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I’ve talked a lot about my love of Mad Men here on DVDActive.com and assume a lot of the people reading this have also read the same fantastic reviews/op-eds about the series as it aired, so I’m going to keep this wrap-up brief (I also received the Blu-ray screener less than a week before its release). Instead of running down each episode or even giving a synopsis of the season as a whole, I’m going to quickly talk about the rewarding and disappointing places that some the major characters found themselves at the end. Note that much of the lead cast, including Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton), and Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman), ‘enjoyed’ considerable character closure during the first half of the ‘final’ season.

 Mad Men: The Final Season Part 2
  • Don Draper/Dick Whitman(Jon Hamm) – Most Mad Men fans would probably agree that the show qualifies as a ‘fluid serial.’ The story developed as it moved forward, but was rarely built around typical serial television tropes, like cliff-hangers or shocking season finales. Creator Matthew Weiner and his writing staff could have brought Don’s story to a definitive end, but it was always more likely that his life would go on after the show ended. Though the series finale ends on a cheeky ‘to be continued’-like note, Don enters the 1970s a different man than he was when we first met him. I rather enjoyed the cynical final arc that guided him full-circle this season – from an emotionally despondent Baby Boomer in the throes of a brutal mid-life crisis to a modern ad man ready to exploit the feel-good materialism of the Me Generation. I imagine he enjoyed George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead when it premiered in 1978.
  • Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss): Peggy endured as my favourite character throughout the entire series. Her ‘team-up’ episodes with Don are the best the show has to offer. That said, I have to admit that the stronger her social station got in the male-dominated agency, the more she found herself relegated to a position as spinster comic relief (in the Liz Lemon vein) during the final eight episodes. It is possible that she peaked ‘too early’ to continue making the same level of impact, or that maybe the writers felt they needed to zero their efforts in on Joan’s plight (see below). She’s still my favourite, though. Her long-gestating relationship with Stan (Jay R. Ferguson) was very satisfying and, like Don, it would’ve been very difficult to organically wrap-up her entire character arc. Though ignoring the ultimate fate of her child is somewhat disappointing, it seems in the spirit of how Peggy would’ve wanted to deal with the situation – i.e., it wasn’t really her kid anymore after she gave it up.
  • Joan Harris/Holloway (Christina Hendricks): Joan spent much of the final season in a rough place while overcoming huge gender barriers, but ends the show in a great place. She may have even endured the largest growth over the series, from a capable femme fatale that used her sexuality to traverse a male-dominated workplace to a successful single mother who starts her own business without the security of a long-term romantic relationship. Few of us would have suspected she would be an even more substantial and modern feminist icon than Peggy back in season one and, in many ways, her ending is the most gratifying.
  • Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka): Another personal favourite that underwent astronomical growth throughout the series, Sally’s tumultuous passage into adulthood has been painful. Yet the strength of the character and Kiernan Shipka’s performance have always been enough to assure me she was going to end the show in a good place. In some ways, the writers forced her to grow-up by throwing very typical late-‘60s hardships her way (her best friend deciding to fight in Vietnam veered uncomfortably close to Wonder Years territory), but her unusual relationship with her parents ended up saving her from the clichés of the era. Her wisdom in the face of tragedy and ability to be more responsible than the grown-ups that surround her is a bittersweet triumph for the Weiner and his writers. I don’t want them to make a spin-off series, but, if they did, Sally would be the ideal candidate for a lead. Actually, scratch that, I’d rather see a show about Dawn Chambers (Teyonah Parris). Maybe Sally can make guest appearances.
  • Megan Draper/Calvet (Jessica Paré): Well, Megan wasn’t murdered by the Manson Family as fans famously theorized, but her exit from the show was almost as unceremonious. Following a rather moving over-the-phone divorce decision during the first part of season seven, her final appearances are dramatically regressive and needlessly depressing for both her, Don, and Harry Crane (Rich Sommer). Megan’s sunny disposition and genuine drive to be a good person doomed her to be dumped at the wayside the moment she became a series regular, I suppose, but it would have been nice to leave her in the pleasantly ambiguous space of that divorce phone call.
  • Betty Francis/Draper (January Jones): In many ways, the final seven episodes of Mad Men are about Don saying goodbye to all of the women in his life. Though we can assume their paths will cross again at some point (it seems that he’ll continue working with Peggy and Sally is his only daughter, after all), there were two definitive farewells. The first and most inconsequential was his goodbye to Stephanie Horton (Caity Lotz), who ditches him at a coastal hippie retreat without a word. The second and more shattering permanent farewell is to his second ex-wife Betty, who, like many of the important ‘Draper women’ (Anna Draper, Rachel Menken), has contracted cancer. After spending the majority of the series as an unlikable, self-centered antagonist (one who already survived a cancer scare) killing Betty off so suddenly feels like a cheap shot, but the diagnosis ends her run on the show with authentically Betty-esque ‘dignity.’ She presumably dies putting her own needs above everyone else’s. The only difference is that this time her narcissism galvanizes the people around her.


