Matthew Weiner has once again shrouded the new season of Mad Men in Soviet-level secrecy, disallowing cast members from saying anything more specific about their roles on the show beyond “I am still on Mad Men” and “Please redact my previous statement.”
But as the show prepares to unveil Season 7A, the veil has lifted ever-so-slightly. Last week, AMC released a preview, which showed Don disembarking from an airplane, very slowly and mournfully. “Jesus, maybe it’s a metaphor!” we all thought. “Or maybe it’s an homage to Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2,” some of us thought. “Don is the Yellow King!” screamed your friend who proved that True Detective and Mad Men were set in the same universe, and had the GIFs to prove it.
However, new photos from the season have just been released, which strongly imply that “airplanes” aren’t just the subtext of the season: They might actually be the text. The photos show various Mad Men cast members hanging out in various stages of the air travel process, experiencing a variety of emotions running the gamut from “abstract befuddlement” to “meanderous ambivalence” to “existential perambulation.” But they’re all doing it while air-traveling! Let’s take a look, shall we?
Don hangs out curbside with Megan, a.k.a. his second wife, although technically she’s the third Mrs. Draper. (Megan is the Return of the Jedi to Betty’s Empire Strikes Back and Anna’s A New Hope, if you get what I’m saying.) Megan’s mere presence in this photo will probably disappoint the Calvet Haters who figured her angry departure in last season’s finale implied that she wouldn’t be back this year. But she’s here, arm around Don. Are they going on a vacation? That’s an awful lot of luggage. Could it be that, in the off-season, Don re-decided to move to LA?
Or, here’s another idea: Megan is styled like crazy in this shot, red from head-to-toe in stark contrast to the deep brown hues all around her. And these are old-school Mad Men deep-brown hues: Besides Megan, this shot could be taken from Mad Men‘s first season, which was set in the part of the ’60s before everyone suddenly realized that clothes could have colors. Could it be that this season finds Megan living in the future/Los Angeles, struggling to hold onto her long-distance marriage with Don — while Don stares back towards the past, both internally (his own demons) and externally (New York, Sterling Cooper, etc.)?
Also notable from this shot: The prominent placement given to TWA, at the time the third-biggest airline. In 1969, TWA built a snazzy new concourse-lounge at JFK called Flight Wing One. Could it be that this season sees Don take on a white-whale airline account? Nuts to you, Mohawk Airlines!
Don has left the curb. He’s waiting for his flight. And his companion has transmogrified: Where once stood Megan now sits Peggy, Don’s apprentice/nemesis/confessor/metaphorical mother-daughter/gender-swapped younger self. Last time we saw Peggy, she had taken over Don’s space in the office — and even taken over his credits-sequence back-of-the-head motif. Here we find them together again, but staring in different directions. (ASIDE: Matthew Weiner has always been obsessive about the back-of-the-head thing, and so it feels notable somehow that their head-backs are purposefully at odds with each other. Also, once you look for head-backs in Mad Men you can’t stop. Look in the upper-left corner! Two head-backs! END OF ASIDE.)
Are they jetting out to Los Angeles to visit the ad agency’s LA bureau? Weiner has said before that Mad Men is ultimately building to the point when the entertainment-cultural power axis shifted from New York to Los Angeles — a move best symbolized by the Tonight Show‘s move to Burbank in 1972. (Which means the power balance has shifted back to New York, if you believe that late night shows are tea leaves for all of culture, which of course they aren’t, unless they are.) In this shot, Don stares down at a newspaper, looking vaguely dissatisfied…but Peggy stares out, looking excited? Or intrigued? Or thoughtful? Will this season witness the final ascendance of Peggy Olsen? At what point will everyone start calling her Margaret?
Roger: Still alive! Yes, close to a decade after a near-fatal heart attack leveled him, the oft-married memoirist can now almost add “The Sixties” to the list of things he has survived. (Other items on that list: World War II, drinking all day every day for decades, sideburns.) This is the only photo of the three that actually resembles a shot from an episode — and not an icongraphy-laden advert — which seems to imply that Don and Roger will take yet another business trip out to Los Angeles. Will they be more successful this time than last year’s crotch-punching pool-jumping misadventure?
Los Angeles on Mad Men has always been a freefloating symbol. At times, it’s been Don’s vision of spiritual sanctuary — recall his season-2 baptism in the Pacific Ocean — and at other times it’s been his vision of a more hopeful future — see his season 4 proposal to Megan in an episode appropriately titled “Tomorrowland.” Last year, though, the symbol became skewed. Los Angeles could be “the future,” but Don and Roger suddenly seemed like remnants of the past when contrasted with the denizens of hippie-era SoCal. Could the expressions on their faces imply that this season is all about them coming to terms with their own inevitable obsolescence? Or could this be the season when Don and Roger finally give into their adolescent urges and both marry flight attendants?
BASELESS CONCLUSIONS: Much of Season 7 will be set in Los Angeles. Don will leave the firm and move to Los Angeles out of the vain hope of making things work with Megan, even though she’ll already have moved on to a romance with an unnamed celebrity/Steve McQueen. Peggy will briefly consider moving to Los Angeles and finally making it work with newly-single Pete, but instead she’ll stay in New York as the Creative Director of Sterling Cooper. Roger will remain Roger, and the final shot of Mad Men will reveal that all of Mad Men has actually been a story told by Roger in the present day, at his 100th birthday party, to a grown-up Sally Draper (special guest star Diane Keaton).