Your Monday Morning ‘Mad Men’ Talking Point: Is This Actually the Last Season?

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No current TV show generates more Monday morning conversation than Mad Men. With that in mind, Flavorwire is recapping Season 6’s Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce by giving you a handful of talking points to spark your own water-cooler debate. This week, we tackle the death-obsessed two-hour season premiere, which featured enough “WTF” moments and ominous symbols to fuel a whole season’s worth of discussion. Let’s start with the most dramatic theory that occurred to us after seeing “The Doorway”: We don’t have one more season ahead of us. Matt Weiner has been punking us all these years. This is the last season of Mad Men.

Roger’s mom dies, but he doesn’t break down and cry until he gets news that his shoeshine guy has also passed. Don comes up with an ad campaign that equates visiting Hawaii with dying — killing yourself, specifically — and going to heaven. Even the kids are getting dark, with Sandy casually inserting mentions of her mom’s death into unrelated conversations and Bobby telling the family he likes his violin case because it “looks like a coffin.” Anyone who made it through junior-high English class can tell you that the episode is casting a pall of death over the season to come. And while it does support the theory, that’s not even what convinced us the story will be wrapped up before Season 7.

No, what struck us was the way this season premiere paralleled Mad Men‘s series premiere, way back in 2007. Remember, in that first episode, watching dapper and mysterious Don Draper glide from the bar to a night spent at his bohemian girlfriend Midge’s place to work at Sterling Cooper… and then opening your mouth in shock when, at the end of that second day, he comes home to the suburbs late at night, and you realize he’s got a wife and two kids? Well, in the Season 6 premiere, we first encounter Don on the beach in Hawaii with Megan, and considering the events of Season 5 we’re a bit surprised they’re still (somewhat) happily married. Throughout the episode, there are clues that the marriage is still in trouble. But it isn’t until the final moments that we learn he’s carrying on an affair with the wife of his neighbor, the doctor. This isn’t just similar to the series premiere; it’s an inversion, suggesting the completion of the show’s cycle — the beginning of the end. Betty’s journey to the East Village to find Sandy is another inversion. In the show’s debut episode, her husband returns home to his family after a transformative adventure in the city; last night, it was Betty who showed up and surprised the Francises by dyeing (note the relevant homophone) her hair.

Now, Weiner has been saying for a few years now that Mad Men will run for seven seasons. AMC even announced its renewal through Season 7 at a press conference last winter. But Weiner is such a fierce guardian of the show’s secrets that, this year, he demanded that critics redact from their reviews the hilariously tame revelation that SCDP had expanded to a second floor. Who says he hasn’t enlisted AMC in yet another one of his elaborate deceptions in the service of a surprise series finale?

Additional talking points:

  • Betty’s horrific joke about Henry’s admiration of Sandy: “She’s just in the next room. Why don’t you go in there and rape her?” Betty facetiously suggests to her husband. And then she proceeds to befriend this teenage pal of her daughter’s, coming to care for her so much that she braves a St. Marks tenement out of worry for her safety. Where could this storyline be heading?
  • Peggy is turning into Don: A superstar (and perhaps the only competent employee) at her new firm, she’s berating her employees for their stupidity and lack of creative spark, she’s charming clients into putting up with her uncompromising vision… and she’s begun to look at poor Abe the way Don looks at a wife he’s about to discard. The student has become the teacher — but does her growing resemblance to Don mean she’s heading for disaster, too?
  • Where was Joan?: “I don’t know if it’s the photographers or the writers, but it really smells like reefer in here,” she observes to Don upon his return from Hawaii. But then she pretty much disappears for the rest of the episode. Two hours and no Joan storyline? Weiner, please.
  • Mad Men still hates hippies: “What you can’t grok is that we are your garbage,” a kid at the Village tenement tells Betty — and that’s just part of his tirade against her bourgeois lifestyle. To her credit, she points out that she’s probably not the person to whom he’s actually directing his anger.
  • “All I’m going to be doing from here on is losing everything”: Looks like we’ve got a pensive Roger on our hands this season. How relevant is it that his mom is the one who dies in the premiere? Seeing as he’s ceased to serve any purpose at work or home, could it be his own demise that’s being so heavily foreshadowed?