Part 1 of the final season of Mad Men aired Sunday night, meaning we’ve got just about 7-8 episodes left next spring/summer. (They’re being filmed now-ish.) The first half of the final season was very much about character snapshots and heavy symbolism about the end of the 1960s, and if you had to pick a central theme, it would probably be “Don tries to straighten up and fly right” (although he had a few mis-steps along the way, to be sure). It was a weird half-season in that a good portion of the Seasons 5/6 primary cast were based in California for this season (Megan, Pete, Ted, Harry in parts), and that could make it feel moderately disjointed at times. Bob Benson only appeared once (the second-to-last episode), Betty Draper had some good lines but only appeared a few times as well (all told), and it felt like the only true storyline arcs went to Don, potentially Megan, Peggy and Roger.
Two that seemed to stand out in terms of their “Hey, I’m over here” element this half-season were Ted (Kevin Rahm) and Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks). Kevin Rahm was also doing voice-over on Surviving Jack, and that got killed after about five episodes, so it was a weird spring for him. Ted was in California, and would occasionally appear on a conference call — the whole thing with him and Peggy seemed to be completely written off minus a few terse pauses — but didn’t really do anything until the half-season finale, when he almost killed some Sunkist executives and then got to be the deciding vote on the intermediate future of SCDP. I feel like I saw him maybe a total of four-five times in these seven episodes (I’m sure it was probably more); Freddy Rumsen felt like a bigger deal here.
Hendricks/Holloway got really nothing to do, all told. She had the sequence with Bob Benson where we finally got confirmation on his sexuality, but she had that weird arc with the kid from CougarTown about “minding the 4Ps” that seemed to go nowhere, and of course, we’re still unresolved with her and Roger over baby Kevin (although I assume that’s coming somewhere in the final couple of episodes). There is the whole thing with “Don costing her money” — there was always a little bit of “will they/won’t they” with Joan and Don, even though that might have jumped the shark for this show hardcore — and hopefully we get a little more of that dynamic in the final half-season, although the fact that the SCDP partners just got paaiiiiidddd may prevent that arc from materializing.
Julia, you asked about Ted Chaough and I think he, like Joan, was underserved this season. Ted has been hating on advertising and his life since the premiere, presumably residual ennui from the end of his affair with Peggy, but the distance between clean cut, kindly, responsible Ted and the wild-haired guy who would nihilistically cut his engine with Sunkist in the cockpit is far: It could have used some fleshing out. As is, it feels like a minor sideshow. After all, it took Don all of 20 seconds to get Ted to retraverse this vast emotional gulf and to agree, once again, to be a fully invested ad-man.
So … this all leaves us with: What could possibly happen in Part 2? We don’t know the exact airdates, but we know it’s seven episodes (just like Part 1). The elements that need resolution include:
- Roger and Joan re: baby
- Megan and Don
- Betty and Henry / Betty’s general future
- Pete and Peggy (perhaps)
- Peggy and motherhood/marriage
- Cutler and Don
- Don and his children
- Whether someone big will die in the last few episodes
- Harry Crane and the partners (somewhat resolved)
- Whether SCDP is becoming a tech-oriented agency
- Don and his legacy
There’s more, of course, but that’s a partial list — so it should be enough for seven episodes, especially if we start in the early 1970s. (That’s a fraught time that could be exploited for some sidebar storylines, sure.) I think you’re probably going to get one major death in the back half — the smart money would be on Megan — and quite possibly a Six Feet Under-type look at some of the characters in the 1980s/1990s, perhaps at Sally’s wedding or something. (I totally made that up, but it would be interesting.) Then there’s this, if you want to get really excited for how it will all end:
We’ve got three more episodes of 7B here, and I just read one of the best Mad Men scripts I ever read. And to be doing that after nine years is pretty fucking lucky.
That’s Elisabeth Moss talking, which means one of the final three episodes could be the best-scripted episode in the show’s history. (That doesn’t necessarily mean something super dramatic happens; it means some characters could really advance or regress.) Fitting way to go out, no?