Mad Men Midseason Premiere Recap: Life, Unexpected

Mad Men Rachel Menken Dies Season 7 Recap

Based on Mad Men‘s final midseason premiere, I’ve come up with a working theory about the series’ Brylcreemed protagonist, Don Draper.

Here goes: He’s got undiagnosed syphilis.

Think about it before you dismiss me out of hand. Don has been having indiscriminate sex with anything with breasts for as long as we’ve known him. A lot of indiscriminate, often hot, usually ill-advised sex that has led to, among other things, heartbreak, job loss, divorce and strangulation. (OK, that last one was just in a dream, but still: disturbing.)

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Is it that far a reach to think that one of those hook-ups gifted Draper with the spirochete that keeps on giving? (Probably not.) Following that, is it a step too far to think that, as the bacteria multiplied in his bloodstream and Swiss-cheesed his brain, the illness manifested as Don’s recurring dreams about dead people? (Most likely, yes, actually. Eh, like I said, it’s a working theory. Also? Everything I know about medicine I learned by watching Doug Ross, so there’s a little room for error.)

Before I get started on my suspicions about Roger Sterling and cirrhosis, let’s review what happens in “Severance.”

SMOOTH AS SILK | We open on Don, in April of 1970, purring to a lovely young woman wearing what he says is a $15,000 chinchilla coat. As he tells her not to talk, coaches her through looking in a mirror and says, “Show me how smooth your skin is,” it seems like we’re back in Don and Sylvia’s Hotel Room of Domination. But in the next shot we see Ted, Pete and two other guys ogling the woman, too, and it becomes clear that we’re watching a model casting session at Sterling Cooper & Partners.

Next we see Draper, he’s chatting up a couple of lovelies at a diner with Roger — they’ve all been at some fancy event — and telling a heee-larious story about his brothel upbringing. (Going from hiding his real identity to using it as cocktail-party chatter fodder is evolution of a sort, no?) Roger, sporting a moustache so epic it truly deserves its own spinoff series, is a jerk to the waitress but leaves $100 on a roughly $12 check as penance. Meanwhile, Don is sure he’s seen her before. (So am I; she’s played by the Twilight films’ Elizabeth Reaser.)

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HELLO AGAIN | Don seems to be weathering his divorce from Megan pretty well, but he’s shaken when he learns that Rachel Katz (neé Menken) very recently died of leukemia. You’ll recall that Rachel (played by a pre-Sons of Anarchy Maggie Siff) is the department-store heiress with whom Don once thought of running away. She’s also the star of a dream he has during the episode; Dream Rachel shows up as another hopeful model at SC&P, telling Don, “I’m supposed to tell you you missed your flight.” (Mad Men conspiracy theorists of the Interwebs, have at it!) (Also, side note: Don’s secretary, Meredith, is a gem. Lots of Meredith in these final episodes, please.)

Upset, Don returns to the diner, where the waitress assumes he wants his eggs scrambled, if you catch my drift. I certainly don’t think a quickie was his reason for returning, but he’s Don, so he’s got her against the alley wall faster than you can say, “Order up!” After, she’s dismissive; “You got your hundred dollars’ worth,” she says. “You can go.” Icky.

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L’CHAIM | Later, he attends the shiva for Rachel, but her sister is hesitant to invite him in. “Oh, I know who you are,” the sister says, confirming that the two children Don sees in the apartment are Rachel’s kids. “She lived the life she wanted to live,” the sister says, before indicating that he should go. “She had everything.” (Don’t worry; if you didn’t pick up on this episode’s theme then, you’ll be hit with it a few more times before we’re done.)

Against the waitress’ wishes, Don comes back to the diner and feels compelled to tell her about Rachel. Maybe he dreamed about her all the time, but just remembered this dream, she suggests. As he looks bereft, I try to envision Don being assimilated into the Menken brood and living a happy alternate life with Rachel by his side. I don’t get very far.

WALKING ON L’EGGSHELLS | Now, let’s have the SC&P minutes. Peggy, Joan and Harry meet with the Topaz nylons people, whose business is taking a beating from the inferior — though packaged-in-a fun-plastic-egg — L’Eggs. Off a suggestion from Don, the ladies meet with three Neanderthals at McCann-Erickson (which bought SC&P right before the midseason break) to ask for help getting the nylons sold at department stores. The men are total pigs, particularly to Joan, who fumes in the elevator afterward. Peggy makes things worse when she says, “You can’t dress the way you do” and expect any other reaction, which infuriates the redhead… which, in turn, sets Peggy off. “You know what? You’re filthy rich. You don’t have to do anything you don’t wanna.” That partnership still stings, does it, Peg?

