Thoughts on Mad Men’s Last Season So Far

I’ve got the funny feeling that Mad Men might just end on a happy note.

 The final season of Matthew Weiner’s seminal drama has unfolded with nary a missed note, but I’m most struck at the legitimate notes of repentance that Don seems to be sounding. To be sure, he’s still a cad, and he can’t seem to maintain a healthy relationship with a woman, but there’s a desire in him to merge and emerge — merge his two personalities and emerge as something new and better.

But I can’t imagine what that’ll look like.

(Side note: I torched my Facebook profile recently. Long story, but if I’m going to opine and wax poetic about pop-culture, I’d much rather put it into my own web presence instead of a Facebook status update. I’ll still be on Twitter from time to time, though I’ve largely automated that beast. The comments below are the best place to engage with me.)

There’s been a lot of great writing about this season, a lot of it from RogerEbert.com chief and Vulture TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz. I feel pretty silly trying to analyze Mad Men in his wake, but all the same, I’ll try. About this past week’s episode, “The Strategy,” Seitz said:

More striking still is Don’s evident self-knowledge as he talks to Peggy. He’s better at absorbing unfairness and pettiness instead of lashing out or acting out. He’s better at asking himself “Is this the hill you want to die on?” and answering “No” ninety-nine times out of a hundred and getting on with his day. He’s traveled each and every byway, and one of the biggest, most wonderful surprises in this final season of Mad Men is the realization that he has grown, he has changed. He seems calmer, wiser. There’s hope.

I agree. Don had a lapse a few episodes back when he got drunk and forced Freddy to help him dry out, but he’s legitimately trying, with all the enthusiasm of a high-school kid. (I smiled at the image of Don pounding an invisible baseball mitt in view of his Mets pennant after Peggy ordered him to make the Burger Chef pitch.)

This episode also had an intriguing recurring image: Unexpected guests. Several scenes had characters asking, “Oh, you’re here?” to people they either weren’t happy to see or were otherwise not expecting to see: Don to Meghan at the office; Peggy to Ted on the phone; the Chevy exec to Bob Benson at the courthouse; Trudy to Pete at their house; Joan to Bob’s engagement ring. (Just kidding. Sort of.)

For me, unexpected guests are often synonymous with humiliation. We don’t always wear the same face around different people, and an unwelcome presence can unmask with sudden force. Not always, of course. Sometimes a surprise visitor is great. But other times it’s like hearing a new, spectral voice in the room, as when Ted suddenly revealed his presence in Peggy’s meeting with Pete and Lou. (Side note: Seeing Ted deliver a missive from his purgatory only added to the notion of SCD&P as a haunted house from which no one can escape.)

Last, I wonder if the Bob Benson storyline will finally give the writers a reason to bring back Bryan Batt’s Salvatore Romano?