From the very first episode of Mad Men‘s Season 6, he’s been veering off the rails, often at great peril to himself and those around him. Starting with his inexplicable attraction to his neighbor’s wife, he ignores Megan, who in Season 5 reeled him back in to reality, showing him his life finds its fullest expression at home, not at work, as was the case during his Betty years. And yet, as Season 6 progressed, he became more and more unstable until he finally cracked under the Dick Whitman pressure.
Some say it was just part of the rough journey of self-discovery, a journey he had to make in order to survive the tumultous 1960s. I’m not so sure. I think if he’d stayed home with Megan, continued to be a father to his kids (as he always has been), and held on to the moral compass he found when he wrote the anti-smoking letter, he would’ve been just fine. The writers of the show, however, had different ideas.
And therein lies the problem with Season 6. The writing came up short, in my ever-humble opinion. The season arc was definitely unfocused and some characters, like Joan and Roger, were relegated to the far sidelines. Granted, Joan and Roger are creatures of the 1950s, but they still play principal roles in the running of the agency. Bert Cooper, one of the partners, was virtually invisible the entire season. January Jones is still billed third, but that’s a far cry from her dwindling significance to the show, as the writers clearly were at a loss when it came to giving Betty something to do besides call Don to talk about the kids.
The season belonged to Peggy and Pete. They pulled the story along behind them (what story there was), Peggy solidifying her position on the high side of the glass ceiling and, in not-so-subtle irony, winding up in Don’s office, and Pete becoming unspooled under the pressure of bigger accounts, his disintegrating marriage, and the antics of his demented mother. Both characters, however, were curiously omitted from the decision-making when it came to the merger with CGC.
The merger was a messy thing, indeed. No one knew what to call the new agency, conflicting new business was being brought in by different people, subtle vendettas were carried out, and Ted Chaough, a minor player in previous seasons, suddenly popped onto the screen as a major character, influencing big events right down to Don’s planned move to California.
One small point: I’m still not sure how Don got from Uncle Mac and the farm to the whorehouse. Maybe it was explained and I somehow didn’t catch it, but every time the whorehouse was mentioned or shown, I always asked myself, “How the hell did Don get there?”
On the positive side, however — and this is a big plus — the writers chose to reveal the catalytic events of the 1960s through television news flashes in the background or as water cooler chatter. I have to tell you, I was plenty worried through the years as to how they were going to handle these events. They could’ve chosen the Hollywood method, which is to have the entire season come grinding to a halt while everyone sits around wringing their hands over the latest momentous news story. This would’ve inevitably led to tedious preaching, something the show has assiduously avoided. Instead, the events took place, the viewer and the characters were made aware of it, and then, just as in real life during the 1960s, people went on with their daily lives. They may have been emotionally impacted by these events, and certainly we saw 1960s changes in society come to Mad Men, but there were no unctuous speeches delivered by people who sound like they’re speaking in 2013, not 1968.
After Season 5 ended, I predicted the whole show would wrap up in Season 7 with Don and Megan moving to California so Megan can further her career. It almost happened this season, but I still predict that will be in next year’s finale.