People, places and fashions change but the advertising industry stays the same in the new season of Mad Men.
As in seasons past, AMC has been extremely judicious in sending out screeners of its Emmy-winning drama set in the heady New York advertising world of the sixties.
But at least a few copies of Mad Men’s season-seven opener were made available to media outlets, which are more than happy to share the details.
For those viewers who prefer to enter the new season untainted, all spoiler alerts apply from this point onward.
Season six of Mad Men left off in late 1968 with the central character of ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm) in a bad way in the wake of his disastrous affair with a downstairs neighbor (Linda Cardellini) and the firm request from Sterling, Cooper & Partners that he take a leave of absence (after Don revealed in a client meeting that he was raised in a bordello).
The previous season also ended with Don’s young trophy wife Megan (Jessica Paré) walking out on him.
According to The New York Post, season seven picks up in 1969 with Don still out of sorts and only peripherally attached to the advertising industry.
Don is also trying to repair his marriage to Megan – who has since relocated to California – but by his own admission, “I’m a terrible husband.”
In a scene rife with symbolism, Megan picks up Don at the Los Angeles airport in a green convertible and wearing a sexy mini-dress, while The Spencer Davis Group hit I’m a Man plays as soundtrack.
As though to underscore Don’s newfound acquiescence in the relationship, he settles into the car’s passenger seat and allows Megan to do the driving.
From the opening scenes, it’s made clear that the new season of Mad Men adheres to historical fact by referencing the decline of New York and the rise of California that actually took place in the late sixties.
The first new episode shifts the story back back to grimy New York, where the advertising business appears to be taking a toll on several characters.
In light of Don’s extended absence, Sterling Cooper has made room for new partner Lou Avery (Allan Davey), while ambitious copywriter Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Olson) is still trying to get her male co-workers to take her seriously.
Further episode specifics are dished in the Time recap, which reveals that Sterling Cooper fixture Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) – who was made a partner in the agency after she slept with a client – is trying to advance her role in the firm and fretting about her appearance.
Elsewhere, recurring character Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton), the former fair-haired copywriter with aspirations of becoming a novelist, has morphed into a stressed-out ad man.
The fact Ken now wears an eyepatch (courtesy of his mistreatment by Chevy last season) only makes him seem more hardened.
And what of white-haired lothario Roger Sterling (John Slattery)? Well, Roger’s sideburns are more prominent than ever.
But the focus in the first new outing of Mad Men’s sendoff season, which is being split into two seven-episode mini-seasons, returns unfailingly to California – the new frontier, it seems.
Already living the dream is Don’s ex-partner Pete Campbell, played by Vincent Kartheiser, who now resides in Los Angeles where he runs the West Coast office of Sterling, Cooper and Partners.
Once the picture of buttoned-down New York nerdiness in his Brooks Brothers suits, Pete now sports plaid pants, polo shirt and a sweater knotted around his neck.
When Pete greets his agency partner with an affectionate hug, Don is startled and replies with, “You not only look like a hippie, you talk like one.”
Based on advance reviews of the first new episode, the Pete character appears to have through the biggest metamorphosis, which naturally has been an actor’s dream for Kartheiser.
“I get to throw this very new experience at him,” said Kartheiser in this week’s issue of Rolling Stone. “I don’t have to wrestle with the character, because that’s established. I just get to let him explore this place in this very organic form. And it feels wonderful.”
Not unlike settling in for a new season of Mad Men.