The times are always a-changin' on Mad Men.
But as the AMC drama kicks off the first half of its final season (Sunday, 10/9c), the show's focus will be on how much (or how little) the characters have grown during the near-decade viewers have been following them. "[This season] is about the consequences in life and if change is possible," creator Matthew Weiner says. "There is a real growth over this last season from what are the material concerns of your life to what are the immaterial concerns."
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Last season focused on ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm) repeating the mistakes of his past with even more serious consequences. Although Don seems to be truly committed to doing things differently in the early going of the new season, will that make a difference? In other words: Is true change possible, or is it the attempt to change that matters?
"That is the question," Weiner says. "Is making the effort enough? By announcing to the world that you've changed, that changes you. But does it do anything else? ... You do something bad, you want to be different, you are different — [but] does anybody else care?"
As for how the show answers that question, we'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, pour yourself an Old Fashioned and check out where our favorite Mad Men characters left off and what's in store for them this season.
Where We Left Off: Don engaged in yet another extramarital affair with one of his neighbors — and was eventually caught in the act by his daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka). Shaken by the turn of events, Don tried to turn over a new leaf by opening up about his poor upbringing in a whorehouse to both his children and his partners during a pitch meeting with Hershey's. As a result, Don was forced to take a paid leave of absence from Sterling Cooper & Partners.
What's Next: "What you're really seeing is a turning inward for Don," Weiner says. "His failure resulted in some kind of change." While Don has cleaned up his personal life a bit (he makes a couple notable decisions that might surprise viewers in the premiere), he's still got a mess to fix at work — and it won't happen immediately. "It gives us the opportunity to finally remove that last piece of Don's success," Hamm says. "He always [knew] that at least he was good at his job, and now he doesn't even have that." Although Don does find new creative outlets, could his days as an ad man be over for good? "This season is about consequences," Weiner says. "We don't just throw stuff away that's happened. There's a shadow being cast over this season that started, not just last season, but the first time we met Don."
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Megan Draper (Jessica Paré)
Where We Left Off: Despite enjoying career success with a role on the soap opera To Have and to Hold, Megan became increasingly dissatisfied with the state of her marriage to Don. After Don reneged on his promise to move with Megan to California, she stormed out of their apartment, leaving their future uncertain.
What's Next: Despite the drama last season, Megan is still very much a part of the show. But things are certainly awkward between Megan and Don. (For example, she's not sleeping at Don's Park Avenue penthouse.) On the other hand, her acting career is looking brighter than ever, which could shift the relationship dynamic. "The power [in their relationship] has shifted as Megan has matured," Weiner says. "Don's romantic fantasy [was] destroyed by her having a will of her own and her own dreams. ... I think he really loves her and for whatever reason — guilt, shame, the desire to restore that love — she is in a slightly powerful position. The person who can bestow forgiveness always has more power than the person who's apologizing."
Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss)
Where We Left Off: After leaving the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce nest in Season 5, Peggy was sucked back in when her new firm merged with SCDP to land a Chevy account. Peggy was then torn between two masters: Don and her new creative mentor Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm), the latter with whom Peggy began sleeping. Even though Peggy seemed poised to take on Don's role during his leave of absence, Peggy was furious when Ted ended the affair and decided to head up the new Sterling Cooper & Partners office in California.
What's Next: While Peggy still clearly harbors some feelings for Ted as the new season begins, Weiner insists she will remain career-focused. "Peggy's story is a constant mix of what is good for Peggy as a person and what is good for Peggy's career — and they have not gone together at all," he says. "[But] she only knows how to pay attention to her job." Unfortunately, life in the office seems poised to offer up even more disappointment. But Weiner suggests that may only be temporary. "What a powerful person she's become in terms of knowing her gifts," Weiner says. "Last season, she didn't have any decisions to make. Hopefully she's reaching a point in her life where she's going to have some choices."
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Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser)
Where We Left Off: Despite an inter-office rivalry with the mysterious Bob Benson (James Wolk), Pete chose not to act when he learned that Bob, much like Don in Season 1, was a fraud. After Pete's mother died and infidelity ruined Pete's marriage, Pete decided to also move to California to help oversee a new account with Sunkist.
