The last season of ‘Mad Men’ opens with ‘Severance,’ leaves characters adrift
By ALISON THOET
Mad Men’s opening sequence was bittersweet last Sunday, knowing there are only a few more chances to see it. This time, the reclining man began to look a little faded.
Last season, fans were left with Donald Draper’s pitiable face as he imagined Burt Cooper’s last goodbye, singing and sashaying down the ad agency’s hallway.
This season opens with the always-dapper Draper watching a woman very much enjoying a fur coat in front of the other mad men. What sounds like a sensual scene in Don’s romantic life is actually a woman trying out for a moisturizer commercial, preparing the audience for the onslaught of what this show is about: advertisement.
The new 1970s era slaps viewers in the face with big hair, medieval sleeves, more hair gel and rather confusing mustaches.
Don and Roger Sterling seem to be enjoying their company, but there is a subtle suggestion of Don’s lonely life as he promptly turns the lights off in his apartment so as not to see the emptiness. And just like that, a mail order girl shows up to replace the hole left in Don’s heart from his most recent failed marriage.
In the premiere, viewers also received a little more about Ken (the one with the eye-patch), showing a new focus on character development, even from those on the bottom of the advertisement pyramid. If anything, Ken shows the trajectory of the innocent when they head into the ad market and the danger of focusing too much on work instead of the life not lived.
Cue Joan and Peggy, the leading ladies in this man’s business world, once again having their femininity confused with stupidity. Peggy shirks her personal life for work, per the usual, and Joan dives into work, red beehive hairdo and all.
The two are turned into nothing more than bodies and mindless secretaries in the minds of their clients as they try to break through the walls built against women in the professional workplace, and even the stereotypes established by women themselves.
Rachel Katz, of Menken’s department store, pops into the picture for a moment, only for viewers to learn that she has actually died. So the question arises: Why is Don seeing dead people? Whether dancing or feeling themselves up in a fur coat, Don is haunted by people who have died on the show. Is all of the sex, drugs and drinking getting to Don’s brain finally? This first episode gives fans another off-screen death with Rachel, and another confusing loss for Don.
Draper is seen becoming more and more reckless, with a different girl every night or having quickies with waitresses in back alleys, but there is also another layer of Don in the staring eyes and childishly innocent, hurt look at Rachel’s funeral.
This season seems to be setting up the life not lived, what people could be doing instead of slogging in the ad world. Don turns to women to fill the void in his life, possibly even the hole left by Rachel—the woman so similar to him, yet so unreachable. Joan goes shopping to feel better, but she cannot be treated as the successful woman she is even there. Peggy finds some ground and is found fearless on a rather successful first date.
Don continues to be haunted by Rachel’s death throughout the episode, reminded at every turn by her. The episode ends with Don alone at a counter, similar to other men sitting in the restaurant, alone.
“Severance,” the title of the episode, leaves viewers focusing on all things lost: a job and ‘severance package’ for Ken, Rachel for Don, the possibility of being taken seriously for Joan, any sense of being carefree for Peggy and even the loss of a long-favorite show for the rest of us.
The tone has been set for the last season: a drifting cast of characters trying to find who they are, but do they have any hope for happiness with only five episodes left?