There’s a lot going on this weekend: Easter, Passover, the beginning of baseball season. And you’ve only got a little time left to figure out how to get out of all of it, because Mad Men comes back tonight.
It’s been almost a year since the first half of this final season aired, so we all could use a little refresher on where we left off with everyone at Sterling Cooper. Thus, without further ado, we bring you 10 Important Things to Remember from Season 7A.
Note: Obviously, this is an article about everything that happens in season 7A of Mad Men. Don’t read if you’re behind and afraid of spoilers.
Despite all the internet conspiracy theories, Megan made it out of season six alive, but 7A was still pretty rough for her. Her acting career is going nowhere, and her husband is living on the opposite side of the country—despite being on involuntary leave from work for the first few episodes. When Megan finds this out, she’s upset, but their marriage ends not with a bang but a whimper—or, more specifically, a single awkward pause after Don suggests he could finally move out to LA—and they break up over the phone. Is Megan really out of Don’s life for good, though? She’s featured prominently in all the promo photos for these final seven episodes, so we know she’s on the show in some capacity, but if she and Don are really through, it’s yet another sign that the old Don Draper—you know, the one who ditched a real relationship with Dr. Faye for a fling with Megan and then spontaneously decided to marry her because she didn’t freak out over a spilled milkshake—is disappearing. This was never a healthy union, and finally coming to terms with that is a huge step.
Everyone’s favorite bespectacled speed fiend basically tried to take over the agency this season. He brought in the computer, which sent everyone into a pretty major man-vs.-machine funk (particularly Ginsberg…more on that later). He made Harry a partner (HARRY!). He butted heads with Roger whenever he got the opportunity, and perhaps most alarmingly, he tried to get rid of Don—first by chasing Commander cigarettes behind his back, knowing no cigarette company would want to work with Don after his anti-tobacco letter, then when that failed, by claiming breach of contract. Luckily, Don still had more votes with the partners, and he quietly, politely put the idea to rest.
Just kidding. He did this:
Ultimately, however, it was Roger who saved Don’s job and reclaimed the agency by orchestrating a brilliant move after Bert Cooper’s death. Knowing that McCann is about to lose Buick, he convinces them to buy 51 percent of Sterling Cooper and operate it as an independent subsidiary. The deal makes him president and makes all the partners millionaires, but most importantly, it finally gives Roger the upper hand over Jim Cutler and allows him to step up to the plate and prove to himself and everyone else (including the recently deceased Bert, who told Roger that he’s not a leader during their final conversation) that he can do more than flirt and drink.
Remember this guy, who briefly out-cooled Don Draper with his aviators and his willingness to cruise through rough air?
Yeah, that’s not the Ted we got in season 7A. Ted’s miserable in California, to the point where he’s pulling stunts like cutting the engine while flying a bunch of clients and trying to tank his career. He wants out of advertising altogether, and he’s not even enticed by the multimillion-dollar offer from McCann until Don assures him that all he’ll be expected to do is sit at a desk and write tags and coupons all day. He also perks up a little bit at the idea that he’ll have to move back to New York, where he and Peggy will presumably be reunited and forced to address all their unresolved feelings for each other.
“A Day’s Work” dealt with all the unresolved conflict between Sally and her father after she caught him and Sylvia getting a little too friendly in season six. After Don lies to her face for the umpteenth time, she finally calls him out on everything, telling him “it’s more embarrassing for me to catch you in a lie than it is for you to be lying” and later in the episode, Don offers an honest explanation. It’s the first time we really see him treat her like an adult, but it’s Sally who hands out all the life lessons here. At the end of the episode, she hops out of the car and casually says “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you” before heading inside. As I wrote when “A Day’s Work” first aired: “The look on Don’s face says it all; he’s clearly touched and surprised. He grew up in a toxic household, raised by parents who never wanted him, and he’s spent his entire adult life toiling in unhealthy relationships and destroying the good ones. The concept of unconditional love is foreign to him. That his daughter could love him despite all of his transgressions is a shock to him. But as he watches her climb the stairs, The Zombies’ ‘This Will Be Our Year’ plays (‘the warmth of your love’s like the warmth of the sun, and this will be our year/took a long time to come,’ ‘now the darkness has gone,’ ‘and I won’t forget the way you said “Darling, I love you”/You gave me faith to go on’), offering some encouraging signs of what’s to come for Sally and Don. Whether he realized it or not, all Don’s ever really wanted is love; maybe now he can stop looking for it in business meetings after finally—finally—discovering he’s had it all along.” As for her relationship with Betty? Based on her assertion to her boarding school friends that “I’d stay here until 1975 if I could get Betty in the ground,” it’s still probably not great.
