Dear Seth and Paul,
I, too, have been resisting the temptation to pop in my screeners, which is especially hard since I am on vacation this week enjoying the languid hours (none of them spent at the HoJo pool, nor in Hawaii, where we already know some scenes for season 6 were shot). Instead I have been closely scrutinizing the few stills released by AMC for clues: Is Don’s smile in this photo of the toasting couple much more tentative and forced than Megan’s? Is Joan wearing this aubergine vest in a futile attempt to appear more buttoned up? And in this photo of Don alone, at a bar, is he waiting for that temptress blonde who asked “Are you alone?” to come back from the bathroom?
Seth, since you set the broader historical scene I will zero in on the personal dramas. In the highly controlled world of Matthew Weiner, very little happens by accident, so we would be remiss not to speculate on the significance of that Siren at the bar. In her farewell post about Season 5, Julia Turner wrote that she would be bummed if Don Draper Season 6 were just a replay of the philandering horndog of Season 1. I disagree. Cheating on Betty and cheating on Megan are two entirely different propositions.
The former is a historical requirement, a morally dubious act that nonetheless establishes Don’s credentials as a proper citizen of that era, suffocated by suburban ennui, yoked to a chilly excuse for a wife. Plus the writers of Mad Men have always taken great pains to make Betty as cheatable-on as possible: vain, vindictive, hateful even at the brink of a fatal illness—and then, in her last incarnation, downright jowly.
But to cheat on Madame Zou Bisou Bisou, a woman who is as sexy and alluring as a wife will ever get, puts you in an entirely different category. This would reveal very little about the era and very much about the deeply flawed character of Don, turning him into someone who was constitutionally incapable of love and happiness, a character from a James Salter novel who throws into doubt the possibility of even the most exhilarated love being lasting or real. I’m not sure I want to see Don unravel to quite this degree, especially if that might lead to lots of flashbacks (remember Tony Soprano’s panic attacks?). On the other hand, we might get great scenes of Megan cursing in Québécois.
Another dynamic I look forward to this season is the twinned ambitions of Joan and Peggy. These two have always been set up as opposites: two ways a woman can go about getting ahead at the office, Marilyn vs. Jackie, sex appeal vs. smarts. When we left them last season they were at their most extreme—Peggy had set off to join another firm, and Joan had allowed herself to be prostituted to a Jaguar executive for a place at the partner’s table. (She leaned in, I guess, but that’s not quite what Sheryl Sandberg meant.) Last season I felt like the writing for Peggy was a little too era-conscious—a little too B-roll-for-the-PBS-documentary-on-feminist-history. So this season I’m hoping for more of those unexpected plot twists Mad Men can dish out. Seth, you mentioned bra-burning; that term was introduced into the lexicon in ’68, when NOW and other women’s groups protested a Miss America contest in Atlantic City. That was also the year when radical feminist writer Valerie Solanas tried to assassinate Andy Warhol. Maybe Peggy can get high one day and riff on that one. Hell, maybe Joan can (although the Internet might break should she burn her bra).
One last office duo I wonder about: Don and Michael Ginsberg, the young showhorse from Queens. Remember the Snoball campaign, and Don purposely abandoning Ginsberg’s sketches in the taxi? This was Don at his lowest; worse, this was Don at an uncharacteristic low, Don as Pete, in fact, resorting to a cheap, petty move that only revealed him to be afraid for his own future. It’s hard to imagine these two coexisting in the same office, especially without Peggy as the buffer. I wonder if Don will be able to look at him without seeing himself as one step closer to irrelevance. (Isn’t the Hawaiian shirt, worn by Don here at the bar, the universal symbol of a man past his prime?)
I haven’t yet touched on the post-pubescent Sally, the newly sideburned Pete, or the loose-lipped Roger, but we have weeks to go together, gentlemen, and I don’t want to rush it. OK, back to my vacation.
I’m Hanna Rosin and I want to smoke some marijuana,
TODAY IN SLATE
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