Mad Men: The Beginning of the End


“Are you ready? Because I want you to pay attention,” Freddie Rumsen says directly into the camera at the top of last night’s premiere of the final season of Mad Men. “This is the beginning of something.”

The opening moments of the first episode of a season will often be an indication of what that season will be about. And it was very clear from freelancer Freddie Rumsen’s commercial pitch for the Bulova Accutron watch that, for this group of people, the clock is ticking.

The episode was titled “Time Zones,” referring in part to Don’s new bicoastal lifestyle. But the entire episode was essentially about time and how there simply wasn’t enough of it. Megan tells Don that they “don’t have time to argue.” An angry Ken Cosgrove says he doesn’t “have time to take a crap.” But perhaps most importantly, Freddie asks in his pitch, “Do you have time to improve your life?”

Because that will be the ultimate question of this season for Don as well as Roger and Peggy and everyone else who is stuck in a rut of misery, trying to fill the void with liquor or work or orgies. Will there be enough time in this season for us to see them make improvements?

Matthew Weiner recently told The Atlantic that A Tale of Two Cities provided a lot of inspiration for him when writing this final season. Just like with Weiner and Mad Men, A Tale of Two Cities was actually a period piece for Dickens, written 60 years after the French Revolution. It’s fitting for this season’s apparent theme of “time”—and the series’ overall theme of duality—that its opening paragraph reads:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

But back to Freddie Rumsen’s Accutron pitch—what was most interesting is that he didn’t pitch it. The big reveal, at the end of the episode, is that Don has been doing a whole Cyrano de Bergerac thing, writing pitches for Freddie to sell at ad agencies around town, even though he’s still receiving his paycheck from SC&P during his involuntary sabbatical.

It provides a nice little bookend to the series’ premiere episode, in which Don is shown living a bachelor’s life, boozing and womanizing around Manhattan, only to reveal at the end of the episode that he’s actually a family man, living in the suburbs.

At the end of this episode, Don was shivering and alone. His professional life and his personal life are broken—just like his sliding glass door. Was that foreshadowing of how inviting an open window in a high rise could be for someone in his situation? Will he be the falling man we see in the show’s opening credits? It’s an interesting theory, but not one I buy into. One of the partners has already committed suicide, it would be a bit gratuitous for another to do so as well.

However, I do think that the falling man in the opening credits is Don. I just don’t think it’s as literal as him falling to his death. Instead, I think that the point of this journey—of this entire series—has been to show the fall of a man. It seems clear now that he’s hit rock bottom. What remains to be seen is if he can pick himself back up, if he has time to improve his life.

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