The beginning of Season 7 finds Don (Hamm) more or less in the same pitiful position we left him at the end of Season 6: he's still suspended from SCDP, he's drinking heavily and he's hiding the extent of his troubles from both his wife Megan (Paré) and his daughter, Sally (Shipka). Early on in the season, Don's offered the chance to come back to work, but only if he agrees to a crippling set of demands, meaning, essentially, that if he puts one foot out of line, he's out on his ear, permanently. Needless to say, this creates an enjoyable amount of tension for the half-season as we root for Don to rediscover the old Don Draper magic.
It's a sign of how topsy-turvy this season is that Pete Campbell (Kartheiser), of all people, is the happiest person on the show. Season 7 finds Pete living it up in Los Angeles, complete with new love interest Bonnie (Schram), while, by contrast, Peggy (Moss) is at her lowest point since Season 2, forced to work for a boss who hates her (Harvey's Lou Avery) and struggling with her social life.
Meanwhile, Roger (Slattery) continues his exploration of the counter-culture scene, while Joan (Hendricks) continues her rise at SCDP. We also get a welcome focus on Don's loyal ex-secretary Dawn (Parris) and a glimpse into the life of Michael Ginsberg (Feldman), which gives the show a gruesome moment to rival the episode with the lawnmower (Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency) in Season 3.
Mad Men has always been a show that is rich in character and relationships and comparatively light on plot, at least when looked at in the context of other network TV shows. As such, with any given episode, it can often feel as if nothing happens and yet everything happens, simultaneously – for example, the slightest shift in office politics can have significant impact on each of the characters. A good example of this is the fascinating deterioration in the relationships between Don and Peggy and, to a similar but not as fore-grounded extent, between Don and Joan.
In summary, this is a strong half-season of Mad Men that bodes well for the final half next year and won't disappoint fans of the show. As to where it will all end up, that's anybody's guess, as one of the principle pleasures of the show is that it's impossible to guess where it will go next, a freedom granted by its short-story-like episode structure.
Unfortunately, the extras package is a little disappointing. While there are informative commentaries on each episode from creator Matthew Weiner and the writers / directors, there is no input at all from the actors. This extends to the extras themselves – the closest we get to any Behind The Scenes or Making Of material is a short featurette on actor Robert Morse (who plays Bert Cooper). Similarly, the two documentaries (they are listed as four but they are essentially two separate ones cut in two) on key 1960s events are interesting enough in themselves but they don't exactly resonate with anything we see throughout the course of the season. Would it have been too much to include a short feature on the Moon Landing, for example, given that that's the event that closes the season? Here's hoping for a fuller extras package with the release of the season's second half.
EXTRAS ★★ Commentaries; featurette The Best Things In Life Are Free on co-star Robert Morse (8 mins); interactive timeline Technology: 1969 on computers and the internet; documentary Gay Rights (23 mins); documentary Gay Power (21 mins); documentary The Trial of the Chicago 8 Pt 1 (17 mins); documentary The Trial of the Chicago 8 Pt 2 (35 mins).