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Not Letting Go of the Bad Ex: How Don Draper Changed in Season 7 of Mad Men

2 Jul

Last year there was Don Draper fatigue here at TV Ate My Wardrobe and I was joined by Kerensa Cadenas to discuss Don Draper’s bad habits and tiresome antics. Kerensa is back to talk about the more optimistic first half of this final season of Mad Men as we take a look at this excellent run of episodes and how both Don and this season surprised us with its generally optimistic outlook. We also address how this season compares to the previous one and how our predictions matched up (I don’t think they did). In a similar vain we talk about the second half of the final season and where we would like to see these characters end up.

Mad Men 7.06 Burger ChefEmma: I had a quick look back at our last Mad Men discussion and boy was the end of season 6 bleak as Don bottomed out in the Hershey’s pitch going a bit to far into the old memory bank. Nope, no one wants to see a grown man cry over chocolate in 1968 (the same can probably be said for now). One thing we both said we wanted for the final season was to see Joan and Peggy running the show, now while that hasn’t happened entirely, “Waterloo” included a huge professional victory for Peggy and Joan is going to be getting a sizable amount from the deal Roger has struck, so they’re both doing rather well.

Now, before I get into specifics of either of their storylines (and I could basically spend this entire time talking about Peggy and I already have) I want to ask about your general overall feelings about this season. How are you finding Don now as I know we both had reservations about his super shitty behavior last season. Has this season panned out how you expected? Or are you like me and go into Mad Men with no preconceived notions or expectations?

Mad Men 7.07 Peggy and Don hotelKerensa: I think, as we could tell, from last season’s discussion, I was having a bit of a Mad Men burnout. I was frustrated with Don, his actions and his inability to change. And I try to go into a season without expectations but I totally went into this season with completely expecting that Don would be continuing the same old shit that we’ve become accustomed with. And I was totally wrong!

I don’t think Don is totally vindicated yet (which I’m sure we’ll discuss) but overall I enjoyed this season and especially these last two episodes more than I’ve enjoyed Mad Men in a while. And a lot of that does have to do with the character development that Don had–which was not what I expected from this season at all. I really thought I would get more of the same and I’m so glad I was wrong.

What did you think?

Mad Men 7.04 DonEmma: I should add a slight caveat to my no expectations proclamation as Don screwing around was something I fully expected to happen, especially with Megan out in LA. Instead we see Don turn down offers from Neve Campbell – please show keep casting from the 90s teen pool, Rayanne would be my next choice – and a woman in a bar who claims to know him. This is not the Don Draper we have seen in any of the previous seasons and I wonder just why he can suddenly keep it in his pants. He could be trying to make it work with Megan, but I actually think it has more to do with Sally walking in on him with Sylvia and exposing him for the man he is. There is one non-Megan dalliance, however Megan is also there as he responds to a threesome in the most lackluster way I think I have ever seen on TV going from “I’m tired” to “I guess.”

We’ve seen Don hit rock bottom on multiple occasions, this is a whole new subterranean level of shit as he’s been put on leave and is essentially living his life vicariously through Freddie Rumsen. Not that Freddie is the rock bottom signifier and he is the exact person who Don needs in his life. It’s a big surprise seeing Freddie in this role and it is something Mad Men excels at as there is such a wealth of supporting characters from the previous 6 seasons and I like the idea that any of them can pop up at any one time. The opening scene of the premiere is so jarring with Freddie in the pitching seat and yet I never clued in that he had become Don’s mouthpiece.

Freddie plays a pivotal role when Don acts like a big baby when he first goes back to SC&P and this is the episode where Don has been at his most loathsome and pathetic all season – there’s nothing quite like the sight of him emptying out his coke and pouring vodka in to replace it. Freddie has been in Don’s position and like anyone else who has been put on leave he never returned, Don is a special case and it’s when his dick swinging and inability to quit works in his favor. I’ve really enjoyed seeing Don both falter and walk into a room like he owns everything, finally he has some humility and yet the cocksure attitude is also an important attribute. We needed to see him truly fall to appreciate those often unsavory parts of his character.

The first half of this first half of season 7 (or 7a which is less of a mouthful) deals with bridge mending. On the surface everything is fine with Megan and their reunion at LAX is gorgeously shot and she looks amazing in the blue mini baby doll dress. It’s a marriage that has always been superficially fine, underneath it’s like they’re strangers. I do want to talk more about Don and Megan, but first I’d like to take a look at one of the fractured relationships and that’s with Sally.

