The notion that nothing happens in Mad Men is bullshit. Every scene has a pay-off; every line has momentum. But like life, it's often not clear in the moment quite what the direction is. Go back and watch a season again from beginning to end and the trajectories are startlingly clear. Even moments which appeared entirely aimless are suddenly sodden with purpose. There's constant churning activity – but it's largely happening inside the characters' heads. Everyone in Mad Men hides a secret, often a driving force they're scarcely aware of themselves. They don't know who they are or what they want. Unlike many characters in TV drama, they don't verbally telegraph their motivations: in fact they couldn't if they tried. This is what gives the series such a steady pull: there's a mystery at the core of every character, and they're trying to solve it at the same time as the viewer.
Last week's episode was 12 of 13: The Grown Ups. In this episode Kennedy was assassinated and almost everyone experienced this as a destrctive, transformative and renewing shock. Peter Campbell and his wife seemed to transform in front of our eyes from 'fifties' people to 'sixties' people. They decided not to go to a corporate wedding to network with people they didn't care about. Why give your loyalty to those who don't value you? Big change, and it felt like a permanent one. It felt like the whole show suddenly jumped several years into the future. The children see that their parents are people, the parents see that their marriage is over, people fall naturally towards the places or people that are most important to them.
For Don Draper it seems that everything has come to an end. His job and his marriage, and his whole integrity as a man, seem to be passing away. He just fell to pieces. John Hamm's acting was incredible. When Charlie Brooker talks about 'the mystery at the core of character' this isn't just a product of the script but of the exceptional acting.
I am hoping that in tonight's final episode of the series Don turns and saves Sterling Cooper, in some way, in a last stand, but not his marriage. It's about time Betty was free.