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'Mad Men' recap: Season 7 return, 'Severance'

It's a scene we're all too familiar with and somewhat tired of. "Severance" by and large was a refresher course on Don's existential crisis and not much else.

But will he ever change his ways or find what he's looking for?

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In many ways, Season 7's return felt like Don trapped on the carousel from his famous nostalgia pitch. He's stuck in the past (notice his hairless lip, slicked hair and sharkskin suit), and I'm not sure he wants to get off the ride.

During the pitch, he talks about his old-pro Greek copywriter who told him that in Greek, nostalgia means, "the pain from an old wound," and that it's "more powerful than memory alone."

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Don's comfortable in the past. That's why he's always going in circles, coupled with soaring high and plunging lows, always starting all over again only to relapse.

At times "Mad Men" is caught in this cycle of familiarity, a yearning for the good old days. Looks like showrunner and creator Matthew Weiner has the itch for nostalgia, too.

If "Mad Men" wants to push the boundaries of Don's character, he'll have to do more than have a self-revelation after sitting shiva and sitting gloomily at a Greek diner.

That's one of many Greek references episode, and it wasn't added casually. It's hinting towards his fate, whatever that it may be, but more on that in a bit.

But while these themes of self-hatred and relapse are as tired and flawed as our antihero, Weiner manages to craft a beautiful and poignant episode on nostalgia's nastier and more painful cousin: regret.

You wouldn't expect regret from Don Draper, a man who finally has things looking up for him. His name is back on his office door, as if the Hershey scandal never happened, and he's getting so much action he's hired a secretary to take down his booty calls. And for once, he's comfortable to talk about his past openly with Roger and a gaggle of bimbos.

But still, he's not at peace with himself.

Everything is haunting him from his past, starting with the opening scene. The fur client is a nod to Don's long-ago stint at the coat shop where Roger discovered him, prime in his talent, and the Greek motif on the coffee cup he's sipping from is a reference to the Greek boss.

Then in his dream, he's actually haunted by a ghost of regret. It's the pain from a wound from not leading the life he should have lived.

It's a wound Don shared with many this episode.

For Ken, it's trying to write a book with a badass cover, thanks to that eye patch. For Peggy, it's wanting a spontaneous trip to Paris with a first date that goes surprisingly well. And for Don, it's dreaming of living the perfect life with the one who got away, Rachel Menken Katz.

Of all the flings, mistresses, girlfriends and wives Don has had, Rachel's my favorite. She was a brilliant businesswoman who refused to take his chauvinistic guff.

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But more importantly, she was smart and strong enough to look past his dashing façade and save herself from inevitable heartache when he asked her to run away with him, leaving his wife and family behind.

"You don't want to run away with me," she told him all the way back in Season 1, "you just want to run away. You're a coward!"

Nailed it. Don bolts whenever he needs to step up to the plate with major life decisions. See: His desertion from the Korean War, his failed two marriages, his estranged children, etc.

Little does Don realize that every time he has run away, it was an opportunity to make things right. Instead, he lets them slip by.

"I'm supposed to tell you you missed your flight," Rachel tells him, as she appears in his dream for the fur coat commercial.

Don at first takes this message to mean how he blew his chance with Rachel.

The funny thing about "the one who got away" is that even if you're horribly mismatched for each other, you can't help but wonder "what if"?

What if they had run away together? What if he married her? Would he have been happy then?

So, he reaches out to her department store to reconnect with her, only to find out she had passed away in the past week. Even worse, he's told flat-out that her life was perfect without him.

"She lived the life she wanted to live," her sister tells him when he comes to her funeral to pay respects. "She had everything."

Except you, Don, and that's a good thing. You weren't there to ruin her precious few years of remaining life with your philandering, alcoholism or general infuriating apathy.

Dejected and confused, he finds solace in Diana, a waitress at a Greek diner he met when Roger insulted her.

(More Greek symbolism here: First with the Greek diner and second with the waitress' name. Diana is the Roman goddess associated with the heavens and the sky. I realize she's not a Greek goddess, but who's called Artemis nowadays?)

