Mad Men returns for its seventh and final season this Sunday—make that the first half of its seventh and final season, because far be it from AMC to let a prestigious cash cow die without milking it vigorously (and prestigiously). Like Breaking Bad, the final season will be split across two years, eight episodes per, which kinda sorta benefits you, the viewer, by allowing three extra hours of Don Draper and the alleged psychic payoff of delayed gratification, but mostly benefits the network by keeping its only viable non-zombie brand alive for an extra round of Old Fashioneds and the material payoff of more money.
AMC is banking on double the media orgy and millions of the uninitiated binging on Netflix between halves, trying to force another national phenomenon like the one that accompanied Walter White's grand unraveling. But Mad Men is a different kind of show, more ponderous and oblique than Breaking Bad, more inclined toward mood pieces and genre exercises than gripping tension and bloody Shakespearian theatrics (although one guy did get his foot run over by a lawnmower once). Prepare to dangle mercilessly seven weekends from now with no guarantee of tidy resolution in spring 2015.
Series creator Matthew Weiner promises "consequences" this season. Such language forecasts a fairly dour denouement if the countless ruined marriages, careers, lungs, and livers Sterling Cooper & Partners have already wrought don't count as the other shoe dropping. All signs point to a narrative beginning in 1969, the year of Woodstock, the moon landing, the Stonewall Riot, and Joe Namath's fulfilled Super Bowl guarantee. A significant West Coast storyline is in store thanks to SC&P's new L.A. branch office, but there's plenty to keep track of back in New York. Whether you've been obsessing over Don since he was banging a beatnik or you're hopping on the elevator late, Bob Benson-style, let's survey the carnage of season six's finale, "In Care Of," and imagine what might become of these characters at the dawn of the '70s.
Don Draper (Jon Hamm)
Who he is: Our suave, selfish, self-made, self-destructive antihero—real name Dick Whitman—who grew up an orphan in a whorehouse but is now living under the identity he stole from the fellow soldier he accidentally blew up in Korea; prone to affairs with brunettes; visionary but conservative; a connoisseur of literature and cinema; gradually letting those around him in on the truth about his past.
Where we left him: After getting dumped by his latest mistress (played by Linda Cardinelli), whom his daughter caught him fucking, Don's lifelong descent from "business drunk" into pitiful alcoholism climaxed with a night in jail after punching a clergyman, followed by inviting, then uninviting himself to SC&P's new L.A. branch and thereby (maybe?) permanently alienating his second wife (and Stan Rizzo!), followed by melting down like a Hershey's bar in a crucial pitch meeting and getting himself Freddy Rumsen'd (i.e. forced into a semi-permanent career hiatus) by his fellow partners. Getting in touch with his inner Dick Whitman left Don's career in ruins, but considering he was last seen showing his children the whorehouse where he grew up, it might be allowing him newfound intimacy with what little family he has left.
Where he might be headed: No clue what will happen to Don this year, but it will probably involve some private epiphany while reading Slaughterhouse-Five.
Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss)
Who she is: Secretly the show's protagonist according to some, a sheltered Catholic secretary from Brooklyn turned fashionable, progressive, neurotic, workaholic career woman who has willed her way up the corporate ladder but can't hold down a man; secretly had a baby with Pete Campbell, but Don instructed her to pretend it never happened; Don's former protege and the only woman he respects enough to cry into her lap instead of seducing her.
Where we left her: After getting dumped by her live-in boyfriend in an ambulance upon accidentally stabbing him with a makeshift spear, Peggy tarted herself up to secure an ill-advised affair with SC&P partner Ted Chaough and prepared herself to be "that girl." Then Ted gave her the cold shoulder and retreated to California with his family, leaving Peggy single again and without her closest ally in the office.
Where she might be headed: Considering her friendship with Zosia Mamet's lesbian character, perhaps Peggy will end up at Stonewall, and maybe closeted (and dearly missed) ex-Art Director Sal Romano will be there, too. Or she might finally succumb to Stan Rizzo's come-ons, but only for a night.
Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm)
Who he is: Don's pesky, conniving arch-rival turned goodie-two-shoes frenemy and business partner when the two of them spontaneously engineered a merger between their firms to land General Motors, forever competing with Don for their peers' respect and Peggy's loyalty. Imagines himself a man of integrity, but still can't keep it in his pants if Peggy's within 2,000 miles.
Where we left him: Ted was last seen waiting in Peggy's hallway to coax her into bed with the promise of a new life together (and Christmas in Hawaii!), only to run as fast as he could in the other direction—back to his wife and into the firm's new California bureau—when his Boy Scout conscience kicked in.
Where he might be headed: His wife will almost certainly find out about the affair with Peggy, rendering his escape to the West Coast moot.
Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks)
Who she is: Voluptuous, charismatic, unflappable lead secretary whose burgeoning ad career was sidelined by sexism; mentor to Peggy Olson in the ways of femininity; former flame of Roger Sterling, who later fathered her child in a moment of passion after they were mugged; raped during engagement by her failed-doctor fiancé, who later chose an extra tour in Vietnam over life at home with her and the baby.
