Season Seven of Sky Atlantic’s Madison Avenue ad agency drama ‘Mad Men’ is a game of two halves. The last leg of the story is split into two – seven shows this year, with the final seven episodes due to be aired in 2015.
And some games are more equal than others. The female colleagues of Sterling Cooper & Partners’ founding member Don Draper had, at the start of the decade, assumed roles that were unchallenging and subordinate.
But writer/creator Matthew Weiner’s testosterone-filled tale that spans the Sixties has reached 1969, and we arrived there on Monday night to witness Don (John Hamm) being sidelined by Peggy , Joan and Megan (Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks and Jessica Paré ) as he picks up the pieces of his messily-interwoven personal and corporate life.
In the last series, Draper was down and nearly out, having being ordered to take time off after he’d chosen to out some of his serious skeletons while pitching to a family-friendly chocolate company.
Weiner’s pilot script for the show suffered its own sabbatical, having been set aside for seven years. Hired in 2002 by television producer David Chase as a writer on HBO’s ‘The Sopranos’ on the strength of it, the enigmatic writer was kept waiting in the wings until that show’s final season, when ‘Mad Men’ was finally let out of the bag as a low-budget US cable channel production.
But while the set is still big hair, clunky phones and chunky typewriters, its creator’s enforced determination has helped build credibility around all this ostentation and Austin Powers.
For example, there’s the living tension of real history between tormented operator Draper and Ted Chaough, of Cutler Gleason and Chaough – a rival agency that once struggled against Sterling Cooper for the lucrative Honda account. Don had tricked Ted into showing a completed commercial at his presentation to Honda executives, violating the client’s number one presentation rule - No Finished Work in Any Pitch.
All this pitching comes with minimal bitching – but why should there be? There’s no glass ceiling here.
Undoubtedly, the seven out of nine writers who are women have fast-tracked Peggy Olsen’s progression from secretary to copy writer and now to copy chief - securing her place as Don’s real rival in the show.
What’s more, Elisabeth Moss’s credible character is one of the few females that Don actually respects, despite her penchant for pussy-bow blouses and cartoon collars.
For an ad man raised in a whorehouse that’s quite some deal.