Since when did the release of a poster for a TV show become a thing? I can only assume this phenomenon is the consequence of some genius move by the AMC PR team, because I didn’t even know that TV shows HAD posters until a few years ago when the media started breathlessly writing about it before each new season of “Mad Men.”
Certainly this is connected to Matt Weiner’s neurotic fixation on keeping every plot point secret. And God bless him, because there’s nothing as fun as trying to figure out what’s going to happen next on this show. When even the N.S.A is in the dark about Don Draper’s future, the rest of us are forced to search for clues wherever we can find them, even if it is something as mundane as a poster. Last year’s poster featured two Don Drapers headed in opposite directions, which led to a season of doppelgangers, characters who were mirror images, and recurring behaviors, so presumably this new poster is supposed to tell us something about Season 7.
The Season 7 poster comes from the iconic graphics designer Milton Glaser, who produced some of the most well-known images from the 1960s, including this radio promotion. (For more on Glaser see this story from the New York Times.)
Glaser’s poster does look like it might be full of meaningful clues. He has taken the original “Mad Men” logo, with Don Draper looking out at the world from his couch, and superimposed it on a hallucinogenic, dream-like drawing. Embedded in the drawing’s swirls and flowery images are the Chrysler Building, a woman’s face and a champagne glass. So what we have here is the full sweep of the Sixties, with Don’s clean modernist, disciplined logo from 1960 being overtaken by the hippie, casual designs of the late 1960s.
The previous season of “Mad Men” (Season Six) ended on Thanksgiving Day 1968, with Don, in an attempt help his kids begin to understand him, taking his kids to the dilapidated whorehouse where he grew up. That last-second look between Sally and Don (see video clip below), which implies the beginning of forgiveness and honesty, is one of the most touching moments in “Mad Men” history, and we can only hope that Don, who has hit bottom so many times, has finally begun to turn his life around.
As the poster suggests, the new season will deal with the end of the Sixties. In many ways, 1969, especially the summer of 1969, was the apotheosis – the natural culmination – of the 1960s. There was never a time – except during the Civil War – when American culture was so fractured and at odds with itself as it was that year. Consider three events during one 30-day period of that momentous year:
— July 18, 1969. Senator Edward Kennedy, the last remaining scion of the famous political family, which had already seen two brothers assassinated, drives his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick, Martha’s Vineyard, and flees the scene, leaving a young female staffer to drown in his car. Kennedy has very little in common with Don Draper except reckless behavior – the accident occurred after a party with Bobby Kennedy’s former senate staff and he was almost certainly driving drunk on the way to a tryst when he accidentally killed the poor woman. As on “Mad Men,” Kennedy’s reckless behavior caught up with him eventually, with real world consequences. Without Chappaquiddick he surely would have been nominated for president at some point and possibly could have even won.
— July 20, 1969. Two days after Chappaquiddick, Neil Armstrong steps on the moon, culminating one of the greatest technological projects of all time. Armstrong is as square and clean-cut as any American hero from the 1940s and 1950s could have dreamed of being. The moon landing was the triumph of one strand of American culture – the one that believed in science, bourgeois values, technology, progress, hard work. This was arguably the dominant culture in 1969, but it many ways the moon landing was the beginning of the end for those who believed in traditional values. “Mad Men” has illustrated how astronauts and outer space captured the American imagination in the Sixties. Conrad Hilton nearly fired Sterling Cooper when Don failed to advertise a Hilton Hotel on the moon and Don has sometimes been compared to an actual astronaut. But in real life once NASA actually did land on the moon, people started to ask what the whole point of the exercise was – just as they were asking the point of large, highly structured corporations that appeared to be staffed by drone-like automatons.
— August 15-18, 1969. Woodstock, which occurred less than a month after the moon landing, was the complete antithesis of the space program. It was a celebration of drugs, free sex, mud, poor planning, and immediate personal gratification. More positively, it also celebrated love, peace and community; there were no fights at Woodstock – just everyone grooving and getting along. Woodstock is generally considered to be the high-water mark of the counterculture, since many of the ideals promoted at Woodstock proved to be naïve or unattainable over the long run. Worse, the mainstream culture quickly appropriated many of the best and worst traits of the counterculture. The personal freedom advocated by the sixties hippies is probably a good thing overall, but millions of Americans today are living what was then the counterculture ideal (long hair, beards, no employment drudgery, no “piece of paper” marriage certificate, lots of pot and other drugs) and it isn’t pretty. The people living this way in today’s world wouldn’t call themselves hippies; sociologists would call them the underclass.
How much of this will figure into the upcoming season of “Mad Men” is anyone’s guess, but Matt Weiner has been quite vocal in his contention that the Sixties was a failed revolution and that we are still dealing with the consequences today. He’s been quite chatty with reporters over the past month and one of his most interesting interviews appeared in the Atlantic. As someone who grew up after the AIDS crisis, he has opinions about the cost of the sexual revolution, for example.
The interview makes clear that last year’s episode 10, “A Tale of Two Cities,” is pivotal to our understanding of the previous season. This is the episode where Don and Roger head to Los Angeles to pitch west coast clients, leaving Ted Chaough, Jim Cutler and even Joan to foment a rebellion back in NYC. (Here’s my recap of the episode )
The original “A Tale of Two Cities” is a Dickens novel about the French Revolution, but as Weiner points out in his Atlantic interview, Dickens wrote the book 60 years after the events depicted; well after the revolution had been suppressed and the previous regime restored. So too does “Mad Men” look back at the events of the Sixties from a vantage point of almost 50 years. Last season we saw the beginning of the counter-revolution, with the political uprisings of 1968 suppressed by Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, the police brutality at the 1968 Democratic Convention, and the election of Richard Nixon. It’s also worth pointing out that “A Tale of Two Cities” features identical twins or two halves of the same person (just like the Season 6 poster). There’s a good twin and bad twin – Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay— and in the end the bad twin gives up his life so the good twin can escape the guillotine (“It’s a far far better thing I do, etc.”) The same thing happened at the end of last season’s “Mad Men,” when bad twin Don gave up his chance to go to California so good twin Ted could save his marriage.
Of course Don didn’t face the guillotine, but he was exiled from his agency after screwing up the Hershey pitch and bollixing various other accounts, and his marriage was in danger of imploding when Megan walked out after Don impetuously decided to let Ted take his place in the new California office.
So what does all this mean for Season 7, which is going to be the final season (although AMC is spreading it over two seven-episode sub-seasons like they did with “Breaking Bad”?
The big question headed into this season was whether Don even had a job or marriage. As noted, Megan had walked out on him and he’d been suspended by his firm. But around the time that AMC released the poster it also released some publicity stills, which provide a few more clues. Weirdly all of the photos were shot at an airport or on a plane.
Clearly these are not stills from any particular episode because it’s extremely unlikely that everyone from Don’s personal and professional life (including Megan, Betty and his kids) would all be traveling at the same time. The big giveaway clue-wise is that Megan and Don are pictured together, which implies that they remain married. This makes sense because if Don is going to grow this year, he needs to do it within a personal relationship and there’s not really time to introduce a new love interest that we can care about.
It’s also interesting that all the old Sterling Draper characters are in the stills, including Pete Campbell, who was also sent off the California, but not Ted Chaough, Bob Benson or Jim Cutler, who played such major roles last year.
So I won’t predict anything for the upcoming season, except that it will continue to depict societal breakdown and tumult with humor, emotion, and insight. I also predict it will be awesome.