AMC’s watershed, Mad Men, winner of multiple “best dramatic series” Emmys, is about to enter its last season(s). Mad Men will follow the precedent set by the sister show Breaking Bad, stretching the limits of the word “final” by splitting the last set of 20 episodes across two years.
This series has been so good, especially in the first seasons, that it has set a bar for itself that is almost impossible to reach year after year. For many fans, last year was a bit of a disappointment lacking the surprise and novelty of earlier seasons. Still, Mad Men remained both entertaining and nostalgic, even for those too young to have lived during the featured era.
This is partly because Jon Hamm’s portrayal of series protagonist Don Draper is one for the ages. The Draper character is that perfect blend of writer and actor coming together to create something unique and fantastic. Played by Hamm Draper has become something iconic – a new cultural reference. When someone now says “the Don Draper’s of the world,” we know what they are talking about.
With his white shirt, dark suit, skinny tie, and Brylcreem hair, Don is the embodiment of a kind of old cool that includes cigarettes and cocktails. And shameless drive. Whether Don is pitching a business deal or seducing his next woman – he generally gets what he wants. And most infuriating, Don almost always does this without apology.
Heading west again to California in this last season – writer Matt Wiener has hinted at extensive changes and new characters. Fans will have to wait and see what Don, having revealed his secret Dick Whitman identity to his kids, will do next. At this point, it’s completely unpredictable.
Can Don find peace with himself during this “peace man!” era of sitars, pot, and Nixon? After all, in California, anything is possible. And when Don is on his game, he can do almost anything.
The terrific cast of equally fully formed characters – Roger Sterling, Peggy Olsen, Pete Campbell, and Joan Harris – are all returning.
How will they interact and resolve their conflicts? That’s why we watch.
The challenge for Mad Men finding the kind of audiences that Breaking Bad and Walking Dead have is with the show’s slow and deliberate pace. It’s always been a bit draggy with the plot – no “red weddings” here. Just brilliantly written and acted, offering insightful studies of character and the impact of their choices. Perhaps a bit too highbrow for the mainstream. First-week ratings were disappointingly down from last year.
Hopefully, the pace will quicken, and the resolution will ring true – something that did not happen in the 1970s.
Mad Men is on AMC Sunday evenings.