I normally wouldn’t bother reviewing a split season like this, but given that we have to wait another year for the second half I frankly feel that they’re separate seasons, even if they are only 7 episodes long. I can’t come up with anything other than mercenary and egotistical explanations for them taking two years to get through the “final” season and it’s a struggle to feel anything other than insulted by that manipulation. Which isn’t a great frame of mind to hold while watching and reviewing a series.
It is however rather appropriate to Mad Men, and I’m beginning to think the whole thing is actually a giant treatise on the willingness of the masses to be manipulated through marketing. Frankly, that’s the most charitable excuse I can supply for Matthew Weiner and his team continuing to desecrate the quality and elegance of the early seasons for the tedious navel gazing that we have been offered in recent years.
Season 7 was always a bit doomed for me, the only reason I’m still watching is that I find myself unwilling to give up so close to the end and I want to see it through to the end even if it’s only for some sort of masochistic achievement that will in future years allow me to hold my head up amongst other reviewers. If season 6 “bordered perilously close to outright rubbish” I can only be satisfied that season 7 conclusively passed the line. My frustration last year was Don and the wallowy, selfish and self-destructive ass-hole that he’d revealed himself to be, and the way that those around him varyingly responded in kind. This year at least my criticisms can be more widely distributed as just about every character is frustrating and unpleasant to spend time with. It’s like they heard my wish for the series to be more of an ensemble than a one man show, and just brought everyone down to his level.
Everyone on this show is universally miserable, and although it isn’t fair to think that rich and successful people can’t have problems, it’s pretty hard to find sympathy for them when all their problems are their own making. After all it’s not like any plot ever really occurs, so the only drama the show has is entirely within the heads of the characters, or through the occasional portrayal of historical events. The news programmes about the moon landing were the most interesting thing happening and it’s not like there was any actual uncertainty about how it would turn out!
The show has descended completely into self-parody and I don’t know whether it would be worse if the writers are doing it intentionally or accidentally. Pete Campbell’s tan, Ted’s 30 second appearance each episode, Ginsberg’s gift to Peggy, Megan struggling to be an actress in LA, the looming menace of the computer, Harry’s continual failure to be a character anyone cares about (either audience or other characters)… the self-referentialness was disappearing up its own digestive system. And as for the vision of a dead person doing a song and dance number, were we actually supposed to watch that and think that was anything other than a deliberate challenge to our credulity?
Genuinely the most charitable explanation I can come up with is that Matthew Weiner has been running a long experiment on the audience and the critics to see how far he can push them. Well I for one am calling it. The emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.