Mad Men Is Finally Back. Here’s What to Expect (Or at Least Hope For)
By Angela Watercutter
From left to right: Betty Francis (January Jones), Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka), Megan Draper (Jessica Pare) and Don Draper (Jon Hamm). Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels/AMC
It’s been nearly a year since Don Draper and the gang graced us with their presence on Mad Men, but on Sunday night, the AMC ’60s period drama returns for its sixth season. And with it comes all the boozing, infidelity, fashion, bad personal choices, and nuanced existential study of mid-century America that we’ve all come to expect.
Well, probably. As with previous seasons of Mad Men, creator Matthew Weiner has been pretty tight-lipped about what the next chapter of the show will bring; this time around, his anti-spoiler agenda even involved requests sent to reviewers not to reveal new characters, “new relationships or partnerships,” or even the year the season takes place – so who knows what’s coming.
(Spoiler alert: The rest of this post will discuss previous seasons of Mad Men.)
Regardless, a fair amount of change seems to be on the horizon for the show, much like the ’60s culture it depicts. After seasons worth of Mad’s men carousing, cheating on their wives, treating their female colleagues like second-class citizens and globally being awful to women in general, the female characters really stepped up in Season 5. Peggy ventured out on her own; Don’s second wife Megan (mostly) stuck to her guns and pursued her acting career; Joan became a partner in Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (albeit via unfortunate prostitution-related circumstances); and Sally Draper finally moved into young adulthood (and maybe outgrew her creepy relationship with former neighbor boy Glenn?).
This expansion of female characters, of course, correlated to a realization amongst the lads of the show that they might actually need the women in their lives for stuff beyond sex and cooking. Or maybe they just realized they don’t like it when they can’t control them; it’s hard to tell. And it’s the late-1960s in New York, so second-wave feminism is go and the tides are changing, whether Roger Sterling saw it during an LSD trip or not (more on that later).
Speaking of timeframe: Last season left off in roughly the spring of 1967, but Weiner has promised that the show is “going to skip ahead in time.” How far is anyone’s guess; hopefully not too far, because skipping over the Summer of Love just seems criminal. Also, the closer the show gets to the 1970s, the worse the suits get. If Don Draper ever walks on screen in a floral print butterfly collar, all is lost. It would also be nice for the show to address more of the Civil Rights Movement, particularly since the show’s timeframe is (or was) approaching the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.
Anyway, it’s not spoiling anyone to speculate, so with that in mind below is refresher of on where we left the characters of Mad Men last season and what we’d like to know about their fates in the coming one.
Don’s Ongoing Battle With Loneliness Continues (Again)
The last thing we heard on Mad Men was a stunning woman at a bar asking Don (Jon Hamm),”Are you alone?” This, of course, is the question he’s been trying to answer for himself since the start of the show. In the process of hiding his former identity as Dick Whitman, he lost the ability to connect with anyone, except his fake wife Anna Draper. Who died.
At least with his marriage to young, vibrant Megan he finally seemed to be opening up to someone – as much as he can. But her determination to be her own person – in this case an actress – seems to be thwarting his ideas about the kind of wife he wants, so he’s asking himself once again if he is really alone. Oh, he’s also been seeing visions of his dead brother Adam and subsequently telling him, “Don’t leave me.” So there’s that.
What we want in Season 6: Don should probably learn about the “if you love someone, set them free” philosophy of relationships and realize he’s not actually alone in the literal sense. And he’s going to need to get it together, because with Roger Sterling and Pete Campbell having existential crises all the time, it’s going to be up to him and Joan to keep SCDP afloat. (Cooper doesn’t bring much to the table besides a great goatee.)
Peggy’s Path to World Domination
Last season solidified Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) as one of the most evolved and evolving characters on Mad Men, second only to Don, who just happens to be her mentor. After years of learning the trade under Draper’s wing (and taking his crap), Peggy ventured out on her own last season and went to work for one of his competitors, the slightly swarmy Ted Chaough. In her new, more senior role, she took over an account involving cigarettes for ladies and was last seen in Virginia, watching dogs hump outside a hotel room window while on a trip to see the tobacco plant.
What we want to get in Season 6: Honestly, as long as she’s not written off the show, it’s fine by us. After the fake-out in Season 5 where it looked like she was leaving Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce – and possibly the show itself – Weiner promised she’ll be around this season, and that’s all that matters. That said, watching her star continue to rise would be a spectacular thing. Also, Peggy needs to get her CLIO; after all, Don told her once, “you will get your recognition.”
Pete’s Quest to Get Face-Punched
When we last left Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) he was getting over an affair with the wife of a guy he knows from the commuter train. Her name was Beth (aka Alexis Bledel from Gilmore Girls) and in true 1960s-medical-wisdom fashion, her husband sent her off for electro-shock therapy because she had been “blue.” Pete – in true entitled-brat-fashion – presumed that because Beth slept with him, she loved him and that she was “only sad because we’re apart.” Yeah, not really about you. He visits her in the hospital, where she doesn’t remember him, so he retells the story of their affair in the third person — and closes it by saying his life with his family was “some temporary bandage on a permanent wound.” (Ouch.) He confronts Beth’s husband on the train a few days later. Then both the husband and a train officer end up punching him in the face. It all feels pretty justified.
What we want to get in Season 6: Ideally, Pete would grow up and not be such a slimy schmuck. But then he probably wouldn’t get punched as much, and what would be the fun in that?
Joan Becomes a Real Partner
Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) is now a partner in SCDP. This happened because a big-shot on the Jaguar account said the firm’s chances of landing said account might improve if she slept with him and Pete – because he’s that guy – actually ran the idea past her. Her, and the partners. Don said “no” (because every so often he’s a decent person who treats people like they matter) but Joan agreed to it – in exchange for a stake in the company that they couldn’t take away. So she now has a five percent share of the firm and the right to vote. The means are obviously troubling, but if the end may be that she actually gets to kick some executive ass at SCDP.
What we want to get in Season 6: Considering how much she does for the firm, and how she’s the only one that knows what’s going on basically ever, her stake should really be closer to 20 percent. Also, she must not hold Roger Sterling’s hand through his latest existential crisis. She’s done that before and he hasn’t boded well.
Roger’s Latest Existential Crisis
What do you do with a problem like Roger Sterling (John Slattery)? Don may feel alone, but Roger has always been the one who seemed lost, never really knowing what he wanted — or what to do with it once he got it (see: every woman he’s ever been with on the show). When we last left Roger he was leaving his second wife after a particularly enlightening LSD trip. He then asked Megan’s mother to do LSD with him because he “doesn’t want to do it alone.” She declines but they hook up anyway and Roger is left standing, alone, naked on a chair laughing like an idiot and presumably tripping balls.
What we want to get in Season 6: If this were Uncanny Mad Men, he would probably run off with the Merry Pranksters. But we’ll settle for him spending the season drunk on vodka and delivering priceless one-liners.
Megan Sticks With Acting
Last season we discovered Don’s wife Megan (Jessica Paré) was actually pretty good at writing advertising copy. So, to Don, she was the perfect work-wife and real wife. But alas, she wanted to continue to pursue acting and did everything in her power to bring him around to supporting her, which he did – going so far as to get her in a commercial. As soon as she started filming it, he went to the aforementioned “Are you alone?” bar.
What we want to get in Season 6: Megan needs to succeed on her own merits and Don needs to be excited about it. These are simple dreams, but they may never come true.
Betty Gets It Together
Betty had a cancer scare in Season 5, with a tumor that turned out to be benign. (Whew!) However, she’s been struggling with her size — particularly as a woman who always defined herself by her appearance — and recently joined Weight Watchers. She seemed relatively happy in her new marriage to political operative Henry Francis and taking good care of her kids. Or at least, she’s trying.
What we want to get in Season 6: While it would be nice to see Betty happy and all that, her melancholy and ennui has served as a metaphor for the experiences of so many women in the 1960s, so she probably has a lot more to experience before she gets anywhere near a happy ending. In the meantime, some bonding with her daughter Sally might be nice. Actually, anything with more Sally would be nice; her teenage years are coming up fast and no one wants to miss that.