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."
Exclusive Mad Men video: Is Pete Campbell a changed mn?
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."
Q&A: Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner prepares to say goodbye to Don Draper
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.