Did you ever catch the 1973 film “Save the Tiger”? That’s the one in which Jack Lemmon plays a sharply tailored, scotch-swilling executive who, like the tiger, is among the last of a dying breed. Midway through the movie, he gives a ride to a hitchhiking flower child, ends up in bed with her, smokes a joint and has a psychic meltdown.
That could be Don Draper. The last time we saw him, at the end of 1968, he lost both his wife and his job (at least temporarily) after confessing, in the middle of a Hershey chocolate pitch meeting, that his life is a fraud. Now add the seismic culture shocks of 1969 and the stage appears to be set for a great midlife unraveling.
Of course, “Mad Men” remains a must-see in part because of its unpredictability. The AMC series often seems to be on a low simmer, but that will be hard to maintain against the psychedelic backdrop of a year marked by Nixon and Woodstock, the moon landing and the Manson murders. On the eve of the ’70s, even men’s suits got ugly. As Peggy Olson steps in to fill his shoes at Sterling Cooper & Partners, Don Draper is in danger of becoming an anachronism. Yet, he says in a Season 7 trailer, “I never felt better in my life.”
Is Don finished? After years of faking his own identity, will he find absolution? Tune in on April 13, for the premiere of the final season (which, in the style of “Breaking Bad,” will be split in two, ending in 2015) as “Mad Men” moves toward its crescendo. —John Birmingham