‘Mad Men’: the end of an era

Tribune News Service
Jon Hamm as Don Draper in Mad Men's season 7. (Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC)

Kaley Patterson
A&E Editor

It’s last call for the AMC original series “Mad Men.” The period drama, set in 1960’s New York City, focuses on advertising agency Sterling Cooper and the characters drinking their way through that pivotal time in American history.

The critically acclaimed show is in its final season, which is showing in two parts. The first series of episodes in season seven premiered last spring, and the final episodes began on April 5. It is essentially “The End of an Era” – with the program ending and the passing of the 1960s.

Matthew Weiner, with the help of AMC, brought the alcoholic chain smokers of Don Draper, Peggy Olson, Roger Sterling, Joan Harris and Pete Campbell to life in 2007 – just to name a few. Weiner pitched the Mad Men pilot to Showtime and HBO before landing a spot at AMC; the station was looking to create an original series at the time.

The show was an instant hit.

“Mad Men” has won 15 Emmys and four Golden Globes. It was the first basic cable series to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series for its first four seasons. The show is constantly praised for its historical accuracy, visuals, costumes, acting, writing and directing – all from the mind of Weiner.

How the scenes in each episode are shot and framed brings the creativity of cinema to simple television screens. The costumes, makeup, haircuts and facial hair coincide with the transition and progression of 1960’s America and practically allow audiences an actual glimpse into the past. “Mad Men” characters experienced the deaths of Marilyn Monroe, Martin Luther King Jr. and JFK; their grieving allowed audiences to see how those tragedies affected American citizens and the ramifications of each event instead of reading in a textbook.

The historical authenticity in “Mad Men” was poignant to the plot sequences in each episode, which made it a real period drama.

In addition to the genius of the technicalities of the show, Weiner created many complex and flawed characters, the main one being protagonist Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, which isn’t even his real name. He stole it from a dead soldier during the Korean War in a desperate attempt to escape his povertous former life.

Don embodies the promiscuousness and uncertainty the era of the sixties possessed – wife at home in the suburbs, mistresses at his beckon call, stocked liquor bar in the office and a cigarette permanently wedged between his middle and forefinger. New York City was his, and the world was for his taking.

Although, his character arc never allows him to overcome his problem of self-discovery. Throughout the series, Don struggled with trying to figure out who he is, which resulted in two divorces, distant children and of course, a drinking problem.

Don’s secret identity eventually comes to light during a presentation to a client in season six – an emotional, alcohol induced confession, thus causing the partners to banish Don to take a leave from the agency to reassess himself. Don lost the identity he created, and he returned to the drawing board.

Towards the end of the first series of episodes in season seven, Don is allowed to return to the agency, but finds what he left behind no longer exists and has start from square one.

After the premiere on April 5, Don and the rest of the agency appear to be back where they were in season one, except there are some new mustaches. The agency is doing well, everyone’s happily drinking and smoking, but once again, Don is drawn back to the past in two ways that had audiences saying, “Well, that was weird. I didn’t expect that.” This is Don’s vice, though: getting mixed up in the past, forgetting the present and stumbling to move forward. It all go backs to his struggle with self-identity, which is looking like it will take a drastic hit during the wee hours of the series.

One aspect of the show that might foreshadow Don’s demise is the opening credits. Set to a decrescendo of violins, the soft pitter-patter of drums and strum of a bass, viewers see the silhouette of Don walking into his office crumbling right before his eyes. He sets down his briefcase and watches his life’s work melt away.

His silhouette falls down the agency’s skyscraper, passing advertisements of scandalously dressed women, a glass of alcohol and a sparkling engagement ring. But before he makes it to the ground, audiences see the silhouette lounging on a couch smoking a cigarette.

Don already watched the identity he created go up in smoke, his alcohol consumption hasn’t decreased, he still pursues women and he already ruined two marriages. But if viewers haven’t learned anything about Don, they should know he’s a creative mind with buried troubling emotions. Don’s character has become consistent in his actions, but what’s to come is not as predictable as the Old Fashion he orders, the cigarette in his hand and the way he tells people what to believe.

“Mad Men” shows on AMC at 10/9c on Sunday nights. The last episode is scheduled to air on May 17.


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