Last night I finished Season 6 at 2 am. I think it was 2 or 3 episodes in one go. Me aloud, next to my sleeping wife, after the closing shot: “Wait, that’s it? That’s it? That’s it?”
So there are spoilers here because it’s more of an analysis than a review. Here’s the review: If you like Mad Men, it’s pretty much the same. It’s as good as it was in the other seasons. I wrote a post about it before.
Jerkwad Maintenance: The same thing that applied to the earlier seasons applies here: unless there’s a progression towards a significant character change, there are dials on character’s backs with “jerkwad” on one end and “saint” on the other. In each episode if one character’s dial moves towards “saint” all of the others have to go into the bathroom and look at their backs in the mirror and adjust the dials on their backs to more jerkwaddy. Always a balance. Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), poor guy, is not actually the bad guy (Don’s worst enemy is himself. Just like Lit said. They knew, man, they knew). But Pete usually ends up high on the jerkwad scale. Don’s a 7? Pete’s an 8. Don’s a 9? Pete just waltzed with Hitler. Don hits 10? Pete mechanized Satan getting laid off because he thought he was hedging his territory. Pete gets a reprieve towards the end of the season as he hits bottom with his mom, wife, and job, and even then the best that can be said of him is he can be a fuddy-duddy.
Little Stories: I like the doors/elevators/closed spaces theme in the affair with Sylvia Rosen (Linda Cardellini). I like how the show is not afraid to show ugly backstories. It doesn’t need anything too dramatic plot-wise to throw a wrench in things, these are small stories: the start or end of an affair, winning an account, taking care of an aging mother, a son getting drafted. The stage, with Martin Luther King being killed, the Chicago riots, are used more as devices to show character – the Carnation execs thinks the hippie protesters were to blame for the police violence. But the emotional devastation is local and sounds like a soap opera when you describe it.
Set Ups: When I marathoned the whole season I started noticing how it set up plot shifts, but it does them extremely well, because they feed into an existing character plot. For example, when that guy is hitting on Betty (January Jones) at the fundraiser, it shows that once Betty is back in shape and in an important position she blooms, and remembers how to use her presence for attention. That preps us for her sleeping with Don again, with the additional shift that she has no illusions about what it was, understands her power. She’s come into her own – rebuffing Don and that great line, meant sincerely, about Megan, “Oh poor girl. She still thinks the way to get to you is loving you.”
By the way, Don would probably have like 10 kids all over New York by now. Little Dons everywhere.
Men are Babies: Until they pulled Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) into center screen (his jerkwad dial dialed down a lot from earlier seasons), and he became the moral center of the office, this season is a story of selfish, unreliable men. Maybe Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley), too. But Joan has boundaries, so does Betty, and Trudy. Peggy is learning, and so is Megan. But the guys have no idea. They’re like children with their pants down all the time.
Sideways: One of the most unique things about Mad Men how it goes sideways. Try to predict what will be the tension builders in the next season. Would you have predicted Pete’s mom or Don’s neighbor’s kid getting drafted? Or the merger? Or been underwhelmed if you were told, until you saw how and why? The writers (and Weiner, the Writer) seem to have a sense of all the directions it could go. They set up a conflict which normally in TV or movies has two directions to go, leads towards one (teasing), and then totally dodges it. Sometimes this keeps the conflict going while revealing something about the character: Pete ticked about stuff and instead of trying to get someone fired, gets high. Pete about to rat out Bob Benson (James Wolk) but then deciding not to based on how things panned out with Don in the past. Actually, maybe Pete is the only one that happens to.
Don, Don, Don: And Don. He devolves, angry at Megan for on-screen romance while sleeping with Sylvia. A nice, sad, ironic moment when Arnold Rosen (Brian Markinson) makes his son, who Sally (Kiernan Shipka) likes, thank Don for getting him out of the draft, the day Sally caught Don with Arnold’s wife, the crush used as a way to explain Sally’s disgust at the hypocrisy. A neat trick. Him embarrassing Peggy and Ted (privately, to themselves) in a meeting to show them he knows they’re being too obvious with their affection. What a jerk, right? Except that everyone else DID notice, but he called them out on it. I was genuinely surprised by the last episode. When Don was fired (right? wasn’t that what happened?) right when he was trying to get sober, rebuffed by his wife for trying to do the right thing for Ted’s family, he still embraces honesty in a meeting with Hershey and shows his kids where he grew up. He’s complex, people! He’s just like you and me. Just like us. Me in particular, I’m so handsome and live in the 60’s.
Prediction is Futile: What can you predict? Megan will eventually find out about Don sleeping around (though she suspects, certainly). Anything else? What else could you predict? That’s the cool thing about this show. It could be something as small as having to move apartments and it’s used a device to show differences between people and motivations and everything else. I don’t know how they do it. I just keep trying to figure it out.