Don Draper and Rachel Menken in “Mad Men“‘s first season // AMC
(JTA) — Spoiler alert: The post below discusses the content of “Mad Men” Season 7, Episode 8 (“Severance”) In the weeks before the beginning of the final season of “Mad Men,” the show’s creator Matthew Weiner did rounds of interviews on his Jewish roots. He even recently sat down for an interview with New York Magazine critic Matt Zoller Seitz at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage to discuss how Jewish identity is a fundamental element of the show.
Right on cue, the final episodes kicked off Sunday night on a Jewish note. A revitalized Don Draper, back to his promiscuous ways, is haunted by past flame Rachel Menken in a dream. Menken is of course the heir to the large fictional Menken’s department store and, for a short time, Don’s client and lover. In an episode filled with eerie coincidences, Don discovers that Rachel died of leukemia just a week before his dream. He shows up at the shiva to pay his respects and is met by Rachel’s sister Barbara, who explains that the last years of Rachel’s life (her married post-Don years) brought her exactly what she wanted out of life. Barbara is well-aware that Don eventually rejected Rachel’s passionate advances to keep his unhappy marriage together. When Barbara starts to self-righteously explain to Don what “sitting shiva” means, he replies that he’s lived in New York for a long time and knows exactly what shiva is (he has even brought cake!). However, Don’s non-Jewishness sticks out when he is asked by someone else to help the group form a minyan.
“He can’t; he’s not Jewish,” Barbara says with more than a hint of disdain.
If you’re anything like me, you’re currently anticipating a period of intense mourning: After seven magical, addictive seasons, “Mad Men” is coming to an end. Soon.
Season 7 of the award-winning show may be airing in two parts a la “Breaking Bad,” but it’s a sad reality that by close to this time next year, Don, Peggy, Joan, Roger, Betty, Sally, Pete, and all the other characters we’ve come to know and love (and yes, hate — I’m looking at you, Megan) will be but a distant memory to be revisited on Netflix in moments of nostalgia.
“Mad Men” is nominally the tale of Don Draper, 1960s ad man. But that only scratches the surface of what has morphed into one of the most carefully crafted, framed and nuanced shows on TV. “Mad Men” is the story of America. “Mad Men” is the story of a generation. “Mad Men” is the story of women. And “Mad Men” is the story of the Jews.
It’s no coincidence that the very first episode includes a rather shocking display of anti-Semitism: We’ve hardly even gotten to know Don when a slick, 1959 Roger strides into his office to ask: “Have we ever hired any Jews?” Don’s deadpan answer is even more revealing: “Not on my watch.”
Almost ten fictional “Mad Men” years later, we’ve come a long way. Sterling Cooper & Partners (formerly Sterling Cooper then Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, then Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Cutler Gleason & Chough) has a full-time Jewish copywriter, the ever-neurotic Michael Ginsberg; Peggy has dated a Jewish man; Roger married a Jewish secretary (and then divorced her), and Don has acquired a taste for Jewish mistresses. The company courts Manischewiz as a serious client (and then gets fired). The Jews have arrived. We are, as it were, the perfect example illustrating Don’s signature line: “If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.”
And so, in honor of our favorite TV show, we bring you the definitive guide of Jewish “Mad Men” moments.
1.“Have we ever hired a Jew?”