If you don’t remember this one from last season, you probably weren’t paying very much attention at all, because THERE WAS A NIPPLE IN A BOX. It was easily the show’s most unexpectedly gory scene since the lawnmower incident, but once it was clear that Ginsberg had lost his mind and the camera kept lingering on the gift he was about to present to Peggy, it was obvious there was going to be something gross and weird in that box. And there was. A hand-sliced nipple.
California Pete is funny because he’s tan and as close to being carefree as we’ll ever see Pete Campbell, but season 7A reminded us that he’s unsustainable. His realtor girlfriend Bonnie is attracted to Pete’s ambition, but she’s blissfully unaware of some of his less flattering qualities until they’re exacerbated by a trip to New York and the new knowledge that Trudy is dating again. (That’s what prompted that beer-in-the-cake move you see above.) Suddenly, back in his natural habitat, Pete is jealous, controlling and pretty unwilling to pay any attention to Bonnie. “I don’t like you in New York,” she tells him, and he replies, very accurately, “Well then you don’t like me.” The last we see her, she’s on a plane back to LA by herself, and now that the McCann deal is in place, Pete’s presumably back on the East Coast for good.
Let’s take a second to do a quick inventory of all our major characters’ personal lives at the end of 7A: Don, single; Peggy, single and sad that the 10-year-old kid who lives in her building is moving away; Joan, single (see below); Pete, single, assuming we’re supposed to take Bonnie’s solo flight home to mean they’ve broken up; Roger, single but kind of hanging out with his ex-wife to help raise their grandson while their daughter hangs out at a hippie commune; Harry, married, but only because his wife stopped divorce proceedings when she found out he’d be making more money as a partner; Bert, single and dead. All in all, a pretty lonely bunch. But what the Burger Chef campaign highlighted was that, as Peggy described in her pitch, “you could break bread, and whoever you were sitting with was family.” In other words, the people at Sterling Cooper don’t need to be connected by blood to share a deep bond. These are people who have dedicated most of their waking hours to their job. They’ve shared countless meals together, and they spend more time together than they do with their own relatives. They’ve seen each other at their best and at their worst. And because they’re all working for the same company, they’re stuck with each other. If that’s not a family, what is? The shot of Don, Peggy and Pete laughing and eating at Burger Chef drove that point home, with many people comparing it to the diner scene from The Sopranos.
Jim Cutler did manage to do one good thing this season when he gave Joan an upstairs office and made her a full-time accounts person. This is huge for a few reasons, the most obvious being that Joan is no longer forced to manage secretaries while also serving as a partner and bringing in accounts, but it’s also big because Dawn is now the new Joan. And Joan is now so transformed and in control of her life that she doesn’t think twice about rejecting Bob Benson’s proposal of a sham marriage. The Joan of several seasons ago definitely would have considered it, but in recent years, she’s learned that she can do just fine on her own, and she’s not about to give up on finding someone who genuinely cares for her. As she tells Bob, “I want love, and I’d rather die hoping that happens than make some arrangement.”
Finally. These two had quite a rough patch going, but then Freddy Rumsen showed up and delivered the tough love Don needed to hear: “Do the work.” So Don cleaned up his act, put his head down, and wrote tags for Peggy. He did the work and treated her with the respect she deserves, and soon enough, their beautiful, complicated friendship was back on track. During one particular late-night brainstorming session that felt slightly reminiscent of The Suitcase, they confided some of their deep fears to each other, with Peggy revealing her anxiety about turning 30 and Don admitting he’s worried “that I never did anything, that I don’t have anyone.” Of course that’s not true; he has Peggy, and in one of the series’ loveliest moments, they dance to “My Way,” she places her head on his chest and he plants one on the top of her head. Then in the following episode, they’re buddy-buddy during the moon landing, with Peggy fetching beer for her, Don and no one else. When Don learns that Bert’s dead and he no longer has the votes to prevent himself from being fired, he hands off the pitch to Peggy so that she can keep the business regardless of what happens to him. Theirs is perhaps the closest bond on the show, and we can’t wait to see what kind of unbeatable campaigns get churned out in 7B now that this dynamic duo is getting along again.