OK, I have read lots of negatives about this season's Mad Men. For those who have already bid farewell to Mad Men or are considering it, I urge you to either return or stay turned for this 7th final season. We may not be working toward the genius resolve of Breaking Bad or Six Feet Under. However, the issues built upon and developed this season are fascinating and authentic. Focusing on Megan and Don (and there are so many other characters to think about!), the following highlights offer reflection and opportunities for discussion:
Eternal Male/Female Difference Revealed: The recent telephone conversation between Megan and Don, when he finally tells her that he has been given a leave from the firm he helped build from ashes highlights a universal male/female communication challenge that life partners who are intimate and committed face, understand, and work through. Megan cannot understand why Don did not love and trust her enough to tell her the truth. Don could not tell Megan the truth because he felt if he did she would no longer see him as potent and strong and would stop loving and desiring him.
Enduring Commitment and Satisfaction Built on Being Real Is Addressed: Intimacy involves honesty about who you are: Megan is losing desire because Don is not real with her. But Don, as we know, has not been real with himself, and has kept women at a distance who have asked him for authenticity and closeness. The closest Don came to being real publicly lost his firm money and cost him his job, at least temporarily.
Work Place Treachery and Viciousness Continues to be Exposed: We have already seen a partner/colleague violated to such an extent that he hangs himself in his office. Now that Don has returned to Sterling, Cooper, and Draper, he is being punished brutally. His lapse of honest sharing lost an account. (Money is everything; relationships mean nothing.) His partners allow his return because they do not want him to be a rival elsewhere, and they cannot afford to buy him out. Not one partner extends an ounce of kindness. Roger told Don to return after he saw his offer from another firm, and then made sure his first hours there were unsettled and miserable.
Taking Stock of Who We Really Are Involves Pain: Why isn't Don going elsewhere? Why is he accepting horrific, disrespectful treatment? Sterling and Cooper was a launching pad for him, and his life's blood went into Sterling and Cooper and Draper. He has been able to do brilliant work because of innate ability to combine art and manipulation, as well as the love of the woman who had been the wife of the man whose identity he had stolen --- the first love he has ever known from anyone. Perhaps Don will be able to build on this, and work toward becoming a true person. In an interview Jon Hamm is quoted in Vulture as saying, "I think I am uniquely rooting for him. It's been a long, downward spiral." He continues, "I'm hoping for peace and resolution and balance and all of those things in his life." (His co-star Christina Hendricks, who plays Joan, says that she wants a "horribly tragic" ending for her character. Oh, I hope not. Joan has a son to raise!)
Experiences in Don's Favor: We have seen women continue to throw themselves at Don, but he does not respond. We have seen him trying not to drink. We have seen him drive Sally back to school, make her smile in the restaurant; and finally, his daughter shows him the sweet love that can only exist between a father and her daugher, if she trusts and likes at least part of him. Plus regardless of how it plays out, Don mustered the courage to cope with his shame and humiliation and tell his wife the truth!
Megan and Don: Mentoring Conflicts: Megan does not want a father/mentor. Young and unschooled in the backlash of too much pushiness, she resents Don's attempts to help her, after her agent called him, asking his input to help his wife cool it. But we must remember that it was Megan's pushiness that captivated and caught Don in the first place. In their early passion, he signed on as her mentor/protector (What a firm they could have built!), but after initial professional advertising success (Remember Peggy telling Megan how talented she was?) Megan wanted more -- to become an actor.
Divided Loyalties -- Marriage vs. Ambition: We are used to this conflict being addressed from the male perspective, as it has been throughout the seasons of Mad Men. Now we are examining Megan's loyalty to a man who opens the door to the kind of enormous potential success that Peggy and Joan sweated bullets to try to attain -- and Joan was forced to prostitute herself for -- and the ambition and risk necessary to do what one always dreamed of doing (or so Megan's father told her was her dream).
Importance of One's Parenting in Achieving Mature Commitment: We have closely examined the terrible cost to Don of a childhood that held only brutality, loss, shame and rejection. (We have also caught glimpses of other childhoods, such as Joan's and Peggy's). This season it is important to remember Megan's father confronting her, telling her she was selling out by not pursuing acting. Megan was approaching phenomenal advertising success when her father confronted her in a demeaning way. Was he jealous of her potential for marital happiness, something he could not achieve? Did he want to remain his daughter's primary man, jealous of what she was building with Don?
Can Don succeed in his Quest to Mature? The forces against this are many, inside of Don and surrounding him. Life is not neat, and I am not anticipating a neat finale. Still, I am rooting for Don. For, yes he can. As is true for all of us: It is Don Draper's life to make or to break.