"We were happy there. We could be happy again."

That was the hopeful pitch beleaguered ad executive Don Draper made to his wife, Megan, during the Season 6 finale of "Mad Men" as he campaigned for a move from New York to Southern California.

Don (Jon Hamm) was pretty much residing at rock bottom by that point. His marriage had turned sour. He had been caught by his daughter in an affair. He was burning bridges at work and struggling mightily to give up booze.

A fresh start was in order, and Don wanted it to happen in the place where he and Megan (Jessica Paré) first ignited their romance.

Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson in the ’Mad Men’ season 7 premiere.
Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson in the 'Mad Men' season 7 premiere. (Jordin Althaus/AMC)

But as "Mad Men" returns for its two-part final season with a marvelous opener titled "Time Zones," you have to wonder: Can Don Draper ever really be happy? Or is total reinvention and redemption, at this point, beyond his grasp?

Matthew Weiner, the show's notoriously tight-lipped creator, assures us that nothing will come easily.

"People's lives being good is never good drama," he teases during a conference call with reporters. "So we're always looking for more problems for these people."

He's speaking not just of Don but the whole intriguingly flawed gang -- Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), Roger (John Slattery), Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), Joan (Christina Hendricks) and the others. Weiner now has 14 episodes -- split between now and next year -- to wrap up their stories in a satisfying fashion. The climactic season, he says, will be devoted to exploring "the consequences in life" and the things you can and can't undo.

When we last saw Don, he had reneged on his cross-country plan, and Megan headed off to sunny Los Angeles on her own with the couple promising to try and make a bicoastal relationship work. As things resume, our leading man is racking up the frequent flier miles.

"Don is a different kind of person when he's in California," Weiner says. "It started off being the place where he could be himself, actually. So for me, that's always been a story of moving westward."

There figures to be a distinct Golden State vibe during the final flight of this moody masterpiece, which always has been New York-centric. Weiner says the shift gives him and his writers new tools to play with and allows them to tell the story of the country's fixation on the West during the late 1960s and early '70s.

"I wanted to show the rise of California in the cultural landscape of the United States," he says. "San Francisco, and then Los Angeles, become the predominant focus of commerce and culture, good or bad."

True to form, Weiner sent TV critics a letter pleading for discretion as we write about the one and only episode that AMC made available for review. In listing several plot points to avoid, including Don's employment status, he insisted that "secrecy is the currency of our drama."

OK, we get that and certainly don't want to spoil anyone's fun. What we can say about the opener is that it focuses largely on Don and Megan but finds time to hint at the possibility of tantalizing new directions for most of our key characters. In the process, the show reflects some power shifts in personal and professional relationships and finds fresh ways to subvert our expectations.

Also, there are some new characters that, again, the miserly Weiner doesn't want us to mention. And there are lots of not-so-groovy new fashions and a new guy named Nixon in the White House.

At least one thing hasn't changed: "Mad Men" can still keep us spellbound.

Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the ’Mad Men’ season 7 premiere.
Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the 'Mad Men' season 7 premiere. (Michael Yarish/AMC)

LINCOLN'S ENDURING WORDS: Next week, Ken Burns delivers another American history lesson, but not in his traditional manner. "The Address" (9 p.m. Tuesday, PBS) is an inspiring new documentary that tells the story of a tiny school in Putney, Vt., where the students each year are encouraged to memorize, practice and recite the Gettysburg Address.

The kids at the Greenwood School -- boys ages 11-17 -- all are dealing with a range of learning disabilities that make the assignment a major challenge.

"It's a minefield of terrors and anxieties for those boys," says Burns, who describes the film as cinema verite.

But once they master the two-minute speech Lincoln delivered at the consecration of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pa., on Nov. 19, 1863, they find healing power in the words.

"This is a story about an amazing school, and these boys, whom you will fall in love with," Burns says. "But it's also about our connection with our past. We don't memorize stuff anymore, and we should."

Contact Chuck Barney at cbarney@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/chuckbarney and Facebook.com/bayareanewsgroup.chuckbarney.

'mad men'

* * * *

When: 10 p.m. Sunday
Where: AMC