The final season premiere of Mad Men was a risk, steeped in ambiguity. It either cooled the temperaments of the show’s highly enthusiastic fan base, beginning a cynic’s countdown to an inevitably underwhelming ending, á lá The Sopranos, or wetted appetites by generating anticipation for answers to all the questions “Time Zones” posed, like: Do Megan and Don Draper have any shot at complete reconciliation? Can Peggy and Joan stand toe-to-toe with their male counterparts? And what the hell is going on with Roger Sterling? The episode was bookended by appearances from a fringe character, Freddy Rumsen, played by the third-most-recognizable Murray, Joel. He pitches an ad for Accutron watches to Peggy at the beginning, and thanks Don near the end for all the great ideas. Don’s still trying to get his life back in order with seemingly mixed results—he’s not drinking much, if at all, and Megan hasn’t completely given up on him, though he gets very tempted by a lonesome woman on a redeye. However, Don’s ego won’t allow him to completely remove his foot from the door of Sterling Cooper & Partners, at least, not for very long. It’s hard to blame him though, and the Accutron commercial clearly answers the question about the state of Don’s creative prowess. But when one is forced to self-reflect the way Don was by his partners, that alone time can easily provide abundant inspiration.
Through the voice of Freddy, as the ad instructs, Don wants people to “pay attention,” but to Don himself, once again, for the watch commercial is an anonymous plea to SC&P to bring him back. It stars a young Don who has turned back time to his “late twenties,” when he was “shaggy, with a youthful colic.” It’s “the beginning of something”—Don’s early days in the industry—, as he’s vaguely referred to as “a businessman.” The “food in [his] teeth and ashes on [his] tie” portray his innocence, and the fact that he has little to contribute to the meeting shows his ignorance. But the hero in the ad is “inter-esting” and has the potential to “improve [his] life,” as evidenced by his fine taste in timepieces. Don stands out to the “contemporary” Steve McQueen figure—a prospective client—and is ultimately able to engage in a “conversation” with him. After all, Don is wearing a Swiss watch that is “accurate [and] the height of design and tech-nology.” We’ve seen from Don, Roger, Pete Campbell, and others that nailing down a client is almost equal parts ability to comm-unicate fresh ideas and simply being likable. (Think about all those meetings over drinks at a restaurant or nightclub.) So, in the ad, young Don proves useful to the “white-haired” and “boring” higher-ups at the firm because McQueen, not only relates to him, but also admires him and his watch. Don desperately wants to return in to SC&P and is aware that, despite his talents, he won’t be accepted until he can be a resourceful asset once again, much like the young Don in the commercial that rocketed to the top of the firm.
The Accutron pitch to Peggy is a timestamp as well. Season 7 opens a few months after Don was forced to take a leave of absence. Megan has been able to establish a residence in Los Angeles, Pete has made up his mind that the West Coast is the best coast, and Lou Avery has made himself comfortable in Don’s office. But, most importantly, the commercial’s content indicates that Don has considered his journey, from his humble beginnings to the destruction brought on by his hubris. The shot of freshly shaven Don on the movable walkway in the airport symbolizes progress. Because Freddy has been in close contact with Don, and has been the beneficiary of Don’s professional, creative renaissance, he can admit that if it were his decision, Don would be in the office once again. This implies Don’s close to getting back in the door at SC&P, but there’s more due time required before the doors of a more personal nature are thrown completely open. For now, he has to settle for access to just his frigid balcony.