Whither Don Draper? He goes west, it seems. Of course he does.
Mad Men (Sunday, AMC, 10 p.m.) returns for its seventh and final season – one split into two, with seven new episodes airing in spring 2015. What little we know about its content is that Draper (Jon Hamm) flies to Los Angeles to be with his wife, Megan (Jessica Paré).
When we last met him, his marriage was crumbling, his children seemed to loathe him and his job had been temporarily erased. All his fault, this man who is really someone else, Dick Whitman. Just as Dick reinvented himself as Don, perhaps now he reinvents himself on the U.S. West Coast.
It is the way of American literature and storytelling and, throughout, Mad Men had cleaved to the themes of core American stories. Sometimes, watching it is like a refresher course in American Literature 101 – reminders of the central idea of the American Adam, the orphan who sets out for the territories of the West, to be free, to be remade again and again in the open, welcoming landscape.
Me, I don't know if much scholarly work has been done connecting Don Draper to the Marlboro Man figure. But there are connections. Both are chain-smoking, rugged individuals, unknowable to others, defined by aloneness. Both are essentially antisocial bachelors. Both are creatures of advertising.
There is all of that mythology, some unleashed by advertising, not novelists, in the subtext to Mad Men and Don Draper's story. But there is also the specific context of the show's setting and time period.
It's 1968 now. It is important that the storytelling engine drives characters toward California in order to catch the westward-drifting shape of the U.S. culture in the late 1960s. Political upheaval and social tensions happened in the East. In the West, individualism was recast and drugs played a large part in that. And to that milieu goes Draper.
At this point we can only speculate about Don Draper and, after all, he is only one of a multitude of characters who are, in some way, perambulating symbols for personal and social changes that the 1960s wrought on the United States.
Other than Draper, it's the women that matter most. It seems Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) has a more powerful and rewarding role at Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce, and Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) must command the respect so often denied her. Both women are the future, while Roger Sterling (John Slattery) embodies the fast-fading past.
But for now we are in Don Draper's story. This first episode of the season is called "The Beginning" and new beginnings in the U.S. always happen in the West.
Also airing this weekend
The MTV Movie Awards (Sunday, MTV Canada, 9 p.m.) is the sort of shindig that includes antics that go viral on Monday morning. The notable thing this year is the host – it's Conan O'Brien's first time doing this gig. His job is to be funny and explain wittily that while other awards shows celebrate 12 Years a Slave or Philomena, this one is really about The Hunger Games franchise.
The Bletchley Circle (Sunday, most PBS stations, 10 p.m.) is back for a second season. If you need the gist, it's this – it's a sly, loaded mystery drama series, set in the early 1950s. Four women who were code-breakers at Bletchley Park during the war investigate murders. While dismissed by most men, they are savvy at pattern recognition, and tough. They know, even if others forget, that their skills helped defeat the Nazis. This is one compelling, smart sisterhood.
Mad Dog: The Secret World of Gaddafi (Sunday 10 p.m., CBC NN on The Passionate Eye) is both salacious and sobering. Filmmaker Christopher Olgiati is not much interested in the politics of Moammar Gadhafi's rise to power or the intricacies of his relations with Western powers. (It was Ronald Reagan who referred to him as "Mad Dog." ) His concern is with offering evidence of the late Libyan dictator's bizarre, brutal rule. The torture of perceived enemies is seen; the capture and abuse of young women for Gadhafi's sons' pleasure is documented. While the documentary openly sneers at what's called the "Dolce & Gabbana lifestyle" of Gadhafi and his sons, the ultimate result is deeply disturbing. The doc also includes footage of Gadhafi's brutal end.
Finally, and by the way, note that to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, there's a repeat airing of the powerful, award-winning Shake Hands With The Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire (Saturday 10 p.m., CBC NN on The Passionate Eye). Another look at brutality and its impact.
Follow me on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle