Mad Men, Season 6

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April 4 2013 5:33 AM

Mad Men, Season 6

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How will Sterling Cooper Draper contribute to the coming golden era of TV advertising?

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Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Hanna, Paul:

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

Season 6 of Mad Men is upon us. I don’t know about you, but I am psyched to once again examine the glittering lies undergirding the mid-century American dream!

First, an explanation for baffled/disappointed TV Club readers: No, we are not John Swansburg, Julia Turner, and Patrick Keefe—the beloved trio that has delivered so much astute commentary in Mad Men TV Clubs of yore. Julia’s on maternity leave with twins and reports that her new life is “basically just like Joan’s in Season 5.” Patrick has cast his lot with a rival publication, claiming to have departed “on the advice of Freddy Rumsen.” As for John? He’s decided to instead dedicate his Sunday evenings to “the science fiction I've been composing under the pseudonym Scott Penobscot,” he tells me. Look for his story "The Adjudication of TI-81" in a forthcoming issue of Amazing.

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It’s a tough loss—on par with the oft-lamented Season 3 departure of Sal Romano—but we’ll just have to march onward through the 1960s without them. Let the word go forth, from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of TV Clubbers.

What lies in store for us this season? Mad Men’s ever-secretive creator, Matthew Weiner, nicely recapped some of the more pressing questions in a letter included with the screeners AMC sent to TV critics. Among the S6E1 revelations that Weiner has asked us not to spoil are: the year the season begins; the status of Don and Megan’s relationship; and—in a moment of classic Weinerian overkill—“whether the agency has expanded to an additional floor.”

I have so far refrained from watching that screener DVD, which contains the two-hour season premiere, so I’ll go ahead and wager some guesses:

What year is it? Season 5 concluded in spring 1967, which makes me tempted to predict that Season 6 will start up shortly thereafter—for how could Weiner skip the Summer of Love? But then I remembered that thwarting expectations is his stock-in-trade. So I’ll guess that things get going in early spring 1968. That’s a suitable leap forward in time, yet will still allow the gang at SCD (and, may he rest in peace, P) to react to the MLK assassination and the riots that followed. (Either way, it’s a decent bet that race will play a big role.)

Which other world-historical events might be on the docket? The Tet Offensive was in January 1968, RFK was shot in June, Russia invaded Czechoslovakia in August, and Nixon was elected in November. But Weiner seems just as likely to ignore watershed events and instead let characters chew on smaller developments. Would Ginsberg attempt to work the black power salute from the Mexico City Olympics into a cola campaign? Might Joan have something to say about Jackie Kennedy’s October marriage to Aristotle Onassis?

What about Don and Megan’s marriage? When last we saw Don, he was flying solo at a swanky cocktail bar, facing a blonde’s heavily loaded inquiry: “Are you alone?” I’m not envisioning a lot of domestic tranquility for the Drapers this season. Mad Men roots so much of its drama in Don’s search for self, and I don’t think he’s done searching. By which I mean shtupping other ladies.

Will SCDP keep raking in new business, necessitating that upstairs office expansion? Personally—having written on occasion about the world of advertising—I’d love for the show to refocus a bit on the agency’s raison d’etre. We’re on the cusp of a golden era for TV ads: Coke will teach the world to sing in 1971, Mikey will like it in 1972.

Earlier seasons seemed to delve deeper into the nuts and bolts of persuasive marketing—we met consumer research experts, sat in on focus groups, and were regularly treated to Don’s off-the-cuff riffs on subconscious yearning. Often, the subcurrents of the characters’ lives flowed into the subtext of the commercials they were crafting. Perhaps I’m misremembering, but I felt like Season 5 was a little more “mad” and a little less “ad.” (Of course, if the show were set in the present, Don would be writing promoted tweets and designing teensy mobile display banners. There are fewer evocative literary possibilities in that stuff than in the 30-second TV spots we will presumably see SCD working on this season.)

Lastly, there are the less weighty but no-less-intriguing mysteries surrounding Sunday’s premiere: What will the clothes and hairstyles look like? Is it at last time for shaggy sideburns? Will bras get burned? Will lapels spread wider? Will Banana Republic soon discontinue its line of licensed knockoffs because, really, who among us wants to wear bell-bottom jeans and polyester Nehru jackets? 

OK, enough curtain-raising for me. Hanna and Paul, what are your hopes and dreams for Season 6?

Expanding my agency to a whole new level,

Seth