It’s January, 1969, and Richard Nixon has become President of the United States. The dawning of the Age of Aquarius is turning to dusk and the country is still going through some turbulent times. It was a year that saw not only a new president who would leave office in shame four years later, but also bed-ins starring John and Yoko. The Summer of 1969 gave us Woodstock, a gathering of the best musicians of the times and one which has never been equaled, either in influence or magnitude of talent. Sorry, Coachella fans – just Google the line-up for Woodstock and then we’ll talk about it. We also saw tragedy that Summer, when Charles Manson and his cult followers terrorized Los Angeles by murdering everyone at the home of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski as well as the LaBiancas. The year ended with the music festival at Altamont, when the Hell’s Angels wiped out all of the peace and love from Woodstock with a knife attack. All of this serves as the backdrop and chronological co-star for this season of Mad Men.
When Don Draper spent Thanksgiving with his kids and showed them the whorehouse he grew up in, it looked like he’d turned a corner. Instead, his lifetime of self-serving deception has become a very hard habit to break. He’s living two lives on two coasts, telling Megan that he has to leave their home in Los Angeles to go to work, while spending his days in New York feeding his best advertising ideas to Freddie. Those that are left behind at SC&P are feeling the loss of his presence, whether they’re willing to admit it or not.
Roger is engaging in orgies, answering phone calls from his daughter while wearing nothing more than a rotary phone. His daughter wants to have lunch with him so they can talk. They haven’t talked in a while, ever since he refused to give her the money for her and her husband’s questionable start-up company. When they do talk, she tells him that she accepts his apology for forcing her to ask for the money. Roger isn’t clear as to why he should apologize for anything that took place, so he doesn’t, willing only to agree to move forward.
Those that really need Don back are Peggy and Joan. His replacement, Lou Avery is a throwback, a Neanderthal who doesn’t see that the women at SC&P have evolved beyond their traditional roles as secretaries and copy girls. When Peggy presents a far superior idea for Accutron watches, Lou shoots it down for one that sounds like every other timepiece advertisement. Calling his idea mediocre is being kind – it’s a complete failure. He doesn’t even take the time to break it to her gently, Instead he laughs at the thought of her having any ideas at all. Joan is having difficulties with a potential client who wants to promote women’s shoes, but he’d rather meet with Ken Cosgrove, who has gotten very cranky, even throwing an earring at Joan. While Don may be an absolute boor in his personal relationship with the women in his life, he was the one who supported Joan and Peggy, pushing them to do more and to do it better. Peggy’s only ally seems to be Stan, her best friend. I think we’d all feel better if they’d just admit how much they like each other and move in together. She could certainly use some help with being a landlord. Pete Campbell seems to have adapted to his life on the West coast with relative ease. He’s sporting the really awful fashions of the late ’60’s and enjoying being single. Or, he’s just fooling himself and us with his new-found flair and cavalier attitude.
There’s been a lot of discussion about how Matt Weiner intends to wrap up this, the seventh and final season of Mad Men. Viewers have debated whether he’ll kill off one or more major characters, including Don. I don’t see any reason to kill Don. He’s been dead, at least on the inside, since he changed his name. He’s destroyed every relationship he’s been in, neither of his wives really care about him and his children, especially Sally, will need therapy well into adulthood. The problem is that Don doesn’t like or even know himself. His dual existence has become a part of him, making it even harder to distinguish Don Draper from Dick Whitman. Killing him isn’t necessary – it would be, well, overkill.
The most annoying thing about Weiner is that he has a tendency to throw teaser-type signs to the viewers and we’re left with all sorts of theories wondering if the clues are red flags or red herrings. Because Mad Men has always had a sense of gloom, one of the most compelling or maddening theories that have been tossed about are in regard to Megan and the specter of Sharon Tate. He’s move Megan to Los Angeles, to the Canyon where she lives in isolation, far from the city lights. The only sounds she hears are the howls of the coyotes. She’s auditioning for a part in “Bracken’s World”, an NBC show that was created by Dorothy Kingsely, who co-wrote the screenplay for “Vally of the Dolls.” There have been several episodes where we’ve been given these types of nods to Tate and Manson, and they may just be coincidence. Or not. That isn’t to say that Megan is going to die the same way Tate and her friends did. It may all be just a game Weiner enjoys playing with us. Either way, it’s creepy, even ghoulish, but Don Draper has been circling Hell for a long time, so anything’s possible in his world.