Later, Joanie takes out her frustrations with a lot of retail therapy. (Side note: for some reason, seeing former shop girl Joan live a life in which she can buy whatever she wants makes me so happy.) And Peggy goes on a date with Mathis’ brother-in-law. They drink too much, kiss a lot and — even though they don’t make it to Paris the way they drunkenly plan — they seem to really like each other. (We get so few moments of unguarded Peggy during the series; that scene tag where she beams after he leaves her house is lovely.)

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DOW TO BUSINESS | Finally, Ken’s father-in-law retires from Dow, causing Cynthia to urge her husband to quit his job, write a book and live the life they’ve imagined. Guess what, Cyn? Roger has beat you to it! The higher-ups at McCann-Erickson, for whom Ken briefly worked and from whom he took a lot of business when he left, want him out of SC&P now that his link to Dow is gone. So he angrily shores up accounts with Pete, who tries to be comforting in that douche way of his, but doesn’t quite help. Still, Ken wins when he announces he won’t need his severance from the firm, because he’s the new head of advertising at Dow. “So you’re going to fire us,” Pete says. “No, it’s going to be way worse than that: I’m going to be your client,” Ken says. “And I hate to tell you, I’m very hard to please.” But what about those of us who are waiting for the next captivating installment of Dave Algonquin’s The Man With the Miniature… series?!

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the last Mad Men premiere ever? Did you, like me, just put together that Mathis’ name is Johnny Mathis? Do we think Peggy and Mathis’ brother-in-law stand a chance? Were you shocked to see Siff on your screen again? Did you pick up on the little meta-joke when Pete remarked that life at an ad firm is “boring”? Rate the episode via the poll below, then sound off in the comments!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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35 Comments
  1. GuessWhat says:

    As a huge METS fan, I am so unhappy that they time-jumped past the 1969 World Series victory!!!!!!

  2. SnazzyO says:

    I think you may be right about us potentionally weaving thru Don’s disease addled brain. All his sequences seemed dream-like.
    And that red wine on the carpet looked like blood.

    Once again, I can’t just watch an episode, I need to process it.

  3. Alyssa says:

    Right after the musical sequence in the last finale, I though “Don has a brain tumor”. Syphilis seems like just as good of an answer.

  4. Gailer says:

    Every episode is awesome

  5. DramaMomma says:

    I am with you about the disease. While watching the alley scene, I thought “I can’t believe he doesn’t have some VD by now!”

  6. thisismenow says:

    As we approach the series finale, I watched tonight’s episode and thought, “I waited for this.” I’ll finish the series as it was excellent. But I hope it gets better than tonight.

    • jbj says:

      Seven seasons and eight premieres, yet you haven’t realized that this show always starts a bit slow and underwhelming?

  7. JL says:

    No joke, after the show was over tonight I thought, I bet Don has syphilis. The whole episode felt hazy or like a dream.

  8. Mr. Tran K says:

    I give it an A and I can’t wait to see how the series will end come May.

  9. Singing_gal says:

    Am I crazy, or was Peggy’s date not Devon Gummersall, aka Brian Kraków from My So Called Life? If so, he is looking good! ;) always thought he was a cutie.

  10. Anna says:

    I hope don has syphilis. He deserves it. Didn’t like this epiisode much, apart from Peggy’s date. I’m so tired of dons love life. It felt like rachel only made an appearance because fans like her more than his other mistresses. I hope Betty is in the next episode.

  11. Britta Unfiltered says:

    It’s the beginning of the end, eh, Kimberly? I’ll miss the show as much as I’ll miss your recaps. You always have such interesting theories, and you were the first one I saw to correctly predict that Bob was gay.
    .
    I can’t figure out what year we’re in. The previews made it look like we jumped to the mid-70s, which I was kind of shocked by, but Nixon is still in office, according to the premiere episode. The styles don’t seem that much different than they were last season. But that pornstache on Roger, ugh. I couldn’t stop staring at it. The only man in the world that kind of mustache works on is Sam Elliott.

  12. Lisa says:

    Madmen is amazing! I’ll miss stepping back in time every Sunday night. Love my girls- Peggy, Joan, Betty , Sally and Mona. My favorites were the lipstick episode when Pegs got promoted. Loved when Pete and his wife danced at the wedding. Loved when Joan sang and played the accordian. Loved Betty in the white dress when she was pregnant and for me, Roger was always my favorite to watch. Will miss you all xxox

  13. Lisa says:

    Agree with Britta. Sam Eliot’s a frickin’ hottie. But I think it’s the eyes, the voice and the swagger more than the stache. I dunno-ask Kate…

  14. dman6015 says:

    I’m going with brain tumor.

