“This is the beginning of something.”
From the very beginning of the season seven premiere of Mad Men, you are completely hooked. Freddy’s opening monologue, a dramatic ad for Accutron watches, has you mesmerized right from the start, the first shot like something out of a Kurosawa film, visually rich and theatrical. Speaking to Peggy, but also to the audience, he asks for our attention, stating, “This is the beginning of something.” This first scene sets the tone for the episode, and possibly the entirety of this season, set to be the final run of one of television’s best shows. Things are changing, and time is running out.
Set in 1969, the episode picks up roughly half a year after the decision to move some of the business to California, and gives fans a look into the rapidly changing lives of the Mad Men universe. Peggy is moving up the ranks as a creative member of the ad agency, now having to butt heads with Lou Avery, a kinda wacky stand in for Don Draper who seems to be “immune” to Peggy’s attitude. Roger is neck deep in the counterculture movement of the sixties, his first appearance in the episode waking up on the floor of his bedroom surrounded by naked young folks (there’s a guitar very obviously placed in the background). Ted’s wife loves L.A. (for shame!), but he still misses the Big Apple, leading to some awkwardness between him and Peggy. Ken is having a hard time without Pete sleazing about the place, and Joan is straight up badass (she basically owns some young business school guy instead of letting Cosgrove deal with it). And Roger’s daughter forgives the absent father for all his transgressions, alluding to a newfound enlightenment (oh man 1969 was awesome).
But that’s just the half of it. Megan, however disheartened by a distance marriage, is loving L.A., having acquired a house in the hills (much to Don’s displeasure), and Pete has become the worst sort of California man, with checkered pants, a polo shirt, a sweater mainly used as a deranged necktie, and banter about picking an orange straight from a tree. He’s become even worse, and it’s fantastic to behold. Of course, Don is at the heart of all this, and he’s exactly where we all knew he would be, confused, nostalgic, and truly unable to change. Set against Pete’s newfound love of oranges and Megan’s headscarves (and immersion into the starving artist world), Draper is a fish out of water, still donning suit and tie, and continuously telling folk he has work, despite his forced leave from the company. He’s a man stuck in the past, still living in black and white, not able to accept the new swirling colors of the sixties.
The first time we see Don, actually, is at an airport on a moving sidewalk, suggesting that, with his new bi-coastal lifestyle, he’s now more than ever drifting through life, a man without a purpose or a mission. The ad world, as well as the rest of culture, is rapidly changing, and the old ways just aren’t cutting it. He’s seeking a utopia from a time past, a purity he never actually had. The main twist of the episode, actually, is that Freddy’s brilliant ad about watches may have been written by Don, who seems to have been writing copy for Freddy during his absence (no wonder Freddy’s opening monologue has such a dramatic flair). Don is the subject of this advertisement, the man wearing an Accutron in the story who just keeps looking at this beautiful timepiece while the world passes him by. He’s alone with his past, watching time tick away while the world leaves him behind.
This season is going to be magnificent I believe. We’re dealing here with a truly broken Don (he tells a woman on a plane trip that Megan “knows I’m a terrible husband,” meaning it hardly matters anymore), and also a bitter, wounded Peggy. She also yearns for the old battles, the fight to the top, everything Don represented in the bygone world of the mad men she wanted to usurp. Over the course of the season, we’re going to see the most difficult decisions the characters have ever faced against the backdrop of some really groovy, crazy history. We’re witnessing the end of one hell of an era, and no one tells it better than Matt Weiner.
Season seven is broken up into two seven-episode parts. This first part is called “The Beginning” and will be followed by the second half, aptly named “The End of an Era” (unfortunately, though, we’ll have to wait for Spring 2015 for it). Nostalgia’s never been so tragically epic.