I won't be live-chatting during the premiere tonight, I prefer to take this show in as devoid of distractions as possible, but feel free to leave your comments below and we'll debrief over the next few days. If this catches on, perhaps we'll keep doing this!
The best quote I could think of to summarize Season 6 of Mad Men is not from Mad Men itself, but rather from a piece of modern comedy reflecting that same period of social malaise. In the hilarious Tropic Thunder, Robert Downey Jr.'s Kirk Lazarus says it best as he's peeling away decades of self-destructive role-play: "I think I might be nobody."
Early into ‘The Doorway" [S6E1], Don Draper peers out his office window (with a drink, of course) in a deeper trance-like state then we've ever seen him before. The soundscape is awash with the ambience of the Hawaiian beaches from which he's just returned...he's lost in wondering just how he was able to reach that blissful state of being so lost, and what it all meant. Later, in his same office, marketers are set to take his picture in a ‘moment of thought'...Don asks the photographer what he should do. "I want you to be yourself.' Mr. Draper looks stunned. A moment prior, he realized that his Army-issue zippo had been inadvertently switched with a GI he met in Hawaii. Don's look says it all: The name on his original lighter isn't his either. None of the names are ‘switched', they're interchangeable. The silence he felt in the sea breeze wasn't a respite from family, work, or any amount of Ginsberg being a pain-in-the-ass; the silence was the void of his person, never filled with a full realization of a human being. His entire life has been built on saying or acting what he had to be at any given time. Whether in a sales pitch or a relationship, running far away from his rueful memories was always job one. In the process, he failed to ever be honest with himself, save for a few candid moments (even Anna Draper never knew he grew up in a whorehouse). He has become nobody, and the inner silence he felt wasn't inner peace, it was the empty sea of a life of no consequence.
This terror manifests itself later on when he can't help but get shitfaced before going to Roger's mother's memorial gathering. During a eulogy praising the love Roger's mother had for him, Don literally loses it all over the floor. We later learn that Don's only youthful memory of positive maternal affection involves being forcefully deflowered by a prostitute.
In the past seasons, Don's not giving a shit was focused on making money and building a business. He was always in pursuit of validation by women and competitors alike. Now, he finally crumbles to the point where he doesn't give a shit about anything, brazen enough to even sleep with his own neighbor's wife. Eventually he scuttles his standing with SC&P because he had to tell SOMEONE the truth about his past. He can't come back from sea until he takes ownership of his actions.
The themes of being ‘adrift' permeate all the character arcs of the last season. Roger is watching his legacy disintegrate as he sees his daughter become Brat-a-saurus Rex and his bastard toddler be raised away from him. Peggy has achieved success by her sheer will, but it is constantly being tempered because she is always the mercy of other peoples' decisions. Pete Cambell is not much of a mystery: He never truly wanted to settle down (though how anyone could ever cheat on Allison Brie, I'll never know) and now he has the chance to move to California and have a new start with nothing to be bound to.
Listen, there are about 15 fully-realized characters I could ramble about for volumes...and that's before we get to the awesome-ness of Stan Rizzo zingers ("Yeah, that's what made it so awesome!" "You've got a great ass." "You've flushed the toilet in my head!"), so let's take stock of the lingering questions hanging out there:
Is Megan in California, are she and Don truly ‘bi-coastal,' or are they estranged? Matthew Weiner has stated this show will stay in the 60s, so I doubt there's been enough time for a divorce to go through. Is she doing well with her acting career? After all, I doubt they're making "To Have and To Hold: Malibu Sunsets."
Is the new branch office in LA growing, or just languishing to make one client [Sunkist] happy? How is Pete adjusting? Has he been ‘Harry-fied,' or does he still not care too much for the city? If I'm not mistaken, it's his first trip to the Left Coast since ‘The Jet Set'...which didn't work out too well for him in the end. I'd ask how Ted Chaough is doing, but I gather they gave him an out from central drama at the end of last season. I suspect he'll be around as a management device in California, but not much more.
Is Henry Francis running for higher office? I know he's peripheral, but given Sally's acceptance to an exclusive prep school and Betty's weight loss, the prospect that the kids about to be thrust into a hectic public life is a curveball hanging out there. Why is it so relevant? Because their availability directly affects how much they can learn the truth and begin to reconcile with...
Don. Is he working? Is he coasting on his savings? Is he having insane drug trips (I hope ‘all of the above)? In the final scene of the season 6, Don finally felt comfortable in his own skin. Rock bottom can be a very liberating experience. To finally be honest with the people you've been lying to can be a relief like no other. The biggest question is: Are those around him willing to forgive?