There has been a certain loud patterned, substance abusing, smooth as butta crew that’s been conspicuously absent from our posts. Yes, Season 6 of Mad Men debuted a month ago and we have not said a peep. This is not because, like so many elitist TV watchers, we have forsaken this show so as to stave off what may or may not be disappointment.
No, it’s because we’ve had a lot of complicated thoughts and feelings and EMOTIONS about this season, and we needed some time to process, ok?
So far, it’s been great to see the gang back together. We’re a lil sad Peggy isn’t roaming the semi-newly transparent walls of SCDP but digging her processing of Success and Power. And we’re bummed that Betty’s still in the fat face suit, but think that that bit of unfortunate cheek may be going away soon. And really, Roger deserves a lil more screen time. But overall, extremely pleased that this slightly more grooo-hoooovay gang of Ad (wo)Men are a part of our lives again.
To begin with, the double header series premiere was….. heavyhanded, to say the least. “People will do anything to relieve their anxiety” – THAT was the nuanced season 6 thematic opening we’d been waiting for? Matt W my friend, this was not my fave, I hate to say it! But long-time friends give each other honest feedback, so here is some of ours.
Neither the characters, nor the themes, nor the plot were as nuanced as we have come to expect. We loved seeing Megan and Don in Hawaii: it was a great painting of the time into which we’d just been transported. Plus, it teased out that tension between her youth/joie de VIVRE and Don’s desire to be a part of that whole ish (but also not, oh the second wife struggz). But beyond that, I mean, Don is dealing with issues of LIFE and DEATH – shocker! And he’s screwing Lindsay Weir but like, the neighbor? It’s too obvious, it’s not Don Draper style. Just like the doorman death – it stuck out like a pulsating and pussing but boring thumb. Peggy’s become a bitch but we didn’t see any of her usual inner dilemmas between success and being a good lil girl (luckily that came later), the Betty/Go Ask Alice plot seemed like an obvious ploy to gain Mrs. Ex-Draper some sympathy points, and overall, the point of the episode seemed to be a coming out party for the late ’60s: Polyester is here, it’s queer, get over it!
LUCKILY, S6E’s3+4 brought it in some very real ways. Alison Brie is just so good at everything, and this season, Pete seems like he’s wearing his indiscretions like extra weight on a naturally thin person: it just doesn’t fit him that well, but he’s struggling to figure out how to lose it. Don and Megan dealing with the schvingers was actually enjoyable to watch – it’s good to see you laugh, Drapers! Joan and Don’s camaraderie is as compelling as ever, and Don’s expert manipulation of the Jaguar folks was like seeing someone who’s been in hibernation for a while reach his full potential again. We felt that way about how he talked to Mrs. Dr. too at the dinner table (but not so much when they actually got into bed together). And finally, the Heinz dilemma was a perfect examination of the themes we watch Mad Men for: how far will you go for success, what is success, and how do you stay true to a self whose identity is ever changing (like most people we know)?
Last night’s episode, “The Flood,” was heavy. Perhaps a simplistic analysis but the difference is that, unlike the season premiere, E5 managed to be heavy without heavy- handedness. The black chef falling to his knees in the diner upon hearing about MLK’s death was dramatic but appropriate. I felt like my stomach was doing the very same thing that his knees did when they announced the news at the gala, and hey, this event happened almost 60 years ago.
What also made it interesting was that this event gave us an indirect window into how all our characters are doing- developmentally speaking. It gave us a chance to look at our character’s priorities, attitudes towards the climate of the ’60s, and relationships with others without having to examine these items head on. Joan? Still a racist. Harry? Ambitious as fuck (no longer the timid dude who meekly screws a secretary then calls his wife). Roger? Surprised by nothing, but not totally heartless. Peggy? Give her an executive office, yes, but she’s still just a gal in her twenties who wants to be loved. And Don? Other people are starting to matter to him, and he’s able to acknowledge that they didn’t before. I think we call that growth (but do we buy it)?
From the office politics to the client pitches to the personal dramas, there is a lot more to say about the last three episodes and the general direction of the season. Matthew Weiner says Season 6 is about what people do to relieve their “anxiety” (WHAT DOES IT MEAN?), but we think that this is so broad that it’s really just a way to get further under the skin of these fascinating pieces of fiction. We’ll continue to tune in and keep you posted. And in the meantime…