Oh Sally, what to do with you and your supremely disaffected view on everything. Actually, to be honest Sally is well more adjusted and together than I was expecting and I figured there would be a lot more spiraling and teen rebellion. There’s smoking of course and holy shit is her stance the exact same as her mother, it’s uncanny and once again I would like to bestow all the plaudits on Kiernan Shipka – I would also like to see the Sally college spinoff that Molly Lambert suggested on Twitter. Other than that her greatest act of defiance has been shopping after the funeral (or during maybe) of her roommate’s mom, getting a nearly broken nose while ‘sword fighting’ which leads to some incredible Sally sass at her mother – “It’s a nose job, not an abortion” – and probably her biggest rebellious moment is smooching the nerdy kid instead of the stud. Her mother would not be happy with that last one, though I did worry they were heading towards a Betty going for the young guy story. Maybe Sean’s stripy pants (which are so Felix from Orphan Black) and moon landing bad mouthing put her off. Or she realized how gross it would be.

Wow that was a tangent and what I really wanted to discuss is the Don/Sally road trip that finally allowed Sally to rail against her father. Don finally showed his children where he came from at the end of season 6 and Sally is still justifiably angry at him for all those other secrets he kept. The anger and hurt in her voice as she spits out the word hairspray in reference to Sylvia is another astonishing delivery from Shipka and Sally’s rage at this shattering moment – I would say it took her innocence but seeing Roger getting a blowjob gets this unfortunate crowing glory – is what Don needs to hear to wake up to the asshole he has become. After the good, but not great season premiere this second episode delivered and Sally telling Don that she loves him at the end of the episode is one of the several scenes over this season that I suddenly found myself tearing up at. Before I dive too far down the Sally/Don rabbit hole, I want to ask what your thoughts are regarding this sequence of Don and Sally scenes?

Mad Men 7.02 Sally and DonKerensa: I think that after the last season–Sally’s come to see her father in a much different light. I think especially after seeing his childhood home, that it puts some of Don’s behavior in a context to her. I think Sally (and Kiernan’s always awesome performance) is at that point in teenager-dom where you being to recognize that your parents aren’t infallible which is always a cocktail of emotions–angst, respect, disbelief–and I think that’s where Sally is at with Don. Which I think echos in that final “I love you,” is that she appreciates that he’s opened up but does that change that much?

Mad Men 7.06 Megan and DonEmma: Yeah I think you’re very right and in a way Peggy’s experience with Don has echoed that of his daughter; realizing how fallible he is and how at times he can be downright awful. This season has been about Don proving to those closest to him that he isn’t a lost cause and he has certainly won me over. Contrition is important and it’s why his whiny baby drunk antics when he first went back to SC&P felt like an ‘uh oh’ moment. Luckily Don does have some capacity for change and Freddie Rumsen has been vital in Don coming to terms with his limitations and bull shit.

With Megan, the dissolution of their marriage seemed inevitable as no matter how hard either of them tried and how great they look together (and the shot of them on the balcony together is stunning). It’s all a facade and it always has been in a way; was the only time they were happy on screen when they were on their first trip to Hollywood and have they been trying to mimic that ever since? As a self-confessed Megan lover (and I’m pretty sure you feel the same way) I’m going to be sad if this is the last we see of her (in part because think of all the outfits we’re going to miss out on), but I’m also glad to see how they ended things. Not with shouting and screaming, instead with quiet resolution and acceptance this over. Or as Pete affirms that marriage is “a racket.”

We’ve barely seen Don interact with Betty all season, she refers to him as being like a bad ex-boyfriend and a fleeting memory and the strongest relationship he has with a woman is Peggy and to be honest I quite like it like this.

How do you feel about Don and Peggy this season?

Mad Men 7.06 Don and PeggyKerensa: I’m going to really miss Megan as well. I do kinda think that it will be the last time we see her though. I mean, what ties other than being Don’s wife does she really have with him now? She’s in LA, he’s in NYC. They don’t have kids. I’d be very happy to see her, but I think the resolution that their relationship came to felt perfect and in the changing scope of Don, felt adult.

I think your thoughts about the Peggy/Don relationship echoing the Sally/Don one are spot on. Don lashes out and Peggy and she to him because they know that deep down they are the two who truly understand one another. You can see that in the ways they both work, live and even love to a degree. I think that Don, especially during Peggy’s pregnancy, functioned as such a formative figure in shaping who she has ended up becoming. I think we can argue that at times that can be detrimental, but when you see her give her pitch to Burger Shack, it’s great to see that she’s beat the king.

