The sixth season of AMC’s Mad Men, which premiered April 7, jumps forward in time a few months from where the fifth season concluded. The first episode of the season comes to a close on New Year’s Day 1968. That date was designed to set the tone for the entire season. That year, says Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, is, “as far as I can tell, in the top two or three worst years in U.S. history.”
“That’s what it was about for me,” he tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “Let’s get to the destruction. Let’s get to the loss. Let’s … express the idea that people want to change, and change is afoot. Because as far as I can tell, 1968 is a year about change, about revolution, about violence, about people turning inwards as community breaks down. “So I really kind of wanted to get that into the personal story of Don, which is, ‘I don’t like the way I am.’ Where will that go?” Weiner says that, just as 1968 was in some ways a low-water mark for the United States, he sees the year and this sixth season as Don’s darkest moment. The question at stake is how Don will or won’t make it through.
The season opens with Don reading aloud from Dante’s Inferno on the beach in Hawaii. On a meticulously scripted and painstakingly designed show, that’s obviously no coincidence. Weiner, who’s famously careful not to reveal spoilers, suggests that the show’s fans have “an investment in the fact that this man is in his worst state — the way 1968 is — because it is overrunning his life and it’s page 1 in the story: He’s going into hell. This is the descent. Maybe he’ll come out on the other side, or maybe he’ll just take up residence there.” Looking beyond the salvation or damnation of Don Draper, Weiner says he’s beginning to think about the way the show will ultimately end. MORE
WIRED: Mad Men is a show about sexy people with sexy problems. All those sexy people struggle to reconcile their subsumed personal identities and increasingly fragile public facades in the face of advancing age and rapidly changing society, with the possible exception of some guys with beards, who seem to have their act pretty well together. The ad agency and its work function as an extended allegory for society at large as well as the characters’ personal conflicts. […]
This season on Mad Men, the guys in the expensive suits are having heavy-handed confrontations with their own mortality: Roger, through the death of his mother (and later, his shoeshine guy), and his own waning relevance; Don, through doomed young soldiers, symbolic-suicide fantasies, and his dedication to never under any circumstances having a good time. If we don’t see Don Draper seriously contemplating–if not outright attempting–suicide by the end of the season, then I will eat not only my hat, but also your hat and the snappy fedora Don puts on before going to fuck his neighbor’s wife.
Meanwhile, a passel of young company guns led by Connor from Angel are circling in like a flock of highly-motivated corporate vultures. Peggy is living with a nice bohemian guy who brings her meatball subs when she has to work late, and coping with the demands of being the only genuinely likeable person in a position of power. Megan is coping with professional insecurity as a not-quite-star of daytime television. Joan is coping with several shades of purple. Somewhere in the suburbs, Betty is working hard to achieve her long-term goal of actually living Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I suspect that I’m supposed to care about Don’s looming breakdown, his obvious misery, and his out-of-control drinking, but I really don’t. This is the mid-life crisis of a rich-white-professional-man-as-allegory-for-mid-century-America: Don Draper’s problems are universal only inasmuch as we’ve all been conditioned to treat men who look like Don Draper as our eternal stand-ins. MORE