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Mad Men's Final Season Review: "Severance"

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We're entering a long offseason. Time to indulge in a few non-Syracuse topics.

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"STICK TO SPORTS!" - some of you, probably.

But as we've covered in this space before, we're all more than that. Yes, even me, the guy who watches 24 (sometimes 26!) Syracuse football games per year. So follow along with us as we'll be recapping Mad Men every week for the final seven episodes -- of which, this is the first.

Note: Work travel forced to me watch this week's on delay, but in the future, expect these to appear on Monday or Tuesday.

SPOILERS AHEAD! TURN AWAY IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED SUNDAY'S EPISODE YET

Mad Men, The Final Season: "Severance"

When we last discussed Mad Men here, we were giving a thorough scouting report of the show's main players and what the final seven episodes would yield for most of them. Right away, I'll point out this prediction of mine... which was SOOOO far off from what transpired:

Ken Cosgrove

Pirate Ken's diminished in importance over time, and now, I believe he's run his course on the show as well. Sorry, bud. It was a nice run. Odds of importance in 2015: 0 percent.

I'm dumb, apparently. Because ol' Pirate Ken was arguably the MOST important character of the entire episode -- one which seemed to revolve around self-determination or the lack of ability to self-determine. Ken starts by celebrating his father-in-law's retirement from Dow (a long-standing, large client over at Sterling Cooper & Partners), and then -- while his wife questions his own appetite for advertising -- he's fired. Afterward, it's discussed over and over how Ken can finally write his novel, but that's one half of who he really is. The other, as has been subtly seen over and over, is about revenge, even if he's not smart or brutal or quick enough to pull the trigger. So when he finally does work up the guts to pull the ultimate "EFF YOU" to SC&P (and Roger, in particular), it's stunning to viewers. Kenny Cosgrove, of all people, discovers his self-determination.

The other characters, however, aren't so lucky. Joan and Peggy have a cringe-worthy scene with the McCann Erickson "boys club" that shows neither has the ability to fully self-determine, even if for completely opposite reasons. The former has the physical attractiveness she embraces, but not the professional respect. The latter (while still not receiving respect) receives the "courtesy" of not being berated with sexist remarks, but she still craves an existence she does not have with regard to spontaneity and love.

Don, hell-bent on the image of former love interest Rachel Katz, is thrown for a loop following a dream and then the startling news of her death. Even Pete, who plays a minimal role in the episode's proceedings, describes his own (albeit conceited) problems with who he is and what he does... and how he's virtually stuck as a millionaire advertising exec. in New York. All four characters chase a dream they've seen vividly -- whether in real life or just in their minds once or twice -- but can't seem to attain it for themselves, no matter how hard they struggle (or in Pete's case, don't).

***

In the big scheme of things, this episode is interesting and engaging and thought-provoking on its own. Yet in terms of the overall arc of these final chapters of the show, we're going to have to see more before we truly realize how its events fit into the fully story's conclusion. On its face, it's hard to find out the importance of "Severance" just yet. But that's the beauty of Mad Men, a show with few throwaways and a penchant for playing the long game over some short-term gags/shock (Ginsberg's nipple aside).

Unrelated to the plot of "Severance," Ted was barely important in this episode, though his mustache -- the MVP of a Don dream sequence -- was among the breakout stars of the hour. Roger's own facial hair, however, takes the cake. How he manages to mix creepy grandfather, Wyatt Earp and playboy millionaire into one person, I have no idea. But I do, indeed, applaud it.

***

Lots of characters await their own debuts this half-season -- in particular, the entire Francis clan and Megan Draper -- so expect look-ins on them for next week. Those stories, like Don's, are still largely unfinished and going another episode without some progress toward their conclusions would make little sense. I mean, I think we all need to get some more of this before we see the last of Betty Francis, right?

Anything else you'd like to point out (like call-backs to weird "murder" scenes -- H/T AV Club's John Teti)? Feel free to discuss below in the comments.