I'm not a fan of AMC's misguided attempts to make their best dramas last longer, by stretching final seasons across two years. Mad Men's final season went into hiatus after seven episodes last May, which makes the eighth episode, "Severance", sit awkwardly. While it was clearly designed as a premiere episode of an unofficial and likewise condensed ninth season, for some reason it felt like a struggle to get into this hour. I perhaps should have prepared myself with a catchup of the prior episode, or re-read some of my own reviews back. Then again, Mad Men's always been a show that needs to build some momentum before you start to really appreciate the journey.
It's 1970. Nixon's President! Long moustaches are in fashion! Pop Tarts have been invented! Women are still sex objects that sniggering businessmen can openly make lewd comments about in the workplace. Oh dear...
The bulk of this hour was spent simply catching up with the character and where they are right now, and appear to be heading in the near-future. It's doubtful this season's going to end before 1970's over, unless a risky time-jump into the present-day's on the cards. Don's (Jon Hamm) marriage to Megan is officially over, so he's bedding sexy women as a middle-aged bachelor whose good-looks are still ensuring he has his pick of girls half his age. But it was the unexpected, premature death of an old flame, Rachel Katz (née Menken), that once again lurched him back into a more mature mindset—and, not for the first time, has him facing up to his own mortality. I'm going to be slightly miffed if Don doesn't die in the finale, given how often Matthew Weiner hints that it's the natural end-point. Interesting how the show again played with its existential side, with Don actually dreaming of Rachel coming to model a chinchilla fur coat at his offices, "coincidentally" before hearing of her passing. I always enjoy how Mad Men plays with spirituality, dreams, memories and the afterlife.
As I alluded to, Joan (Christina Hendricks) may now be extremely wealthy and a colleague who's seen as an equal by his associates, but to the clients of the '70s she's still just an impressive specimen of womanhood with a body to die for. I thought that scene was slightly overplayed, and it went over old ground as far as Joan's character is concerned, but I'm interested to see where it leads. Is she going to start dressing more conservatively? Or will she start using her sexuality to her advantage more, and play sexist men at their own mind-games?
Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) appears to have a new boyfriend called Stevie (Devon Gummersall), who came across as a bit of a drip during their dinner date, when he wouldn't make a fuss of being served the wrong meal at a restaurant, but Peggy seemed surprised that she grew to like him. Or was she just straining to like someone, seeing as her sudden plan to fly to Paris came so out of the blue? Something tells me that, like Joan, Peggy's sudden wealth hasn't fixed the biggest hole in her life (true love) and she's perhaps just too desperate to rectify that situation.
The best subplot of the hour actually belonged to Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton), whose blindness in his right eye now appears to be permanent—meaning he walks around the office cutting a slightly freaky figure in a menacing eye patch. His actual eye's condition under the patch isn't that distracting or gruesome, so I'm not clear why it's necessary. Anyway, Ken was fired by Ferguson Donnelly of McCann the second his father-in-law retired from Dow Chemical (a firm who are a top client of SC&P), and it looked like a pretty low-key exit was in store… until Ken managed to turn the tables, by becoming Dow Chemical's new Head of Advertising, and therefore his previous employer's new client. Roger (John Slattery) and Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) are going to have to kiss Ken's ass, which isn't going to be easy.
Overall, even an episode of Mad Men that doesn't wow me is a pleasure to watch because the quality of writing is so sharp. And it's when you start to pick over an episode's events that things reveal more depths—like how Don physically saw an alternate version of his own life, if he'd stuck with Rachel, with "their" children running around at her memorial. Or how he's now more comfortable telling anecdotes about his unprivileged upbringing, which was once such a shameful secret of his.
written by Matthew Weiner • directed by Scott Hornbacher • 9 April 2015 • Sky Atlantic