The final season of Mad Men debuts on AMC in a week and a half, and select critics have already received screener copies of the first episode (I believe someone else on staff here was the lucky recipient of that screener, which is just as well because I would be completely incapable of keeping it secret). With the screener, of course, showrunner Matthew Weiner has set strict limitations upon what can be revealed from the pilot, per THR:
Weiner asked critics to not indulge in various reveals, including the year in which “Severance” is set and three other elements that can’t even be mentioned because their very description is the reveal in question.
With that said, I decided to go through four reviews of the first episode and pull out what scant details I could about the first episode, “Severance.”
For instance, based on these tidbits from Variety, we can assume they are in the 1970s:
That said, ever since it became clear the series would run more than five seasons and engage in time leaps that extend its fictional duration, these characters — who started out in the Eisenhower years — have seemingly had a date with the 1970s.
Each time lapse inevitably brings a new wave of revised hairstyles and fashions, which can provide amusing clues as to exactly how far we’ve traveled, as well as, at least initially, be something of a distraction.
Indiewire is more blunt:
Don Draper is again on a journey of self-fulfillment in Episode 8, “Severance,” but the players, setting and his mentality have again shifted with time.
Variety indicates that a figure from the past will also return:
“Don appears to have reached another in a series of emotional crossroads, spurred in part by a figure from his past.”
Depending on how far into the future the show jumps, that figure “from the past” could theoretically be Megan Draper, who we can surmise from her appearance in promo art continues to exist on the show. Esquire provided more vague details:
At a local diner, [Don] meets a brunette waitress he swears to have seen before. She looks like Midge Daniels. Or is it Rachel Menken? Or maybe it’s Megan Draper, last seen on the other side of the country. The waitress becomes Don’s new obsession, a potential quick fix to life’s problems. His mind won’t let him escape that easy. Reality and memory blur into one as Don rides the Kodak carousel from Hell. When Weiner drops in blasts from the past, it’s fan service coated in reason.
That waitress — a mix of reality and memory — also drops this suggestion of a recent death or one to come, perhaps:
“When people die, everything gets messed up,” she tells Don.
That waitress’ name could also be a clue, according to THR:
The three interactions Don has with Diane (called “Di” by her co-worker, if you’re into Mad Men’s increasing preoccupation with death this season) are tonally different, as if Weiner (and director Scott Hornbacher) is trying to disorient viewers.
Some things never change. Don is still a horndog, according to Indiewire:
After separating from Megan and remaining in New York, Don Draper is still galavanting around town with a pretty girl on his arm and a load of cash in his pocket, ready to buy drinks for whoever is willing to join him. In a particularly jarring scene from the new season, he proves himself willing to still say “yes” to almost anything offered him by an attractive woman.
Movement within the firm will also play a role, via Variety:
All that serves as a backdrop to this closing run, which is still grappling with the central ad agency’s shifting internal dynamics.
The opening episode, according to this brilliantly written Esquire review from Matt Patches, will contain the Peggy Lee song, “Is That All There Is?” The song’s lyrics could set the tone for a intentionally anti-climactic final seven episodes.
“Is that all there is? Is that all there is?/If that’s all there is my friends/Then let’s keep dancing/Let’s break out the booze and have a ball/If that’s all there is.”
However, the first episode gives no real hint of how the series will end, via Esquire:
Weiner plays it like the Cold War, refusing to drop any bombs that could clear a path for “plot.”
Variety indicates that there will be “examples of brazen sexism in the workplace.” Esquire expands on that:
Joan and Peggy encounter the most vile sexism they’ve seen in their ad-agency careers during a client meeting. It’s a nightmare.
Indiewire also notes that Peggy — who has completed her transformation into Don — will turn “to her personal life.”
We are also told by THR that many of the series regulars will remain in the periphery, their stories presumably tackled more thoroughly in the last six episodes.
And that’s it. That’s all we know based on early reviews. Have fun rolling those scant details around in your brain for the next 10 days.