 Mad Men: The Final Season Part 2

Video


This is my seventh season review of Mad Men on Blu-ray (I skipped reviewing season six) or sixth if we’re counting both parts of ’the final season’ as ‘season seven.’ I have again resorted to cutting and pasting large sections of previous reviews, because, for the most part, things have changed very little – though the series’ technical staff apparently switched from standard Super 35 to ProRes 4:4:4 in their post production (it supposedly works better for 1080p broadcast), particularly for the sake of colour quality (35mm film is still listed as the source format). The look is slightly more muddy and desaturated compared to previous seasons, due largely to the shifts in cultural imagery. New York-set scenes are still relatively consistent with earlier episodes by including lots of clean lines, deep blacks, soft gradations, and pastel hues. But 1969/70 fashions and trends certainly increased both the presence of earth tones and more eclectic highlight colours. As long as these scenes are well-lit by fluorescents and generic window light, they remain crisp and complicated without any notable artefacts. The darker shots, on the other hand, are considerably grainier and the warmer hues, particularly flesh tones, become a smidge murky. Blocking can be a minor problem here, but is probably an unavoidable effect of the 35mm base and lack of digital augmentation. The California-set sequences have a sunset-kissed look that warms up the busier bohemian production design (the final episode is particularly bright in comparison with everything else in the final season, actually). These more ‘glowy’ sequences remain surprisingly sharp, though, again, grain levels do kick up quite a bit. Edge enhancement effects are not a problem, despite appearing in earlier season sets.

 Mad Men: The Final Season Part 2

Audio


(Once again, I’m copy/pasting a lot of this, because so much of it still applies)

Season seven-point-five follows the basic conceptual sound design set by previous seasons and actually has fewer exceptional/weird moments than the last couple seasons – though Don does watch a land speed record and drive around a lot, so there are lots of car engines of various loudness. The low-key mix is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and fulfills all of the basic goals of the sound design. Personally speaking, the uncompressed and beautifully balanced track is a relief, following months of trying to discern the whispered dialogue of a lossy iTunes mix. I can finally understand everything being said without cranking my system to dangerous volume levels. Directional and immersive elements continue to stick more to ambient noise than the in-your-face movement between channels. The sounds of the bustling offices, restaurants, streets, and a field of New Agers humming ‘ohm’ fill out the stereo and surround speakers very nicely, but music is the key aural component. David Carbonara’s mellow and mournful score has rarely sounded better and the track’s clarity helps separate the music’s more subtle elements.

 Mad Men: The Final Season Part 2

Extras


  • Audio commentaries:
    • Episode 1/8: Severance with creator Matthew Weiner, costume designer Janie Bryant, and producer Scott Hornbacher.
    • Episode 2/9: New Business with Weiner and producer Tom Smuts.
    • Episode 3/10: The Forecast with Weiner, director Jennifer Getzinger, and writer Jonathan Igla.
    • Episode 4/11: Time & Life with Weiner and producer/writer Erin Levy.
    • Episode 5/12: Lost Horizon with Weiner and producer/writer Semi Chellas.
    • Episode 6/13: The Milk and Honey Route with Weiner and writer Carly Wray.
    • Episode 7/14: Person to Person with Weiner and star Jon Hamm.
  • Generation Boom (Disc 1, 25:50, HD) – A historical look at the Baby Boomers, what defined them as a generation, their lasting impact, and how companies advertised to them. This well-produced featurette includes expert commentaries and classic news reel footage.
  • Earth Day 1970 (Disc 1, 2:40, HD) – A slideshow of images from the 1970 celebration, including photos and promotional illustrations.
  • Unmarried Professional Woman (Disc 2, 29:40, HD) – Social/historical experts discuss Peggy and Joan’s plight and growth throughout the series. There’s a special emphasis on the parallels to the female writers of the Mary Tyler Moore show.
  • Laurel Canyon (Disc 2, 2:40, HD) – Another info-graph/slideshow featurette that quickly delves into the history of Laurel Canyon, California as a hub for ‘60s-early ‘70s pop music.
  • Interactive advertising timeline – A slideshow gallery of important real-world advertising developments from 1960 to 1970.

This two-disc collection is being released alongside a Complete Collection set, that includes all previous single season release extras, plus additional interviews, commentaries, and featurettes.

 Mad Men: The Final Season Part 2

Overall


Mad Men’s ultimate season probably shouldn’t have been divided into two parts (it was sort of obnoxious from a marketing stand-point and there wasn’t really 14 episodes worth of story left to tell), but, now that the last episodes have aired, it is clear that the great moments vastly outweighed the bad. This final Blu-ray collection is typically satisfying with a rich, film-based HD transfer, a subtle DTS-HD MA soundtrack, and a solid collection of commentaries and featurettes.

 Mad Men: The Final Season Part 2

 Mad Men: The Final Season Part 2

 Mad Men: The Final Season Part 2

 Mad Men: The Final Season Part 2

 Mad Men: The Final Season Part 2

 Mad Men: The Final Season Part 2

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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