Mad Men, however, will have a total of 14 episodes over the split season. “The first half of the season, dubbed ‘The Beginning,’ will air in spring 2014,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “The second, ‘The End of an Era,’ will air in spring 2015.” If you’re keeping count, that’s exactly one more episode (roughly 42 minutes) longer than its first six seasons. In other words, there is no real added value to making fans wait an extra year to find out where Don, Peggy, Joan, and Roger end up; it’s just the network wringing some extra prestige from the show on its way out the door (and some extra coin, for themselves and the show’s producers).
This isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to television. After all, the final books in the lucrative Harry Potter and Twilight sagas were sliced in two in order to get one more movie out of those franchises — and eager fans ponied up the cost of admission again. And then there’s the matter of Peter Jackson, so direly in need of another LOTR-sized hit that he chopped the slender Hobbit into three movies, seemingly dramatizing every sentence, comma, and period.
That’s what the Mad Men split smells like: desperation. As NPR’s Linda Holmes notes, “Stretching the remaining Mad Men episodes so they end roughly 90 weeks form now is not a move that smells like confidence.” As previously noted, the end of Mad Men takes AMC down to one critical and commercial hit — so let’s put off the end of Mad Men as long as humanly possible. There’s an argument to be made (and some are already making it) that fans of Mad Men shouldn’t be bothered by the decision; after all, this means our show will stay on longer, and it’s not like the delay means we’re not going to watch.
But this a show with its own peculiar alchemy, and a specific trajectory that this plan disrupts. In March of 2011, when creator Matthew Weiner made the deal with AMC that would take Mad Men through its seventh season, he announced that it would be the show’s last. That’s been the end game for the past two years — we’re working our way towards a seventh season conclusion. It’s not that those who care about the show want it to go away, but that’s the finish line, and part of the satisfaction of the show’s conclusion will come in finally having the long-running questions answered and overarching deceptions tied up. It’s always been a show that withheld information; this was (maybe) when we’d finally know the entire story, and its presumptively powerful destination.
And now we find out that we’ll get half of that season, and then we’ll wait another year — just as we took 2011 off while Weiner and his network wrangled over money. Meanwhile, over on Netflix, you get an entire season in a day. One feels like the future of television viewing. The other feels like a cruel, greedy tease.