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  • Michael Yarish/AMC
  • Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Megan Draper (Jessica Pare) in Mad Men

“Are you ready? Because I want you to pay attention. This is the beginning of something.”

So says Freddy “Pee-Pee Pants” Rumsen, staring directly into the camera (AND OUR SOULS) in the opening seconds of the final (sorta) season of Mad Men. Later in the episode we learn that this speech—a pitch for Acutron watches—was actually authored by Don. So, really, Freddy was like an incontinent dummy to Don’s eager ventriloquist. But really we’re hearing the show’s writer/creator, Matthew Weiner, talking through Don talking through Freddy—and I don’t think he’s talking about watches, guys! Or should I say watchers.

Speaking of the penetration associated with ventriloquism, scenes like this one sure make it seem like Weiner & Co. have retreated so far up their own butts, become so enamored with how clever they are, that the show is on the verge of being unwatchable. Or at least unpleasant to watch, especially on a Sunday after you’ve just taken in an episode of Game of Thrones that almost gave you a fucking joy aneurysm. Mad Men‘s a show about people who believe absolutely in the absolute importance of their work—to the detriment of their inner and personal lives—so it wouldn’t be so weird if Weiner had internalized that sort of self-importance a little bit. All right, a lot bit.

Particularly irksome last night: the Megan-Sharon Tate theory baiting. In at least one interview, costumer Janie Bryant has said that the Vietnamese star T-shirt Megan wore last season, which was also worn in a famous photo of slain actress Sharon Tate, was not a plot device and that Tate’s having worn it was incidental. But in a show so laden with clues and tacit meaning, how the hell could any one believe her? Leave it to Weiner to (Easter) egg it on by placing Megan’s new home in “the canyon” (the Polanski-Tate home was in Benedict Canyon) and then surrounding her with predators (I mean, coyotes are kind of like serial killers). Don’s concerned about her safety—should we be, or are they just having fun with us? Are we being treated like dopes, or are we all just having a good time? I don’t know sometimes.

We’ve spent the better part of six seasons exploring the following, and from lots of angles: Who is Don Draper? We seem to get more insight when he loses scope—or a wife or a lover or a job or anything that’s integral to the persona he’s created—so a good thing about season seven is that he’s lost a lot! He’s been put out to pasture (temporarily, supposedly) by SC&P, and he doesn’t have Megan to lean on for the five days a week when she’s in LA and he’s in NYC. The former being more important than the latter. He’s adrift. He’s lying to everyone about having to go to work, even a strange lady (or a familiar Neve Campbell) to whom he becomes attracted on a transcontinental flight. I had the thought when things started to unravel last season: Is Don even still desirable? If he doesn’t have a seat in the boardroom, does anyone want him in the bedroom? He wouldn’t be the sexual sociopath we know and love if he wasn’t plagued by those thoughts.

It would appear Don’s absence from the workplace is having the most significant effect on Peggy. A guy named Lou is filling in, and he’s a real, honest-to-God prick. When she tries a second time to sell him on “Freddy’s idea” for the watch campaign, he smiles smugly and tells her he must be “immune to her charms” (women have to rely on “charm” in the workplace, after all), and he’s not the only one with similar immunity. Her tenant, a delightful tween named Julio, screams at her on behalf of his mother and their broken toilet because Peggy “doesn’t listen.” Later, Ted weasels out of having a confrontation with her.

Elsewhere in the SC&P universe, Joan is being humiliated for assuming everyone wants to screw her, Pete has nailed down the ideal sartorial style and sunshiney outlook, Kenny Cosgrove’s life is a living hell and he doesn’t even have the depth perception to know whether he’s dancing too close to the flames, and Megan might have to get her teeth fixed to be on NBC. Jessica Paré’s feelings are just being hurt at this point, right?

It was a slow premiere, but we’re going to keep watching because (a) everyone—I’m talking about viewers—seems to agree that nothing but bad things are on the horizon for these characters, and (b) we’ve already invested in six seasons. They’ve got us. And if the episode-ending song is any indication (I’m sure it is), they know it.

Mad Men, AMC, 8 PM Sundays