Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC
The last time we saw Mad Men's Don Draper (Jon Hamm), it was the spring of 1967. In Season 5's final scene, our tortured heartthrob was brooding over a drink in a dark and smoky bar. A comely blonde slid into the seat next to him. "Are you alone?" she asked.
"And he doesn't answer it," exec producer Matthew Weiner recently told The New York Times, hinting at themes to come. In fact, when Mad Men's sixth and penultimate season arrives with a two-hour premiere (AMC, Sunday, 9 p.m. ET), the show will explore that question.
The story will pick up again after an unspecified time jump. But as CNN's Todd Leopold pointed out, the characters are definitely heading into a fiery time in our nation's history: "Over the next 18 months," he wrote, "came race riots, the Martin Luther King assassination, a clamorous presidential campaign, the Robert Kennedy assassination and the war, the war, the war."
It's also the time of free love, flower power and hippies -- not exactly concepts you'd associate with Don (whose suits hang so beautifully on him!) and the corporate ad world that he rules. It's highly unlikely that Don will grow his hair out, but he and his cohorts will have to grasp the counterculture changes around them if they want to stay on top of their game.
But back to the question that will drive Season 6: Is Don alone? Weiner thinks so, and this partly explains why the character cheats -- first on Betty (January Jones) and possibly now on Megan (Jessica Pare). "Don's fidelity isn't a great issue in the show -- it's an event," Weiner told the Times. "We watched last season that he was faithful, and that it was confusing to people that he had almost this schoolgirl perception of what that relationship [with Megan] was going to be…His infidelity is a symptom -- it's not a disease. The disease is the aloneness and the belief that you're alone."
As for the other, deliciously complicated characters, many of them whirled out of Season 5 in a storm of either hope or despair or a determination to make a big change. The Daily Beast has offered up a three-minute rehash of last season to jog viewers' memories as we enter new episodes:
Roger Sterling exited last season naked, and on acid, but actor John Slattery had some unexpectedly positive hints about his character's immediate future: "I think at this semi-late date in his career he's trying to shake it up and find something to be interested in," he told CNN. "That's really all you can ask. Surprisingly, I think he's the character that appears to be most open to that."
While Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) may have moved to a rival agency, she will remain a big part of the show. "I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I had to do in this season," Moss told the Times. "I was kind of expecting not to be in it so much because I thought, well, I'm at a different agency. And I'm pleasantly surprised. I'm very happy with where it's gone -- I'm very happy with what's happened."
Joan (Christina Hendricks) may be a full partner in the agency now, but the scandalous way she got there may come back to haunt her. "We definitely are exploring the fact that we have seen her all of a sudden become partner and what that means," Hendricks told the Times. "Are people going to just all of a sudden turn around and [say], 'Oh, Joan's a partner -- let's treat her like a partner'? Or is how she got there going to affect [her colleagues' reactions]?"
Frankly, however they react, Joan can handle it. The women of this show may be just as flawed as the men, but they tend to be stronger and less crazy. After all, it's the men in the title who are mad.