Like Breaking Bad before it, AMC has decided to split the final season of Mad Men in half, and this DVD is the first seven episodes while the back half will air sometime in the spring of 2015. This makes the purchasing of the DVD a hard sell, considering you’re paying full pop for only seven episodes — plus, the episodes are available to stream on Netflix and Amazon, and if you’re a collector, there will undoubtedly be a series-spanning box set that will be released by October of 2015.

Regardless, it’s clear that closing the doors of Sterling Cooper & Partners will be a good thing. Mad Men has always been a slow burning series, which is fine, but as the years have drawn on, our attention has drifted. Long running shows all have a difficulty sustaining itself over the course of several seasons, and while Matthew Weiner has made sure that no two seasons are alike, watching Mad Men has become a bit of a chore. While virtually every character is three dimensional, they have also taken on the mid-60s angst, often reflecting the uncertain times of a post-Kennedy assassination, pre-Manson America that makes them equally unsure and miserable. While Sally (Kiernan Shipka) and Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) have definite reasons to be upset — adolescence and job problems, respectively — having everyone else be as sad or dysfunctional can get tedious. Also tedious is the symbolism for the sake of symbolism that the series has come to rely on, which is still on display here quite often.

At the center of the show is Don (Jon Hamm), whose character has been going through a transformation throughout the series, particularly these last two seasons. The line between the man he started out as — Dick Whitman — and Don Draper has become ever-fading, while his drinking has become out of control, the way Roger’s (John Slattery) was in the first season. It led Don to losing his gig, forced to subterfuge, using Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray) to make money. Their relationship is a fun one. Rumsen had lost his job at SC&P because of his alcoholism and in-office pants peeing. He’s cleaned up his act over the years and while he doesn’t directly work for SC&P anymore, he does freelance for them from time to time. At one point Freddy was a character that Don and Roger had to be careful not to become; now, in season 7, Freddy is the role model that Don needs.

Transformation is a theme of the series, especially now in the home stretch. By the end of the mid-season finale, “Waterloo,” Roger has to recall of shade of the old Don — the risk-taking and resourceful Don — to negotiate a merger with McCann-Erickson the way Don once did with CGC as a way of saving the company. Meanwhile, the office has changed substantially, not only from a perspective of leadership, but by adding a computer. It makes everyone nervous as it threatens to change the way the business is run (and leads to the infamous nipple scene).

As always, the real speed of the show (other than Roger Sterling’s facial expressions and one-liners) is the relationships Don has with Sally and Peggy. Sally’s struggles with puberty have made her more like her mother and Don tries in his own relaxed verging negligent way to stay close to her. It’s a sad moment as Don struggles to maintain one part of his life as another crumbles. Watching his daughter walk back to her boarding school is a great, with Sally saying “I love you, daddy,” and Don quietly wondering — and perhaps realizing — how long that may still be true.

Don and Peggy also have a complex relationship. It’s also one of the few relationships Don has with a woman that has never been sexual. The mentor/mentee give and take they’ve had over the years has been a difficult one and despite us seeing, once again, Peggy being mad at Don, giving Peggy authority over Don gave this old story a new angle and kept it for feeling too redundant.

The special features on the DVD set are different than the usual fair. Unfortunately, there are no commentaries, but there are three mini-docs and one behind the scenes featurette. The first two docs discuss the role of gays in 1960s America with interviews from gay activists who discuss the hardships and fear of exposure during the era, and how they had to lead double lives leading up to the gay power movement. Mad Men has addressed gay causes in the 50s and 60s before through various minor characters, and this season magnified the theme through Bob Benson (James Wolk) and the “not of your stripe” story. The third doc is a recounting of the events of the 1968 Democratic Convention and the trial of the Chicago Eight, which was referenced throughout the season.

The behind the scenes featurette is a ‘making of’ that covers Robert Morse’s last day on set. He played Bert Cooper, head of the agency, since season 1 and the character passed away during the moon landing in “Waterloo.” His final scene, however, is as a vision Don has at the office memoriam. Cooper’s ghost comes to him (not wearing shoes, of course) and sings and dances with the secretaries to “The Best Things in Life are Free,” a loving reference to Morse’s early days as a Broadway song and dance man. It’s a great sendoff for both the character and the actor, who was the strict but accessible grandfather of the show.

While this season is a good one, by Mad Men’s standards it’s clear it’s time for the show to wrap it up. There is some padding taking place, some forced storylines, but on the whole this is an improvement to last season. What this half-season did well was set up the end, and further explore the era the characters are living through. Mad Men is nothing if not gloriously detailed. However, given the fact that this release if half a season but still full price, it’s best to just skip it and wait for the box set.

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