Don Draper hit rock bottom this season.
His daily use of deception to cover up affairs, his alcoholism, and most recently losing his job, were all unraveled in the sixth season. After all his lies were forcibly uncovered by other characters, Don finally made the decision to rip off the Don Draper band-aid himself and let loose about his childhood – during a Hershey pitch meeting in last season’s finale.
Come dawn of season seven, Don is jobless, temporarily wifeless (and looking like it might become permanent) and getting covert SC&P intel from his former secretary Dawn. Don’s hit rock bottom. He has finally acknowledged he is on the way out, as evidenced by his tutelage of Peggy to take over the Burger Chef pitch, but Don is still damaged goods. This mid-season is about him, and everyone else, getting a handle on the rapidly changing America they live in and attempting to find their places in it.
In one last cashing in of Don’s charms in episode four, “The Monolith,” the partners allow Don to return to SC&P – as Peggy’s underling. Don gets (dead) Lane’s old office, moves a couch and is generally treated like a second-class citizen. He gets drunk on Scotch hidden in a Coke bottle and Freddy Rumsen ushers him out (note Freddy is the one who drunkenly peed his pants a couple seasons ago). Don finally acknowledges he no longer has the upper hand and attempts to trudge his way through demotion as per Freddy’s advice to “do the work.”
Don keeps cropping up in relation to many of the secondary characters not only because he is the protagonist, but also because many of the other characters are positioned in relation to him. Roger, too, has been forced into self-revelation after descending into a hedonistic, polygamous relationship with a bunch of hippie twenty-somethings, echoing a lifelong struggle with consideration for his family. His daughter Margaret undergoes a zen transition this season beginning with with an apology to her father in episode one and ends with her moving to a commune and changing her name to Marigold in episode four.
Roger considers Marigold’s abandonment of her child and husband as distinctly different from his long-term familial neglect, but seems to at least briefly understand, because he doesn’t forcibly remove her from the commune. Roger’s parental rock bottom doesn’t result in a personal change, but does prompt him to take control of business and broker a deal for McCann Erickson to buy SC&P.
Pete lingers even farther back than Roger in self-realization as his relocation to Los Angeles resulted in nothing more than superficial changes of acquiring a girlfriend and learning about new sandwiches. Pete’s return to New York in episode six, “The Strategy”, causes his own family problems to resurface upon visiting Tammy, his daughter, who quakes in his presence. Where Roger at least took note of Marigold’s criticism before ignoring it, Pete ignores his problems entirely by extricating himself from New York.
Over the course of the show, feminism has emerged in SC&P and this half of the season has highlighted this point more than ever. Megan, who never really seemed shackled to Don or men in general, leverages her bohemian independence by alternately using her sexuality to try and keep Don in episode five, “The Runaways”, and later in the midseason finale by denying Don’s plans to support her after the divorce. Even Betty, the least socially engaged of all the women in the show, asserts her opinion on the Vietnam War in opposition to her husband’s at a house party in episode five.
Joan’s negative experience with the Butler Shoe representative who won’t even meet with her in episode one, “Time Zones”, most clearly show that her sixteen years of employment still don’t equal Ken or Harry’s less time and higher position. Ultimately she manages to show her experience, the last few with two different jobs, do indeed stack up against an MBA she could neither have afforded nor likely been allowed to take.
By directly affecting 50% of the population, feminism crops up again and again on the show, while civil rights has been understandably stifled by the wealthy, white men of SC&P who have nothing to gain from it. Still the movement has appeared this season when Bert objects to Dawn sitting at the front desk and, due to their feminine connection or perhaps out of logistical necessity, Joan bumps Dawn up to her old job, Head of Personnel. Maybe Dawn will be able to leverage her advanced experience in aid of the underdog one of these days too.
Peggy, arguably the other protagonist of Mad Men, has been pretty clearly set up in the past seven episodes as Don 2.0. Ever since her accidental pitch so many seasons ago, she has shot up the SC&P ladder in spite of being a poor girl from Brooklyn – echoing Don’s humble beginnings. Peggy gets punished for being a woman, but in episode six she sees herself at 30 and her most maternal connection is with Julio from upstairs, and even he’s moving to New Jersey. She sacrificed a family for her job and in her loneliness she finds a companion in Don who ultimately coaches her to give a stellar Burger Chef presentation in the season finale.
Another hallmark of this season is the IBM computer that Cutler and Harry tout as SC&P’s saving grace for the upcoming years. While most of the characters react to the invasive, incomprehensible IBM computer with subtle fear, the more extensive feat of technology, the lunar landing, unites the characters in a way only something that spectacular could do. The computer appears like some kind of villain that no one understands and, even though a thousand IBM computers were probably involved in the trip to the moon, it just feels different. Everyone from Betty and her family to the de facto creative family in Indiana cluster around the television. No one at the agency, except for perhaps Cutler and Harry, see the connection between the clunky computer in their office and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. But they will.
Mad Men’s first seven episodes do a sensational job of tying up a lot of loose ends from the first six seasons, while still indicating a final phase of the tumult that was the sixties. New episodes won’t be airing until 2015 so my advice would be to do some rewatching, and stay tuned for my upcoming predictions for the last last season.