[This is a review of Mad Men season 7, episode 3. There will be SPOILERS.] 

You have to hand it to the Draper children. For two consecutive weeks, one of Don and Betty’s children has left a lasting mark on the episode they’ve appeared in, either calling attention to the essence of Mad Men itself, or, in the case of Bobby Draper in ‘Field Trip,’ vigorously underline the discomfiture of the episode’s many similar circumstances, as well as the idea of this being the series’ final season.

“I wish it was yesterday,” Bobby tells Henry after the titular school field trip to a farm goes awry because he traded what he erroneously thought was an extra sandwich for a bag of gumdrops. There’s plenty about Bobby and Betty’s misadventures on a dairy farm that can be unpacked from such simple line, but with the episode also prominently featuring Don’s uncomfortable admission to Megan and borderline torturous reinsertion into the offices of SC&P, the meaning behind “I wish it was yesterday” becomes many different things.

On a surface level, Bobby’s wish is to simply go back to before things went wrong, to return to the moment when he was happy and excited to have his mother chaperoning his field trip. In a broader sense, however, it’s about acknowledging the wrongness of a situation, and the often-painful, unfair realization that time only moves in one direction. Such a notion is especially weighty in a series set in the past, but the bulk of it comes from the almost wistful reminder that the story the audience has engaged in and committed itself to over the years is coming to a close. That’s the kind of self-awareness that Mad Men displayed in Freddy Rumsen’s Accutron pitch to Peggy during the season premiere. “Are you ready? Because I want you to pay attention. This is the beginning of something. Do you have time to improve your life?”

The idea, of course, is the overwhelming sense that time is running out. It is the beginning of the end. And when the end is that near, it becomes all too easy to want today to become yesterday, to seek solace from the intolerableness of the present and the uncertainty of the future. That uncertainty forces Don to pull the trigger on whether or not his leave of absence was intended to be a complete dismissal, or if the door was actually left open for his return. Roger’s admission of “I miss you,” is enough to send tingles down the spine of those watching, but it, too, suggests a longing for a return to the way things were. It also inspires one of the best Roger Sterling scenes the series has ever had. Watching as Roger goes to bat for Don against the protestations of Joan, Jim, and Bert is as indelible a moment as the beautifully shot and edited sequence showing Don’s insecurity about his return and his ultra self-conscious, up-close stroll from elevator to lobby to the heart of SC&P.

Typically, though, a thing that is done cannot be undone, and as such, there are stipulations to Don’s return. In addition to agreeing to remain on his best behavior (i.e., drink at home), not be alone with clients, and answering to Lou, Don has to deal with the fact that a great many people don’t want him back. “Well, I can’t say that we miss you,” Peggy says while shooting him a look that could melt steel. Volumes could be written on the history between Don and Peggy, but the disdain that lingers on the face of Elisabeth Moss boldly suggests Peggy does not look upon any of it with much fondness.

So far, a great deal of season 7 has consisted of Don Draper working to maintain and regain the sense of purpose he’d once had. And the question of an individual’s purpose – perhaps even worth – permeates the episode. Harry, possibly “the most dishonest man” Jim has ever worked with is seemingly fired arbitrarily, just so Roger can steer the argument back to undoing Don’s dismissal. Meanwhile, after having Francine (Anne Dudek) inadvertently question her purpose, and forever ruining gumdrops for Bobby, Betty comes to the conclusion “It’s just a matter of time,” before all of her children cease to love her. Essentially asking: “Then what am I here for?”

It’s another wonderful, loaded episode of Mad Men that moves closer to the end, while exquisitely demonstrating each character’s purpose in terms of where they fit on the show.

Mad Men continues next Sunday with ‘The Monolith’ @10pm on AMC. Check out a preview below:

Photos: Michael Yarish/AMC