With Mad Men set to begin its seventh and final season on April 13, I decided it is now close enough to get excited about. With the show wrapping up, we can expect to see a lot more of its slew of talented actors on big screens in the future, but I’m in no rush to be rid of the show. Creator Matthew Weiner and company have kept the details of the upcoming episodes under wraps, so fear not spoilers or surprises here. This is simply me being excited and nervous and anxious about Don Draper and those around him. In general, it will be interesting to see how the attention gets spread to the show’s various characters, with several figures seemingly stuck at a crossroads as of the end of the sixth season. Facing a myriad of personal and professional issues, Don and his peers could be headed in any number of different directions, but I have some ideas about where we will end up.
The three women we have seen the most of are Betty Draper (now Francis), Joan Holloway, and Peggy Olson. Peggy has always been the quiet star, the woman caught between conforming to society’s expectations and the masculine world of advertising. She’s bounced from being Don’s secretary to a copywriter to being a creative force in her own right, but there persists doubt as to whether she is better off becoming a female incarnation of her mentor or something closer to the other women found in the narrative. Peggy, like her male colleagues, has scars — her early tryst with Pete Campbell and affair with Ted Chaough included — but one gets the sense that the madvertising world has not consumed her quite as completely as Don and the other partners. Joan, alongside Don, offers another potential vision of Peggy’s future, a woman who has achieved status and respect beyond typical expectations, but only because of the dignity she was willing to sacrifice to become partner. Betty, meanwhile, represents a different section of the spectrum, though this may sometimes be hard to perceive through January Jones’ questionable acting skills. She lives the typical life of a housewife of the era, and we constantly see her unfulfilled and frustrated, seemingly stuck in her role no matter who the man in her life happens to be. Betty and Joan are older than Peggy and are perhaps firmly set in their livelihoods, but I expect Peggy’s fate in the final season to say a lot about the creators’ vision of masculinity, femininity, and individuality in the world they have created, as that world thrusts itself into the ’70s.
The two main men besides Don are Pete Campbell and Roger Sterling. Respectively, they are Don’s semi-protogè and rival, and the man who brought him into the advertising business to begin with. Like Joan and Betty, Roger seems to be fairly set in his place, and I would not expect anything radical from him in the show’s waning moments. Besides providing wisecracks and intermittent sexism, Roger is one of the few people who knows Don, and even he ended up disconnected with Don as the sixth season concluded. Joan has allowed Roger to be a part of their son’s life but not hers, and Sterling’s family members are either dead or recently estranged from him. Older than Don, Sterling may be to Draper as Joan and Betty are to Peggy. Roger has watched just about everyone around him move away from him or pass on, and he pushes the rest away himself. Born into the company his father helped found, he probably never had a chance to escape, but Don does. On the other hand, Pete presents a fascinating case, a troubling mix of creative talent and immoral tendencies. We expect to see him in California in the coming season, but unlike Don he does not appear to be desperate to escape this world, the one that breaks apart his marriage and relationships. Pete comes from old money, and he gives us a snapshot of American stubbornness at the time, showing signs of being sexist, racist, and homophobic at various points throughout the show. If Don needs to escape the advertising world to survive, Pete might need the advertising world to escape, from what exactly I do not think we can completely know.
I love all of the characters above, as they help make Mad Men one of the fullest television shows of all time, but only one man’s fate will be discussed, critiqued, and obsessed over as the show comes to a close. When we last saw Don, he was showing his children the well-loved brothel in which he grew up, following his being told to take a leave of absence. This came after he alienated Megan by first telling her they would move to California then handing off the opportunity to Ted Chaough. In the entirety of the show’s six seasons, Don’s talent and work production have been the constant among his infidelities and lies. Now, with only 14 hours lying between him and some end, he has been pushed out of the one place in which he still thrives. Season six saw Don caught cheating by Sally, disconnected with Megan, and on a completely different page than his coworkers, including those we thought he was close to such as Peggy and Roger. I like to think we will see a hopeful ending for Don, that Sally walking in on him and the partners walking out signals some sort of bottoming out, but we really cannot know. Each affair and drink and inspired pitch has reminded us of Don’s passion to be happier or freer, but each and every time something stands in the way of Don realizing that release. We’ve come to know many things about Don’s past without ever really gaining insight into the man himself, but I have to think this final season will bring us some, even if it simply comes by analyzing Don’s final acts, or even only by noting which coast we leave him on as the final credits roll. Don Draper died long ago; for Dick Whitman to be free, he will have to leave that identity behind, accompanied by all the baggage that comes with it.