Some Questions About “Mad Men”

You may have heard that “Mad Men” is returning for season six on April 7.  Those of us who have been waiting for this day since the enigmatic end of season five have a few questions on their minds, including:

1.     How far into the ‘60s has the series jumped between seasons?  Season five lasted from Memorial Day 1966 to the spring of 1967.  Normally six to nine months passes between seasons, but if the producers do so again they’ll miss the race riots of 1967 and “summer of love,” which introduced hippies to mainstream consciousnesses.   Then again, maybe we’ll just jump to 1968, one of the most tumultuous years of the last century.  Regardless of when the season starts, we can expect to see even more social conflict between generations, races, and sexes.

2.     Has Don relapsed? Last season Don tried to become a better man, staying faithful to his wife, trying to prevent Joan from prostituting herself, and living a cleaner life.  Yet there he was in the last scene of the season, at his old bar being hit on with that profound question, “Are you alone?” Are we back to the old cheating Don? Personally I hope not, on the “been there, done that” principle. On the “The Sopranos,” where Matt Weiner once toiled, it was a given that characters could not fundamentally change — but for me, it’s much more interesting to see more personal growth.

3.     How will they use music?  “Mad Men” has been masterly at using period music to comment on and enhance the impact of the show’s themes. Famously (and thrillingly) Don’s incomprehension of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” signaled that the youth culture was passing him by, while a blast of The Kinks’ “You’ve Really Got Me” launched Peggy’s departure from SCDP  with a surprisingly positive jolt.  1967/1968 saw the climax of psychedelic music, the dramatic increase in protest songs, and the mainstreaming of country and soul music. Matt Weiner will have a lot of great songs to pick from.

4.      Will race be an important theme?  The casual and unapologetic racism of Madison Avenue has been a component of the show from the start, yet aside from the first episode of season five, it was barely mentioned last year.  With the rise of Black Power and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., race will be hard to avoid this season.

5.     How much will we see of Peggy?  Peggy’s journey has been almost as crucial to the show as Don’s, but how does she stay integrated into the show when she’s no longer with the agency?  We last saw her trying to land the account for the soon-to-be Virginia Slims, which could potentially catapult her to the top of the ad world.  But what will happen if she and Don compete for the same client?  It could get ugly.

6.     Will there be a lot of politics?  1968 was a crucial election year, and Henry Francis is an old Rockefeller man.  Will he rejoin the team when Rocky runs for president, and will he then jump to Nixon (as Henry Kissinger did) when Rocky loses the nomination?

7.     Did SCDP ever win the Dow account?  At the end of the season, Don made a bold bid for the Dow Chemical business. Landing Dow would have put the agency in the top tier of niche firms and also change its internal dynamics, since Ken Cosgrove’s father-in-law is the potential client.  Until now, Ken has been the only well-balanced character on the show, clearly separating his personal happiness from professional advancement.  But if he’s seduced by ambition that could change.

8.     How fat is Betty?  Betty’s compulsive eating in season five signaled her apparent unhappiness in her new marriage. In the season six promotions she appears to be thin again. Does this signal personal happiness? I hope not, because she’s the character we most love to hate.

9.     Who will personify the youth rebellion? As the Baby Boomers surged through the ‘60s, they dramatically changed society — but Peggy, Ginsberg and Megan are all too old for this.  The only Boomers on the show are Glen and Sally, and only Glen is really old enough to develop an anti-establishment ideology. It wouldn’t surprise me if he gets kicked out of Hotchkiss for smoking pot or demonstrating against the war.

10.  Will Megan’s career take off?  Don gave Megan the break she needed in her acting career by helping her land a commercial. If she starts getting roles on Broadway or even in Hollywood, can their marriage survive? And what if she gets a part in “Hair”?

All these questions pale before the big one: Will “Mad Men” be able to sustain the level of excellence it achieved over the past two seasons?  Shark-jumping and burn-out are always dangers on shows that are so feverishly creative.  Here’s hoping that Matt Weiner and his team have another two good seasons in them.

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