[Warning: This post contains spoilers for the most recent episode of Mad Men.]
As Mad Men nears its end—there are only four episodes left!—viewers have begun to obsess over which characters and storylines showrunner Matt Weiner will choose to revisit. Weiner has proven repeatedly that he lacks sentimentality for his characters, often abandoning them in the same way we abandon colleagues, friends, and sometimes even family in real life. He’s even seemed to repudiate the desire for certain conclusions, preferring to introduce a cadre of new characters rather than, say, telling us whatever happened to Sal—with mixed results.
In last night’s episode, “The Forecast,” Weiner brought back perpetual lover of Draper women Glen Bishop—played by Weiner’s own son—in what could very well be the peculiar teenager’s final scenes on the show. He’s shipping off to Vietnam, but first comes to the Francis residence to hang out with Sally (he fails) and to make love to Betty (he really fails). Glen came back after a 10 episode absence, which seems like a long time—until you factor in some of the other long gaps Mad Men characters had between appearances.
Rachel Menken (absence: 67 episodes)
The heiress to Menken’s department store is the second woman we see Don have an affair with—remember Midge?—and is also his primary love interest in Mad Men’s first season. She made one appearance in a season two episode before disappearing for what fans of the show assumed to be forever. Put another way, real-time viewers hadn’t seen Rachel since the George W. Bush administration. Then, poof: A dream sequence reappearance in the season 7B premiere, amounting to a statement from Matt Weiner that refuted the commonly-held belief that he doesn’t care about giving viewers closure. The episode doesn’t show a living Rachel—she dies of cancer offscreen—but provides something more useful: insight into the character’s fate, which was a loose end many may have forgotten they cared about.
Paul Kinsey (absence: 22 episodes)
Like Sal Romano, many assumed Weiner had left Paul Kinsey back at Sterling Cooper’s original offices. In the season 3 finale “Shut the Door. Have a Seat,” the core members of Sterling Cooper ditched the abrasive creative and several other peers to form Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. So it was surprising enough to see Kinsey crop up in the season 5 episode “Christmas Waltz”—but the circumstances of his reappearance made it downright bizarre. With a shaved head and monk’s robes, Kinsey informs Harry Crane that he’s joined the Hare Krishnas, taking his old colleague to a gathering before foisting his Star Trek spec script on Harry. Because Kinsey always was best in small doses, his role in “Christmas Waltz” works beautifully.
Duck Phillips (absence: 27 episodes)
In the season 4 episode and de facto fan favorite “The Suitcase,” the president of Sterling Cooper turned wayward alcoholic fought Don in the SCDP offices. That near-brawl seemed like it’d be the end of the line for Duck’s role on Mad Men—until he unexpectedly appeared in season, as a headhunter helping Pete. But Duck wasn’t just a fun blast from the past. In two more season 6 episodes, the former account man reviewed Bob Benson’s resume and discovered inconsistencies that would lead Pete to confront Bob in the season’s culminating moments.
Tom Vogel (absence: 20 episodes)
Does anybody really care about Pete’s father-in-law (and Trudy’s dad), beyond wondering how such a blobby dude could produce such an attractive daughter? No. Nobody cares. His account isn’t even interesting: Next to the glitz of Heinz, Lucky Strike, and Jaguar, Vicks Chemical seems a little pitiful. Vogel reappeared after nearly two seasons away from the show, though, and in the most unexpected of places: a whorehouse that Pete and Bob Benson happened to be patronizing. This, of course, made things incredibly uncomfortable between Tom and Pete, with Tom retracting his business from SCDP and Pete tattling on his father-in-law to Trudy. Was the Campbell marriage doomed anyway? Probably. But Tom Vogel’s surprise appearance certainly accelerated things.
Freddy Rumsen (first absence: 19 episodes; second absence: 15 episodes)
One of the show’s most loveable characters, series regular Freddy Rumsen disappeared for 19 episodes after his alcoholism got out of control in season 2. He reappeared briefly in season 4 with the promise of a hefty account, and briefly again in a season 5 season when he advised Peggy to leave the agency—and Don’s control—once and for all. Then he receded from the show for another 15 episodes, before shockingly kicking off the season 7 premiere. From there, Rumsen roared back into the plot, playing the Christian to Don’s Cyrano by pitching the on-leave ad man’s ideas to SC&P and attempting to sober Don up. Because Weiner provided glimpses of Rumsen to split up his lengthy absence, the character’s reappearance didn’t feel too shocking—but it was a crucial twist in the show’s final season.
Mona Sterling (absence: 20 episodes) and Margaret Hargrove née Sterling (absence: 28 episodes)
There was no way Weiner would really let Roger’s ex-wife and daughter fade away after Sterling married his second wife Jane. But he kept them on the backburner for a couple seasons to hammer home Roger’s preoccupation with work, Jane, and even Joan. What’s more surprising is how Mad Men brought Mona and Margaret back—not as a sidenote or a brief from-the-office phone call, but as crucial characters illustrating Roger’s approach to family and counterculture in the show’s later seasons.