  15. Lerbert says:

    I thought it was great premiere. After a season of television in which it has seemed that every single dramatic device from all of fiction has been attempted, I was really looking forward to Mad Men’s pace. Also, I was hoping Ken would get his moment before the series end, and it was fun having Roger set him up so nicely with one of his disparaging remarks.

  16. AnnieM says:

    i think Ken won the episode last night – “Worse – I’m going to be your CLIENT…” Oh, I cracked up. I hope this thing with Peggy and the guy works out. She’s always had such bad luck with men, it would be nice to see her in a happy relationship for once before the end. She always seems so sad to me when she’s alone.

  17. Luis Grant says:

    Syphilis now HIV later, the odds are against him.

  18. TV Gord says:

    Coincidentally, I posted a picture on my Facebook page of Darren Stevens and Larry Tate last night to mark the return of Mad Men. When I first saw Roger, I immediately flashed back to Larry Tate (not the porn’stache, but the way his face looked a little bloated as he leaned forward and looked down. That, and the white hair, made me think of Larry. Of course, when he fired Ken, I went back there again. Did anyone fire an employee more often than Larry Tate? :-D

  19. BrianR says:

    STOP killing Maggie Siff.

  20. BrianR says:

    So what is with all the pornstaches?

  21. Nero tTVf says:

    Nice episode – good, not great, but things will pick up. We’re in early 1970, so there was still a 1960s hang-over effect that ran until about late 1972. Sex was everywhere, and the styles and fashions flaunted it. Micro mini skirts, hot pants, skin tight bell bottoms – times were different back then. What might shock and disgust us now in clothing and behavior was quite the norm in 1970 – something to try to emulate.

    I like that Matt W is taking the series into the early ’70s and showing Peggy and Joan navigating this time period. I’d always thought a nice spin-off of MM would be a show about Peggy and Joan, and we may get a bit of that in this final seven episode arc.

    “Who knows why people do what they do?”
    “I’m living like there is no tomorrow – because there isn’t one.”
    “I won’t settle for 50% of anything – I want 100%.”
    “Why can’t anyone ever be happy with what they have?”

    I think MW is exploring these basic ideas and questions as the American society begins to transform from the go-go post War era into the beginnings of a more globalized, computerized, commercialized, ‘me’ generation era. One could argue we are still in that era today in 2015, perhaps nears the end of that timeframe.

    I’m still betting MW has this in mind – “Don Draper”, and the effect people like he and Peggy, Joan, Roger, etc. have had on our society over the past 50 years is something I think MW is pondering and thinking about as he wrote these final stories. My guess is that Don is still alive, and quite old in 2015, and it would not surprise me to see MW write that into the final moments of the final episode. Don is amongst us in 2015 – we are him, molded in a society in which nothing is ever enough, but that’s okay, because and nothing is everything. And that good, because it gives us something to aspire towards in this never ending search for ‘happiness’.

    “But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness. I won’t settle for 50% of anything – I want 100%!. You’re happy? You’re not happy with anything. You don’t want most of it, you want all of it, and I won’t stop until you get all of it.”

    Enjoy the final episodes and let’s get out our mirrors. Time to take to take a good look to see what MW has had in mind with this series all along.

  22. Lisa says:

    I think the pornstache on Roger is a misstep. He’s old money. Those folks don’t usually fall prey to trendiness. Knowing Don’s background, I think he’d be the more likely to fall for it especially as he gets closer to that midlife crisis age.

    • TD says:

      Roger may be old money, but he’s been the most experimental person in the series–LSD trips, free love orgies, etc.

      • Lisa says:

        Maybe…but I thought the second wife dragged him to the LSD party and he’s been a horn dog way before the stashe. Plus, I think I recall him once asking Don to go out carousing with him citing that Don was “bait”. Roger seems like he’s well aware that most women he sleeps with would rather roll around in his checkbook and he doesn’t care. He doesn’t seem like a primper to me or someone who spends a lot of time in the mirror – more like suit, tie, beverage, find some miscellaneoud 36-24-36 and work the charm. Voila- that’s Roger magic. I think🌴

  23. Kristin says:

    Is Don Draper the man we have watched falling from the window all these years?

  24. Jeremy says:

    Did I hear correctly that there are only 5 episodes left? How in the world will they tue everything up? I want to see what happens to everyone- Pete, Peggy, roger/Joan, Betty, Meagan , sally. Man I hope it goes well.