Where we left her: After giving up on her loser husband and getting her hopes up for what turned out to be a platonic friendship with Bob Benson (he doesn't swing that way), she allowed Roger to be part of their son's life by inviting him to Thanksgiving.
Where she might be headed: Earns surprise windfall when estranged husband is killed in 'Nam; invests it in a new fast-food chain called Wendy's.
Roger Sterling (John Slattery)
Who he is: Silver fox rapidly aging out of relevance; Don's mentor in drinking, philandering, and advertising; the father of Joan's lovechild; budding LSD enthusiast and longtime blackface aficionado; tragicomic relief charged with delivering all the best lines.
Where we left him: Roger got himself uninvited to Thanksgiving by his daughter when he opted not to invest in her husband's business venture, but he managed to convince Joan to do the Thanksgiving thing. In between, he bitched out Bob Benson.
Where he might be headed: Woodstock, baby! Where he just might run into....
Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka)
Who she is: Don's teenage daughter; BFF of weirdo creeper-kid Glenn (played by Matthew Weiner's real-life kid); friend of prodigious violinists and kindly burglar ladies; not a girl, not yet a woman; mommy issues recently surpassed by daddy issues.
Where we left her: In the most recent incident of a traumatic childhood, Sally walked in on her father boinking his mistress. After laying a sick burn on Don with "I wouldn't want to do anything immoral," she coped by boozing it up with her classmates at boarding school, which got her suspended just in time for a family trip to Don's childhood whorehouse on Thanksgiving, at which point she seemed at least a little forgiving.
Where she might be going: Some have predicted that Sally will end up at Altamont, but geographically, she's much more likely to be impregnated at Max Yasgur's dairy farm.
Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser)
Who he is: Spoiled rich kid with entitlement issues; secretly fathered a child with Peggy the night before marrying someone else; aspired to Don's hollow American dream but only managed to imitate his soul-wrecking, marriage-sinking infidelities; sent Rory Gilmore into electroshock therapy (don't worry, they're now engaged in real life); progressive politics; receding hairline; like any good manchild, he never learned to drive.
Where we left him: Pete spent season six getting flummoxed as only Pete can by a pair of mysterious, manipulative men: the ladder-climbing yes man Bob Benson (who unsuccessfully seduced Pete) and Benson's buddy, the male nanny Manolo (who successfully seduced Pete's demented mother before marrying her on a cruise ship and possibly pushing her overboard). He was last seen crashing a Camaro Z28 at GM headquarters and fleeing to Los Angeles with Ted Chaough.
Where he might be headed: If anyone is going to find redemption out in California, my money's on Pete. Then again, with Pete's luck, he'll somehow end up at Chappaquiddick with fellow old-money liberal Ted Kennedy.
Megan Draper (Jessica Paré)
Who she is: Don's French-Canadian secretary turned babysitter turned second wife; fond of showy public serenades that embarrass Don; fan of Revolver; impossibly good at advertising, but she really wants to act.
Where we left her: Megan was last seen walking out on Don in a huff after he reneged on the plan to relocate to L.A., but not before she quit her lucrative soap-opera gig in anticipation of the move.
Where she might be headed: Going to California with an aching in her heart, possibly to land a minor role in Midnight Cowboy before returning to a long career in soaps.
Betty Francis (January Jones)
Who she is: Don's rich-princess former trophy wife, now remarried to good-natured aspiring politician Henry Francis; like Pete Campbell, a spoiled rich kid who never matured into a functional adult; carried on a bizarre emotional fling with creepy-neighbor-kid Glenn; amateur equestrian; once chugged Cool Whip during much-maligned "Fat Betty" phase.
Where we left her: Having lost the weight and enjoyed a one-night stand with Don at Bobby's summer camp, Betty was last seen coming to terms with her awful parenting and readying herself for life as a politician's arm candy.
Where she might be headed: Finds her groove throwing pro-Vietnam fundraiser dinners for New York's conservative elite.
Bob Benson (James Wolk)
Who he is: Mysterious perma-smiling expert schmoozer whose climb through SC&P mirrors Don's; Joan thought she was politely seducing her, but he was actually politely seducing Pete.
Where we left him: Bob glad-handed his way to the head of the GM account in the Detroit office, where he claimed victory over Pete once and for all by forcing him behind the wheel.
Where he's headed: To the top, presumably. Actor James Wolk now plays a different ad man on the CBS series The Crazy Ones, but Weiner is a fool if he didn't work a wildly successful Benson cameo into season seven.
Ken Cosgrove: Hits it big with series of youth sci-fi novels about a one-eyed space pirate.
Bert Cooper: Dies. Buried with bare feet.
Trudy Campbell: Gets re-engaged the night of the moon landing.
Duck Phillips: Kills the dog he abandoned while drunk driving, signs up for 'Nam in a guilt-stricken panic.
Bobby Draper: Goes back to camp.
Gene Draper: Also goes to camp.
Stan Rizzo and Michael Ginsberg: Move to Hollywood together to pitch a buddy comedy; Stan joins The Brady Bunch's writing staff, while Ginsberg ends up on Sesame Street.
Jim Cutler: Installs new video security system to compile spank bank of illicit workplace trysts.
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