I'm late to the game. Embarrassingly late. When Mad Men first aired, I was a 19-year-old college sophomore, and now I'm a month away from turning 25. Don Draper would never say "better late than never" (even though he's been anything but professional or prompt lately), but I'm happy I just got hooked on Mad Men before its final season, which premieres in 2014.
I've been watching Mad Men for a little over three months. I actually started on the Ides of March, when a friend convinced me to see what it was all about. My roommate and mother had been trying to recruit me for a while, but I always refused, as I'd heard the show had lots of sexist, racist, and outdated themes. Of course, as one of our pundits recently pointed out, there's much more to the AMC drama than 1960s discrimination, and I'm glad I finally saw the light this spring and somehow managed to binge-watch all six seasons.
It's not ideal to have a solo Mad Men marathon and watch the intense, often emotionally trying series all at once, but I did gain and observe a few things from "rushing" the experience. Here's what I've learned.
1. Pete Campbell ages more than anyone else on the show
He looked fresh and ready to take on the ad world in season one, but comes across as worn out in season six:
Too much yelling and bridge-burning? I think so.
2. He also needs to chill out ...
Is it just me or is he constantly in attack mode?
And when it doesn't go in his favor ...
He's getting schooled by someone, or something.
3. Peggy's transformation is astounding
Peggy is introduced as a quiet, young secretary and quickly evolves into a tough, smart, unstoppable copywriter. She can hold her own and stand up to any man at the office, including Don Draper, whom she calls a "monster" in season six. Peggy is my favorite person on the entire show, and I'd even venture to say she's more important than Don.
4. The relationships change
Remember Pete and Peggy? Don and Betty? Roger and Joan? Even Don and Megan?
All of those relationships fizzle in later seasons, and I was even bummed out to see Roger and Joan may be totally over in Sunday's finale, when she kindly tells him that he's allowed to be a part of their son's life but not her own. It seems like Joan's confidence is gone, at least with regard to Roger and her job.
I always thought Peggy and Pete would wind up together again, and for a while, I wanted this, as I like when shows circle back to initial themes and story lines, but she's too different for that to happen in season seven. They're done, and from the looks of Sunday's installment, perhaps Megan and Don are as well.
Is there a single sustainable romance on this show? Is there any chance Betty and Don could rekindle their toxic connection, or will he end up alone with his miserable "ex-wife and kids," as Megan said?
5. Everything is swept under the rug
One of my favorite Mad Men lines is Don's famous comment to Peggy: "This never happened. It will shock you how much this never happened." On one hand, it's wrong to treat problems as if they don't exist, but Peggy is able to move forward with her life thanks to Don's words of wisdom. And look at her now.
6. Don's issues circle back to his identity
Don opens up about his tumultuous childhood in the season six finale, causing his stunned colleagues and children to worry. He's told to leave the company for a while as a result of sharing too much information on his youth, among other things, but ends the episode by showing his kids where he grew up. Will he finally be happy if he embraces his true identity, Dick Whitman? Maybe not, but it would certainly give him one less thing to be dishonest about.
7. Don is never going to change
The whole fidelity thing just isn't for him, and he cheats so much throughout the series that it's never shocking when he has an affair (except maybe with Sylvia, who is just wretched, mean, and volatile). You could say he's a bad husband, but more than anything, commitment just isn't his thing.
8. Season five is such a downer
I had to watch Parks and Rec on repeat after Mad Men season five just to be in a good mood again. I won't give too much away, but the season is seriously depressing, and I'm relieved season six is slightly more uplifting.
9. Joan's character softens
As Peggy's character gets feistier and more assertive, Joan softens and becomes more subdued. At the beginning of the series, we see her bully plain-looking, uncertain Peggy, but once Peggy proves she's powerful and not a doormat, Joan stops messing with her. She also appears less concerned with maintaining her Queen Bee status after having Kevin. I miss the old Joan, who could take down any man in that office, but am glad Peggy still has a sparkle in her eye. Maybe Joan will get it back in season seven.