There really isn’t much to say about Mad Men at this point. Probably the most noteworthy thing is that we are halfway through Season Seven, and the show is still running on all cylinders. The Sopranos lasted six seasons, The Wire lasted five, Deadwood only three. A few shows made it to seven: The Shield, which was fairly consistent over the years and featured one of the greatest finales of all time; Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which peaked in Season Three but was never less than good. But Mad Men has been one of the best shows on television every season, and that’s the definition of noteworthy in the modern world of long-form series.
As we await the final seven episodes, a few questions in particular come to mind. Will Don Draper finally progress beyond his general dickheadedness? There has always been a fear that Don would continue to repeat past mistakes, which might be realistic but which doesn’t make for very good episodes in the later seasons. But he had his fall, and is now giving hints that he might have seen a bit of the light. Peggy Olson has, from the start, been the female character most likely to grow over the decade, and that in fact is happening. It’s still up in the air whether she’ll be Just Another Don Draper, or will be able to be a whole person, both as a worker and off the job. Sally Draper isn’t a primary character, but her growth has been fascinating to watch. (I’m convinced that she was never meant to be anything other than marginal, but that Kiernan Shipka demonstrated from the start that she could handle whatever Matthew Weiner gave her … outside of Jon Hamm, I’d say Shipka will one day be seen as the breakout star of the show.)
It’s fun to see the show make it to 1969 … not just the moon landing, but Burger Chef (where I had the one and only fast-food job of my life). But it has always been apparent to anyone who looks beyond the surface that Mad Men can’t be reduced to a reconstruction of the 1960s. As Tim Goodman has insisted since the series began, the essence of Mad Men is the story of the existential crisis of its lead character. There are countless secondary characters, some of whom are important enough to be more than secondary. But this is a show about Don.
Some of those other characters have been more finely drawn than others. Peggy and Sally are great, but they never seemed to know what to do with January Jones as Betty, which is a lost opportunity. It remains hard to believe that closeted Sal Romano never returned … Bryan Batt was so good, and Sal’s character so interesting, that having him get fired to show how attitudes towards homosexuality stood at the time was a big mistake.
Having said that, there are so many characters in Mad Men that we still care about, and the possibility of another classic episode is always there, and did I mention, it’s Season Seven? Mad Men isn’t just great, it is historically great.