Relatively few Americans are watching the final season of Mad Men as it airs live. Unlike with Breaking Bad, AMC’s other prestige drama that ended on a bifurcated episode order, the availability of Mad Men on streaming hasn’t brought the show any closer to the phenomenon status of Game of Thrones or the megablockbuster spoils of The Walking Dead. It seems the slow pace, narrative digressions, literary allusions and absence of obvious narrative momentum aren’t driving people to furiously binge-watch and catch up as they did, urgently, for the end of Breaking Bad.
The show has few, if any, loose plot threads to tie up, and its characters hardly appear close to the happy endings some viewers might be expecting. But with the instant-classic episode “Time & Life” (which aired on April 27; yes, I’m behind), creator Matthew Weiner proved once again that he is singular among television writers for creating drama out of circumstances that seem to have passed their expiration date.