The return of Mad Men: mustaches, hemlines & the heady past

mad men

Don Draper and his comrades at Sterling Cooper & Partners are back for a final hurrah. Mad Men aired this past Sunday on AMC to wrap up its seventh season. Seven episodes are left to tell us what will happen to our favorite ad men and women. Let’s start with where we left off: Bert Cooper had just died, McCann Erickson had purchased 51% of SC&P, Megan and Don were seemingly on the brink of a separation, Don was left with uncertainty about his job, and we wrapped up with the magic of the moon landing. Let’s see where Matthew Weiner and crew picked back up…

The year is 1970. It’s been a full year since we last saw our friends, but you can already tell that the 70’s have hit SC&P, beginning with Roger Sterling’s mustache.

roger mustacheOh, Roger. I like to think that Roger grew the ‘stache to make him look young, but he looks like the Lorax instead. But it’s not only men’s fashions that are changing–from the mouth of Ted Chaough, “Apparently, hemlines are going up,” to the women’s ears. Every single hemline, with maybe the exception of Peggy, is high high high. The 70’s are all about legs.

Largely, though, Don remains unchanged. Don’s signature “ad man” look hasn’t changed for the entirety of the seven seasons of Mad Men–he didn’t even grow a mustache for this season–but Don’s lack of change in his appearance is reflected in how he views others. When he superimposes Rachel Katz’s (formerly Menken) on the waitress at the diner, you can tell he’s thinking of the Rachel he knew from the first season. When he dreams Rachel in the fur coat, it’s the same Rachel with the same voice: “You missed your flight.” Unlike Don’s projection of her, however, Rachel has had a life, and is found to have died of leukemia later in the episode. When Don goes to the shiva for her, he encounters her sister, who is incredulous that he would think of attending. She shields him from the religious festivities, but not before Don notices that Rachel had two children, a boy and a girl, just like him. Don realizes that while he hasn’t changed that much, time has kept moving forward without him. Rachel moved on, without him.

Joan and Peggy face a similar quandary, though it wouldn’t seem it in the beginning. Peggy handles her client, Topaz Pantyhose, and their concerns with ease. “You’ll be second, which is very far from first,” she said with an air of confidence. Peggy has come so far from season one, that one would hardly recognize her. She knows that she is an expert, an artist of a certain kind of art.

That changes quickly when she and Joan meet with McCann Erickson, SC&P’s majority shareholder and corporate partner. Even in the 70’s, the sexism is still there, though this time it’s hugely overt to make these McCann Erickson guys seem somehow worse than the sexism we’ve already witnessed at SC&P. At one point, a man directs to Joan, “You should be in the bra business,” and asks her to send a fruit basket to the client because, “He likes a nice pear (sic).” However, instead of uniting the two women in a wonderful but depressing elevator scene (one day, I’ll compile all elevator scenes from this show!), Peggy and Joan turn against each other. Peggy is jealous of the attention Joan gets because of her beauty and how she dresses herself, and Joan is envious of the professionalism with which men treat Peggy. Peggy fires back at Joan, “You’re filthy rich. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.” Peggy doesn’t know how Joan made partner, and thus doesn’t realize how unkind this statement is.

Later, Peggy is out on a fun, lighthearted date when she realizes she’s never been anywhere after a conversation about Paris. The distress on Peggy’s face as she muses about the past 10 years is clear: she knows that while she’s achieved everything she ever wanted, she’s not nearly as worldly as she thinks she is. She begins to obsess about her passport, and sends her date home, promising they’ll go to Europe soon. The next day, she finds the passport, but puts the thoughts of Paris out of her mind. Peggy, too, is realizing how little she’s actually changed.

Meanwhile, Joan goes to try on clothes, the same kind Peggy criticized her for. Joan is a woman who knows what she wants, and she wants her colleagues to respect her for exactly who she is. When the salesgirl asks, “Didn’t you used to work here?” and offers her a discount, Joan lies and says no. But the viewers know it isn’t true. This is a memory for Joan, the same way Don was selling fur coats at the beginning of the episode. This time, Joan is the customer, but what has really changed for her? Not much.

Some observations:

  • Don’s lady friend cleaning wine off the carpet in her underwear reminded me of Megan, cleaning the carpet in their living room after she sang “Zou Bisou Bisou” and embarrassed Don at his birthday in season five!
  • The Nixon speech that Don watches is about removing troops from Vietnam, but escalating in Cambodia and Laos. Does this mean SC&P will be heading to California? The promo pictures certainly seemed very West coast.
  • My favorite line came from Ken’s wife: “You gave them your eye. Don’t give them the rest of your life.”
  • Speaking of Ken, he’ll be a client of SC&P’s after his firing from the dad from One Tree Hill and his immediate hiring at Dow Chemical. Excited to see where this will go!
  • A conspicuously Sally-free episode, which I don’t love. Bring back Sally!
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