'Breaking Bad' and 'Mad Men': Why splitting final seasons isn't a good idea

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Image Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

It’s hard to say goodbye to a great television show. It’s even harder for a television network to let go of one. So perhaps it’s not all that surprising that AMC — in a move announced on Tuesday — has decided to divide the forthcoming final season of Mad Men into two parts. The first set of seven episodes will air in the spring of 2014, and the second set of seven will air in the spring of 2015. The cable network did the same thing with the fifth and last season of Breaking Bad, which will wrap its acclaimed run on Sept. 29. It also uses a split-season structure with The Walking Dead. It’s a strategy that works well for AMC — but is it a strategy that will work well for fans of Mad Men?

The move yields one undeniable benefit: More Mad Men. AMC is adding an additional episode to the final season in order to create an equal batch of episodes for each half. Matthew Weiner has a lot of characters to service and service well; I’m sure the extra hour will only assist him in that work. Heck, I’d gladly pitch in a couple bucks to help pay for two more hours to get us 16 episodes and better, fuller-feeling pods of 8 and 8; all the better to give Peggy, Pete, Betty, Roger, and Joan — and not just it’s-all-about-me! Don Draper — as many character-completing moments as possible.

On the whole, though, I’m not excited by the split. For starters, there’s the example of Breaking Bad. I have mixed feelings about the way the producers of that show have written to the format. The first half was a riveting examination of Walter White at the height of his awful powers, the empire-building Heisenberg king. But the second half has not been as strong as the first; it has lacked the same kind of clear thematic focus, and most of it has felt like moving-the-pieces setup for the endgame now upon us, that began last week with the staggering and sublime  “Ozymandias.” Moreover, Breaking Bad has also shown us that the long intermission between halves has a cost to the narrative. It kills momentum and makes demands on the viewer that can diminish their enjoyment of a show at a time when they should be enjoying it the most. I have felt somewhat disconnected from Jesse’s torment and fury during the second half of BB 5.0, so much so that I started re-watching episodes from the first half (which originally aired from July 15 to Sept. 2) in order to re-familiarize myself with the evolution of his agony and to better feel it. I don’t have time for that kind of homework.

My point here is that I don’t think people experience split seasons as one season cut in half;  I think people experience them as two separate, smaller seasons, and therefore want each of them to be independent, satisfying things unto themselves. My hope is that Weiner and his writers will keep some of these issues in mind as they begin brainstorming the shape and form of Mad Men‘s climactic act(s).

My other major complaint with Mad Men‘s split-season last season will be somewhat harder for Weiner to address: I am ready for Mad Men to end now. Don Draper’s Hershey bar apocalypse in the final episode of season 6 was the perfect cliffhanger setup for a grand finale. I was looking forward to reaching the long-awaited destination to his series-long journey toward damnation-or-redemption as promised, when originally promised, in a single, unbroken, season-long arc. Now, I approach the “last” season of Mad Men with grumbles instead of goosebumps.

And of course, I’ll be watching it, anyway.

How do you guys feel about chopping up Mad Men’s final chapter?

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

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