Mad Men 7.07 hugEmma: I’m so glad we got to see Peggy get a win this big after how she started the season on her hands and knees crying in her apartment. When season 6 ended with that glorious pantsuit it seemed set for Peggy’s moment of triumph, but of course this isn’t that show and she still has many hoops to jump through. So to see someone like Lou in Don’s office rather than Peggy wasn’t a surprise and yet it was still disheartening.

Peggy hasn’t been completely innocent this season and I’m glad they haven’t shied away from how difficult and even awful she can be at times – the Valentine’s incident with Shirley is the best and most cringy example of this – she is Don Draper-esque in quite a lot of ways. Peggy pushes everyone away and her closest relationship is with a 10-year-old boy, which is incredibly depressing considering the child she gave up and just how alone she is. And yes I really want her to hook up with Stan still. We got that very cool scene of Joan joining Peggy for a drink and a Don bitching session and as always I want these two to rule the world.

What did you think about the power shift in the office first with Don’s absence and then with his return? Oh and Ginsberg’s breakdown – did you see that coming?

Mad Men 7.05 Peggy and GinsbergKerensa: I’m not totally surprised re: the power shift. Part of me obviously hoped that they would put Peggy in charge but of course Lou was brought in. And he’s the worst.

With Don’s return the skittishness of the office towards him made a lot of sense, especially for Peggy, cause I know I’d live in continual fear that Don would outshine me yet again which I felt a lot of her contempt stemmed from. But Peggy is really Don’s girl–so many of her actions echo his behaviors.

I actually wasn’t expecting Ginsberg’s breakdown. At first, I actually read it as he was trying to come out? But that SCENE, totally shocked me. It was very upsetting. Were you expecting it?

Mad Men 7.07 PeteEmma: The work place set up and power shift has been one of my favorite aspects this season even if the bi-coastal set up meant a whole lot less Pete Campbell as I love the weasel that he is. The conference calls and technology issues with this was fun as was seeing how well Pete took to the LA lifestyle as he always seemed like such an East Coast guy. Every outfit he wore in LA pretty much made me scream (with joy) as did his receding hairline and awful tan. Just how did he get a woman like Bonnie? (this of course also applies to Trudy and every other woman he has hooked up with, aside from hookers as the answer there is obvious)

Roger taking the death of Bert to step up and get his scheme on is magnificent as is how much disdain everyone has for Harry Crane and I was so happy that his path to power was cut down – even if he has good ideas and tipped Don off I can’t help but despise him.

My Twitter feed was full of a lot of “Holy shit, Ginsberg” before I saw the episode so I knew something was going to happen and as the episode progressed I figured he was going to trash the computer and cost SC&P a whole lot of money. Never did I expect what actually happened and my first reaction upon seeing the box was of course horror, but I also thought it was his ear at first because in terms of what people cut off that seems like the logical (if you can call it that) answer. It’s yet another occasion this season where Elisabeth Moss nails her reaction as she is terrified, shocked and heartbroken.

Hats off to Ben Feldman who has given Ginsberg this skittish energy since day one and didn’t play it as an “I’m so kooky” quirk or go way over the top with these moments of madness. I also got major character whiplash going from his performance in Mad Men to his one on Silicon Valley and even though it looks kinda terrible from the preview I will be watching A to Z purely for Cristin Milioti and Feldman. Like the lawnmower incident this is going to go down as one of those incredibly weird and fucked up Mad Men moments.

Last year we talked about how Betty got her groove back and this season Betty got the best line of the season – “I’m not stupid, I speak Italian” (closely followed by Sally’s “It’s a nose job, not an abortion”) – what did you think of Betty this year?

Mad Men 7.03 BettyKerensa: Ben Feldman has always been so great as Ginsberg and I’m totally looking forward to A to Z–even if it does look kinda terrible. He always played Ginsberg from a place of compassion when he, like you mentioned, could have gone the “I’m kooky” route.

Betty was Betty as always for me. Her trip with Bobby made me feel so bad for him. And I felt for her when she felt like she was being underestimated. But I would argue that her best line of the season was when she was looking back as Don as a “bad boyfriend” someone a “teen anthropologist would marry.” I feel like we didn’t get enough of her for me to fully form anything. What about you?