What's Next: Though it's long been established that Pete's a New York boy, he's taken to the West Coast mentality (and fashion sense!) quite quickly. "The sunshine certainly helps," Kartheiser jokes. While Kartheiser suggests Pete will still be the same ambitious hustler he's always been, he believes Pete is honestly trying a different approach. "Sometimes a clean slate is the best place to be because you can reinvent yourself," he says. "The hope of that is invigorating. For a little while, you can fool everybody — maybe even yourself." Does that mean Pete does miss his life with Trudy (Alison Brie) and daughter Tammy? "He's making a good show, but I think most of it's a cover," Kartheiser teases.
Roger Sterling (John Slattery)
Where We Left Off: Roger helped secure a pitch meeting with Chevrolet, which led to the firm's merger with Cutler Gleason and Chaough. Perhaps feeling secure in his position at the firm, Roger once again took less interest in work, ceding responsibility to Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin). After numerous attempts to rekindle a relationship with Joan (Christina Hendricks), she agreed to let Roger back into her life, but only to establish a relationship with Kevin, the couple's illegitimate son.
What's Next: Ever since his Season 5 LSD trip, Roger has been in search of a way to reclaim that "enlightenment." "He's undergone a bit of an education, and despite searching, he's starting to have a bit of an existential crisis," Weiner says. "Even Roger Sterling is starting to see a little darkness in the repetitive nature of hedonism." His search will lead him to new habits, including sharing his bed with (several) new friends. Free love? "He's been open to everything," Weiner says with a laugh. "People used to ask me if we would ever see Don in love beads and a Nehru jacket, and I would say, 'No, but Roger will probably get there!'"
Where We Left Off: Joan became furious with Don after he fired Jaguar, both wrecking an IPO that Pete and Joan had set up and negating the tryst with a Jaguar exec Joan had to endure for SCDP to land the account. Joan began a relationship of sorts with the mysterious Bob Benson and took her future in her own hands by taking a meeting with cosmetics giant Avon. However, when she willfully cut Pete out of the meeting, her plan blew up in her face.
What's Next: Joan will continue to seek out more responsibility and will find some of it given to her in the season premiere. But will the end result be any better this time around? The biggest change for Joan, Weiner says, will come in her private life. "She's stopped caring — and what a freedom in life — about how things look," Weiner says. "Women of that generation were realty raised that that was the most important thing. We see Joan expressing her desire to take advantage of the bad things that have happened and make the best out of them and to be more of her own person."
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Where We Left Off: After catching her father having sex with another woman, Sally decided she wanted to go to boarding school, where a night of drinking turned into two boys fighting over her. Sally was never more like Betty (January Jones), who the next day shared a cigarette with her ever-more-mature daughter.
What's Next: Will Don's attempt to connect with his children by showing them the whorehouse in which help him earn back some of Sally's love and trust? It's going to be difficult, according to Weiner. "There's only so much lying you can do," Weiner says. "Sally is the person who knows Don in a very special way that isn't very positive. As you get older, you start to see [your parent] more as a person, but I don't think [Sally's] old enough to be magnanimous about [what happened]."
Sterling Cooper & Partners
Where We Left Off: The merged firm was still divided along previous company lines, despite such team-building exercises as tripping on Jim Cutler's special brand of speed. Ken Cosgrove got shot in the face during a hunting trip with Chevy execs, which led him to resign the account. Bob Benson took over and was sent to Detroit to work more closely with the client, while Pete and Ted were headed to Los Angeles.
What's Next: Ken (whose injury allows for a hilarious new accessory) complains of being spread too thin now that the staff is scattered across the country. But there are a couple new faces in the SC&P offices who will certainly change the dynamic of the New York team. As for the challenge of making the show work while being bi-coastal? "I wanted to show the rise of California in the cultural landscape of the United States," Weiner says. "As New York is going into bankruptcy in 1977, first San Francisco and then Los Angeles become the predominant focus of commerce and culture. It's a story we had to tell. ... The challenge is to say who does that work for and who doesn't that work for?"
Mad Men airs Sundays at 10/9c on AMC.