TV review: Mad Men Season 7 Episode 8, Sky Atlantic (4 stars)

Don Draper struggles to hold it together as Mad Men begins its long goodbye

TV review: Mad Men, Sky Atlantic

As the first episode of Mad Men’s final hurrah opens, Don Draper appears to be up to his old tricks, albeit with a more distant edge. As he smokes into a paper cup before a woman dressed in little more than a fur coat, the ad exec requests she moves in a particular way while he looks on alone. Except he’s not alone, as it turns out to be an all-male casting session for another campaign in which sex will undoubtedly sell.

The 1970s are finally calling and the era’s misogyny is no longer even trying to be subtle, displayed rabidly when the two strongest women in the series, Peggy and Joan, are thoroughly demeaned in a meeting with three leering McCann-Erickson chauvinists during negotiations over pantyhose. Worse, rather than being able to tell the men where to get off, the pair turn on each other in a tense elevator scene.

Ultimately, of course, Don Draper is up to his old tricks, seducing a waitress during her fag break and having a drunken night with (possibly) a new girlfriend. A bedsheet might hide a massive red wine stain on the carpet, but nothing can fully mask the unruly mess his life is in, two divorces already under his barely-fastened belt. Meanwhile, Draper has a vivid dream about one of the first women we saw him cheating with, leading to a waking confrontation with mortality.

What seems clear from this opener is that it’s likely to be full-on Don all the way to the end, as previously major characters such as Roger, Ted and Pete simply make fleeting cameos; though the eyepatched Ken receives bad news with a positive twist in its tail which is likely to make life awkward for all concerned.

While Mad Men would deservedly take its place among many critics’ top five TV dramas of all time, creator Matthew Weiner is almost certainly correct in calling time on the show before staleness threatened to creep in. The decade-long span of Mad Men has felt like the most stylish history lesson ever as America’s political and social tremors of the 60s have rumbled on in the background.

But nothing has been more dramatic than the inner workings of the terminally damaged Don, played with a subtle grace by Jon Hamm. The only question is whether those self-destructive tendencies will lead to a crashing fall (as hinted at every week by those Saul Bass-like opening credits) or if his conclusion will be as open-to-interpretation as Tony Soprano’s, that other psychologically-complex, flawed anti-hero of our TV times.

Mad Men starts on Sky Atlantic, Thursday 9 April, 10pm


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