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Up in the air? 'Mad Men's' characters are adrift at midseason

At midseason, 'Man Men's' characters are all up in the air. 

Todd Leopold

CNN

(CNN) -- Cue "Thus Spoke Zarathustra."

The first half of the seventh, and final, season of "Mad Men" ends Sunday night with the characters continuing to grope with a new world -- one with a computer in its center. The computer may not be HAL, and the world is a far cry from the fictional future of "2001: A Space Odyssey," but as the show's many references to that film have made clear, the characters are in transit, trying to get their bearings.

What direction will they go?

You've got Don Draper (Jon Hamm), who has spent these early months of 1969 demoted from creative director to copywriter (copywriter!) in hopes of forcing him out of Sterling Cooper & Partners altogether. He's been spending his weeks jetting back and forth between the agency in New York and Los Angeles, where his wife, Megan, has been pursuing her acting career.

As a couple, they're adrift. Indeed, about the only time this season Don's felt the grounding of family is during an outing with daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka), which ended with an actual profession of love, and a trip to Burger Chef with Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) and Pete (Vincent Kartheiser).

And Peggy? She's a manager, essentially No. 2 to the grouchy and limited new creative director, Lou Avery (Allan Havey). She's smarter than he is but gets no respect.

Between spending his nights with his orgiastic hippie friends and his days wondering about life, Roger (John Slattery) has practically checked out. Bert (Robert Morse) is a figurehead. The guy pulling the strings appears to be Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin), who's as sleek and deadly as a certain "2001" computer.

No wonder Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) cut off his nipple. It's almost the only way to relieve the pressure.

The reviews for this year have ranged from respectful to laudatory. Even though ratings have been down from last season, there's a sense that "Mad Men" has found its footing again. About the only episode that really took hits was "The Monolith," which had the most heavy-handed references to "2001" -- but, then again, what other show would bother with such references at all?

"Mad Men" being "Mad Men," there are all kinds of theories about how this half-season will conclude. Megan is going to cross paths with Charles Manson; Don will mount an office coup. You have to wonder how the moon landing will figure into things -- especially since it appears the series' timeline is nearing July 1969.

Fans, however, will have to hang on. The second half won't air until next spring. The series could end on a down note, but keep in mind: In 1969, miracles do happen.

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