Mad Men 7.07 Sally as BettyEmma: The problem with the Betty storylines is that other than their shared children, the link to Don and the overarching story is tenuous and so it doesn’t always make sense to see what’s going on with Betty other than the fact that she’s a fascinating character. You’re right about that line, it is fantastic. The trip to the farm was heartbreaking because she really doesn’t understand anything when it comes to her own children; Bobby clearly adores her and yet she thinks the only one who still loves her is Gene. Bobby’s sandwich trade was a dumb move, but then again his mother’s relationship with food is a complicated one that he doesn’t understand. He probably thinks that cigarettes are her lunch now that she is thin again.

Betty’s standard position is envy – of her children, friends, neighbors, husband and ex – and while she can be unpleasant I never tire of seeing how she reacts to these situations. So with Francine (yay!) she sets out to show she’s a fantastic mom by going on a school trip she had absolutely no interest in previously, with Sally they bicker about everything and I was convinced she was going to go after Sean and his stripy pants just because Sally had shown an interest in him. Luckily Sally went for the more age appropriate Neil after he showed her the stars and went against the type of dude her dad is (which is not a surprise after the Sylvia incident last season).

For me, Betty’s crowning moment was standing up for herself against Henry – no she doesn’t want to go outside just because he does and yes she will give her opinions on Vietnam if she is asked. Betty had a habit of repressing everything when she was with Don in true WASP fashion and throwing up on her pretty dress was the way she showed her sadness and dissatisfaction. With Henry she’s not going to be a shrinking violet.

Have you got anything else to add about the first half of season 7? What would you like to see happen in the final 7 episodes?

Mad Men 7.06 Bob and KevinKerensa: I appreciate her standing up for herself with Henry as well which I think also speaks to the type of relationship that they have.

For the final 7, I want all the best things to happen for Peggy, Joan and Megan. I’d love to see the show actually explore what was happening with Stonewall and the beginnings of the LGBT rights movement but I don’t think that will happen. I’d love to see Don continue to grow but I don’t know if I think that will happen either, I really think he’s gonna backslide.

What are you hoping for?

Mad Men 7.05 SallyEmma: With the portrayal of the LGBT rights movement I wonder if the Bob Benson stuff in “The Strategy” is all we’re going to get when it comes to that. Hopefully Bob will be back for the final 7 for this reason and James Wolk reasons. His proposal to Joan was so ill-advised but I do understand where he was coming from and there’s no fairy tale ending for him in 1969 sadly, Joan still believes in love which is something I  didn’t necessarily expect considering how pragmatic she has become since having Kevin. Like you I want all the good things for the women of this show. I want to see Sally rule the world or at least get through school without a drug addiction; I have high hopes considering how well she is doing at the moment and how her rebellions have been pretty atypical of a teenager without veering into excess territory. Don’t fuck with Sally, Weiner.

This season ended on such a hopeful note that it’s making me feel somewhat optimistic for Don and I’m not sure if Matt Weiner is lulling us into a false sense of security with this. He is always teetering on the edge of oblivion and I have a friend who is convinced he will kill himself. I think this is maybe too nihilistic and I have hope that Don Draper will be alive at the end of the final episode. I’m not sure what state he will be in, but what I’m picturing is similar to how it started – a dude smoking and drinking alone.

I’d like to see some folks return, but I also don’t want it to turn into a blast from the past parade. Sal would be number one on that list, just to see where this character is now (and this also fits in with the LGTB rights movement) and yet I do understand why they might shy away from bringing back certain people just because they’re a fan favorite.

I’m also very excited to see more psychedelic styling and all things polyester from the end of this decade. It’s going to be pretty sad when this show is over and while I was ready to let Breaking Bad go because of how draining that show is to watch, I’m not sure I’m ready to say goodbye to these characters and for that reason I’m somewhat glad they split the two seasons up.

Kerensa:  Looking forward to what’s next–and I agree. Don’t fuck with Sally, Weiner!

Kerensa Cadenas is a writer living in Los Angeles. She is an Editor for Snakkle. She also writes for Women and HollywoodThe WeekThis Was TelevisionForever Young Adult, and Bitch magazine. She was the Research Editor for Tomorrow magazine. You can follow her on Twitter and read her ridiculous thoughts about teen television at her website.

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One Response to “Not Letting Go of the Bad Ex: How Don Draper Changed in Season 7 of Mad Men”

  1. ladylavinia1932 March 21, 2015 at 4:53 am #

    The only act of real redemption I see for Don is for him to confess to desertion and identity theft. If he gets away with it, it will mar his redemption forever.

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