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'Mad Men' final season premiere review: Don Draper still in a dark place

Jon Hamm as Don Draper on "Mad Men's"

Jon Hamm as Don Draper on "Mad Men's" final season premiere. Credit: AMC / Michael Yarish

What it's about: As per custom, "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner asked that no plot details of the seventh and final season opener are offered here, so, instead, some broad strokes.

The end of last season fell around Thanksgiving, 1968, and Don (Jon Hamm) was essentially fired from his own agency after suffering a breakdown in a client meeting with Hershey.

However, he had already told Megan (Jessica Pare) that they were going to Los Angeles, for him to run the Sunkist account. She's not happy with his news, given that career opportunities beckon for her.

Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) wanted to flee to LA to escape his office romance with Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss).

Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) is in a different place - at least emotionally - after his mother disappeared during a luxury cruise, or "lost at sea," in his words. Joan Harris's (Christina Hendricks) role at Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce appears enhanced, so does Ken Cosgrove's (Aaron Staton.)

Roger Sterling (John Slattery) had won a major client, Chevy, but appeared to have lost his daughter, Margaret (Elizabeth Rice) after he refuses to help her husband in a business venture.

Meanwhile, the snide new guy steps into the breach created by the absence of Ted and Don: Lou Avery (played by veteran standup, Allan Havey.)

My say: "Mad Men" is largely the journey of Don Draper's soul, and lately, this particular trip has been a rocky one.

Don was in a dark place at the end of the sixth season. Hopefully this won't come as a complete abrogation of Weiner's non-spoiler demands: He still is.

But Jon Hamm's Draper is such a singularly great character that this never seems to drag him down to a place you don't care to visit. He continues to grope his way forward, and even when total black has enveloped him emotionally, there's just the smallest ray of light that he reaches towards -- early this season, that's the smog-muted light of LA.

This still very much feels like a journey worth taking if only because, in the process, Hamm deftly continues to locate some heroic facet in TV's reigning anti-hero.

Weiner doesn't want you to know anything going into Sunday's "Time Zones," but that's ridiculous. By all means, watch last season's finale, "In Care of," just to fix your bearings. Know too that many of "Men's" favorite themes remain in play Sunday, with additional flourishes.

Shangri-La (James Hilton's and Frank Capra's) is touched upon. So is Disneyland. Both are utopias of very different sorts, animated by different impulses (one spiritual, the other commercial...)

Time is crucial here too. The passing of time... the inability to control time... and especially the remorselessness of time. Even Don (who knows this best of all) can't avoid its ravages for much longer.

Travel is another big theme, but traveling to where, and does anybody even know why they're going there? Just fourteen episodes remaining to this classic series: We'll be getting some answers soon enough.

Bottom line: All's well in the world of "Mad Men" -- but watch last season's finale to get in the groove.

Grade: A

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