Spoiler Alert: Mad Men, S7E11, “Time and Life”

At the end of the episode, I said aloud, “I don’t know if that was a genius ending or really frustrating.” That was how I felt about the entire episode. Possibly, the entire season.

In the episode in particular, there was a conflict–the SCDPCG&C team believing their autonomy was being eliminated by McCann Erickson–which turned out to be fake. I feel the SCDPCG&C team’s wheel-spinning frustration: they’re so used to fighting for everything that they don’t know how to accept victory. Or is that it? I think we all understand Joan’s doubt that we “shouldn’t believe anything that man says.”

As the team was preparing their last ditch effort to spare their firm, I thought, “this again? Is this really how it goes out?” So I was happy to have the rug pulled out from under me as well as the characters. I don’t want the show to wind up with happy marriages and everyone moving to a new city. But I also don’t want it to fizzle out into repeating the same old storylines.

I think that’s what I’ve feared about several new stories this season, particularly this abbreviated end of this season: Joan’s new man, Don’s dalliance with the waitress, Roger’s mustache. Every time one of those things arises, I fear it’s just a distraction that isn’t leading anywhere. Each of those new plot devices has deconstructed itself but I wonder as a viewer, “where is this ultimately leading?”

What was clear in this week’s episode was that Don is still attached to California, Pete and Trudy still have a real hate-love for each other (they’re the perfect amount of despicable to balance the other), Joan still doubts all men running businesses (with good reason), Peggy is still unsure of her value or place, and Harry is still an ass (although not as big as Lou Avery for whatever reason). The individuals have maintained their character throughout the run of the show and the trials they’ve been through. That’s a great thing to be able to trace back 7 seasons.

What I think makes Mad Men continuously interesting are scenes like the last one where Don and Roger try to announce what’s happening to the entire company. They can’t get a word out before the murmuring starts. They can’t keep their company’s attention. There they are, the characters who’ve been here all along, but now their company has moved on without them. The zeitgeist has shifted.

So in that meeting, as the crowd murmurs and Don and Roger lose their attention. Was that the crowd experiencing a moment of clarity and realizing “these men are no longer my bosses” or just an example of the way a bunch of office gossips react to ground-shifting news? Is the crowd ahead of the principals in their ability to grasp the situation? Or are they just a bunch of sheep pre-occupied by the rumors?