in the premiere episode when we see that Don is watching Lost Horizon on television with Megan (while she’s asleep). Lost Horizon is a 1937 film in which a plane is hijacked and crashes, delivering a group of people to the secluded land of Shangri-La (Hawaii?). There’s a interesting parallel or two, though you might have to stretch a bit to get there.
— Not to reignite old theories, but didn’t Don say that Megan was living in a creepy place in the canyons? Not for nothing, but SHARON TATE WAS KILLED IN BENEDICT CANYON. I think Matthew Weiner is just f**king with us now. JERK.
— Megan hands Don a Playboy, the February 1969 issue with Lorrie Menconi — the Valentine Vixen — on the cover. Make of that what you will, but it does set the time frame, although Nixon’s inauguration later on confirms that it is January 1969.
— We didn’t see too much of Pete this week. He’s in Los Angeles, and he looks like a giant douchewaffle, though he’s dating a nice real-estate agent, Bonnie Whiteside (
Brittany Snow Jessy Schram), who will probably end up sleeping with Don at some point.
— Ken Cosgrove — and his lack of depth perception — is not handling the pressure of being head of accounts too well. He just isn’t happy without that writing career of his to keep him balanced.
— Lou is the f**king worst. What a toolbag.
— That final song was Vanilla Fudge’s version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” In 1966, it would’ve been the Supremes’ version, and Don would’ve felt right at home.