Creator/writer/executive producer Matthew Weiner has made it a trademark to set up situations and then deny viewers the payoffs they've been waiting to see. Or, at least, he's delivered more muted payoffs.
Yes, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is a fascinating character. But — more TV heresy here — it's easier to create a troubled antihero if you're not worried about empathizing with him. And, over the past 78 episodes, Don has become increasingly difficult to empathize with.
We know the roots of his bad behavior come from a horrific childhood, but that's not an excuse for the hell he puts everyone close to him through. And how many times have we seen Don take the happiness presented to him on a platter and throw it away with both hands?
It's less noticeable and less annoying if you watch 78 episodes spread out over six years; if you binge watch "Mad Men," you'll see that theme play out as if it's on a loop.
Sunday's seventh-season premiere (8 and 9 p.m., AMC) is yet another in a long list of episodes that can only be described as morose. The big question is whether Don has finally hit bottom — a question that has been asked and gone unanswered time and time again.
Season 7 picks up in early in the Nixon administration, not long after Don was ousted from the ad agency. He flies to California to be with his wife, Megan (Jessica Pare), and not much of anything is resolved. As usual.
"Mad Men" clearly was never designed to appeal to the masses. And it doesn't. Its most recent episode, which aired in June 2013, drew the series' most viewers to date — 2.7 million.
AMC's season finale of "The Walking Dead" on March 30 drew almost six times as many viewers — 15.7 million.
But I refuse to argue that "Mad Men" is too good for the masses.
Maybe I'm reacting negatively because the Season 7 premiere left me feeling glum. And maybe that's exactly what Weiner wants us to feel.
But he's played that note so many times it's far less interesting than it once was.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.