Don drops the classic "Don't I know you?" line everyone has used (guilty!), except it's not actually a line. He's genuinely convinced he knows Diana.

My first guess was that he did know her, and that she was one of his former mistresses. (Their faces kind of blur together for me.) But for once, it's a woman Don hasn't slept with. He fixes that with a back alley quickie.

But does that cure his existential crisis? Of course not. Boozing and whoring around never has worked for him.

So, when is Don going to have his chance to have everything he's wanted in life? The better question is: What hasn't he had in his life?

He's had the beautiful wife (twice), the darling kids (three of them), a scorching-hot affair (too many to count) and the dream job (which he lost then regained), so what hasn't he really had?

Happiness? Self-peace? He's not going to find that at a Vogue party or sitting shiva.

The answer to Don's happiness might very well be in his past, or at least people from his past.

Rachel isn't the first apparition to visit Don. Bert visited Don after passing away at the end of the first half of Season 7, and his half-brother Adam visited him after Lane's suicide.

They all impart some advice or message from beyond the grave. Because, you know, ghosts.

I have a feeling we'll be seeing more apparitions or visits, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were all women.

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"There are three women in every man's life," Ted says. If that sounds like a cryptic prophesy from a badly mustached oracle, that's because it is.

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The three women are Fates from Greek mythology. (I told you there was a point to all this Greek symbolism!) And if Rachel was the first Fate to visit Don, who will the other two be? And what otherworldly advice will they give him?

But what is Don's fate? I've previously said I don't think he'll die at the end of the series, but this is an awfully morbid way to start the final season.

MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM 'SEVERANCE':

Best Roger one-Liner: "I suppose they need a guy in fertilizer." – To Ken when he found out DuPont hired him.

Best Meredith one-liner: "How was the cattle call?" – On the actress casting call. So glad to have Baltimore native Stephanie Drake back this season!

Best work advice: "You want a raise? Stop acting like a secretary!" – Peggy to the junior copywriter

Best overall line: "I had too much wine and totally embarrassed myself." – Peggy to Stan about her date with Stevie (more on him and that atrocious name in a bit).

Stan: "Sounds like a good time."

Worst name: Stevie. Ugh. Reconsider your life choices if you're a professional and you go by a childhood nickname, especially one ending in "-ie." I'm hoping he gets that job in D.C., so we don't have to put up with him or his stupid name. Besides, D.C. can never have too many lawyers.

'Stache attack: Gah! Roger and Ted's mustaches are furry nightmares. Judging by the men's lip toupees and the women's springtime wardrobes, I'd say this episode is set in late April 1970. April 30th, to be precise. OK, Richard Nixon's speech on withdrawing troops from Vietnam was also a big clue for the date, but still -- you can't argue with facial hair and floral prints.

Girl fight: How painful was it to watch Joan and Peggy get sexually harassed by those ad creeps? Even more painful was their bickering afterward. First, Peggy slut-shames Joan for dressing "the way she does." Ouch, real low, Peggy. You don't hear Joan commenting on your clash-tastic suit and bow combo.

"I don't dress like you," Joan sneers, "because I don't look like you, and that's very, very true." Snap! "You're filthy rich," Peggy fires back. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to." Filthy?! Oh, Peggy, that stings. If you only knew what (and who) Joan had to do to become partner. Blegh.

Best '70s technology: Don's answering service just for booty calls. It's the old-school Tinder.

Nice guys finish last: Poor Ken. He gets canned just because, as he says "I'm not Irish, I'm not Catholic and I can read." I was really hoping he would write that "sad and sweet" novel. But I knew he was up to something with that flicker of hate in his eyes (er, eye) after Pete said he would be a reference and had "nothing but good things to say about him." Uh huh. Sure, Pete.

First world problem: Pete complaining about gaining millions of dollars from Ken's accounts all at once because it'll mess up his tax bracket. Oh boo hoo, you spoiled brat. I'm almost glad Ken gave up writing a book to work at DuPont just to make Pete's life a living hell.

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