Early thoughts on rewatching the last season of Mad Men

I’ve only gotten a few episodes into my rewatching of last year’s season of Mad Men, but things are already coming across different to me. I’m even beginning to suspect that some of the things that made it frustrating to watch going forward — the excessive attention to Megan at the expense of Peggy, the pat “thematic” nature of each episode — were features rather than bugs.

One of the overarching themes is that generational transfer is not a clean and simple thing. Gerry Canavan said on Twitter this morning that this was supposed to be the season when Peggy and Pete take everything over — and it was! But that’s not really how it works. Pete has to deal with the fact that Roger, despite his miserable failure, still holds formal power and is determined not to step aside, while Peggy is hit from the other direction as Don develops a kind of pathetic rivalry with the younger Ginsberg. (We might also note that the apparently vestigial Bert Cooper continues to persist, despite claiming that he could no longer work with Don after the infamous open letter….) A lot of people wind up getting squeezed out in the generational transfer, buffeted by the stubbornness of the older cohort together with the continual influx of fresh blood from the younger cohort. The younger people can sometimes cut in line — just ask Hillary Clinton about this.

The other is that every sexual relationship is a missed encounter. I probably don’t have to go into detail with this, but despite their continual making up, it’s clear that Don and Megan fundamentally don’t fit — I wouldn’t be surprised if next season finds them either divorced or estranged.

In this perspective, Megan gets disproportionate attention because she embodies and unifies both of these themes.

On the more episodic nature of the season: I suspect that it’s meant to performatively evoke the “oh, things are changing so fast!” feeling in the culture — look, it’s a totally new self-contained theme each episode! Yet when you look at the underlying power dynamics, everything is basically the same. Peggy can’t “move up,” she can’t claim the center stage she never really had in the first place — all she can do is use her special relationship with Don as leverage to gain a fundamentally similar position at another firm and thereby gain some distance and independence. From there, perhaps she can wait it out while some of those young stars fizzle out.

We’ll see if this holds as I work my way through the rest of the season in the next couple weeks.

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