“Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner has said he didn’t structure this season of the show much differently from past years, despite the fact that after Sunday’s (May 25) episode, the seventh of Season 7, the show will leave AMC until early 2015.
His reasoning? As he puts it, “We have a turning point in the middle of every season,” noting that in past years episode 7 of the show has often featured a big shift in the story or pivotal developments for its characters. With that in mind, here’s a look back at each of the show’s previous episode 7s and how they resonated for the remainder of that season.
Season 1: ‘Red in the Face’
Don makes Roger pay for hitting on Betty, and Pete takes his frustrations about what married life means for him out on a chip ‘n’ dip. For viewers, the real turning-point episode in Season 1 came a week later with “The Hobo Code,” with its flashbacks to young Dick Whitman and Peggy and Pete having sex in Pete’s office. Still, “Red in the Face” is packed with great character details: Peggy getting weirdly aroused when Pete tells her why he exchanged the chip ‘n’ dip for a rifle; Don’s subtle smile when Roger pukes in front of the Nixon reps; Betty and Helen Bishop’s dustup at the grocery.
Season 2: ‘The Gold Violin’
The episode shares a title with Ken Cosgrove’s latest short story, and it’s an emotionally heavy one, with Don’s affair with Bobbie Barrett being exposed, Sal doing his not-overly-successful best to keep up the facade of a happily married straight man and Roger playing mind games with Joan over his future second wife, Jane. The facade Don has been trying to rebuild over the first half of this season — completed here by a new Cadillac — is starting to crumble.
Season 3: ‘Seven Twenty Three’
Few things will ever top the black comedy of the episode just prior to this one: “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency,” in which hapless secretary Lois loses control of a John Deere tractor and British wunderkind Guy loses his foot (Roger: “It’s like Iwo Jima out there”). “Seven Twenty Three,” though, sets a lot of other things in motion for the remainder of Season 3, and even the series. Don starts to get closer with Sally’s teacher, Miss Farrell; Betty has her first extended meeting with Henry Francis; Don signs a three-year contract with the agency as a way to land the Hilton account — and following a veiled threat from Bert Cooper about his past.
Season 4: ‘The Suitcase’
One of the two or three best episodes of the entire series, and not just for Don’s indelible line, “That’s what the money is for!” “The Suitcase” is a milestone in Don and Peggy’s relationship, showing just how deep their bond has become (a theme revisited in the show’s most recent episode, “The Strategy”). It’s a two-character piece for nearly the entire hour, but with some of the best work Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss have done to date on the show, the others’ absences aren’t so acutely felt. It doesn’t last, of course, but it really feels like both Don and Peggy take some strength from knowing how well they get each other. Here’s the “money” scene:
Season 5: ‘At the Codfish Ball’
Maybe the strangest midpoint episode on this list is all about parents and kids. Sally wants very much to grow up, but her experiences in the “dirty” city have her longing to un-see some of the things she saw, especially Megan’s mom going down on Roger. Megan, meanwhile, gets a huge win as a copywriter but faces the contempt of her socialist father. Peggy’s mom rips her apart for her decision to move in with Abe. The disturbing tone set here would continue through the end of Season 5.
(Note: Seasons 5 and 6 both began with two-hour premieres, with each hour counting as one episode in the show’s order. So while both “At the Codfish Ball” and “Man With a Plan” aired in the sixth week of that season’s run, for these purposes they’re counted as the seventh episode.)
Season 6: ‘Man With a Plan’
The big move of season six — the merger of SCDP and Cutler Gleason Chaough — was sparked in the previous episode, “For Immediate Release.” The reality of Don and Ted’s brilliant, Chevy-winning brainstorm, though, sets in here, with Peggy brought back into the soon-to-be SC&P and everyone trying to figure out who does what and who reports to whom. Don’s attempts to play alpha dog with both Ted and Sylvia fail miserably as Ted one-ups him with their harrowing plane ride and Sylvia, after initially going along with the idea of doing nothing but waiting for him, wises up and walks out. Don’s downward spiral only picks up speed from here on out.
So what will Sunday’s episode, titled “Waterloo,” bring? Given the title and the relatively upbeat way “The Strategy” ended, it’s not hard to believe that the rug is going to get pulled out from Don or Peggy or Pete, or some combination of all three. Trying to nail down specifics is probably a fool’s errand, but things do seem set up for a serious plot upheaval.
We’ll find out when the last “Mad Men” of 2014 airs at 10 p.m. ET/PT Sunday on AMC.