Every season of Mad Men inspires thought-provoking episodes from smart critics across the interweb. Mad Men inspires more than thought-provoking episodes, though. Fan theories exploded during the sixth season. Scenes are captured in GIFs. Memes are created. Grantland updates their Mad Men power rankings weekly. Matt Weiner came out of the shed last week to shoot down a number of theories. Mad Men's a ferocious tempest for three months every year. People find themselves in a frenzy over it. Critics will whine about the show's overt themes in nearly every review, feeling somewhat insulted by Weiner's choice to not follow his old boss, David Chase, in writing scenes that confound the viewer. Don's dream sequence several episodes ago in which he saw his phantom brother and his wife Megan inspired the "Megan is dead" theory. Don's seen phantoms in his dreams before, so the thought went that Megan's dead since he saw her in her dreams. If anything, Megan's presence in the dream signified the very clear idea that Megan as wife was dead to Don. The sequence followed the end of another episode in which the audience heard Don tune Megan out. Megan's presence in the dream underlined what was already clear. Matt Weiner isn't trying to be a Samuel Beckett. I think he's more or less a straightforward dramatic writer/creator. All of these theories just show how much American audiences miss LOST.
I almost passed on the sixth season of Mad Men. I've never been wild about the series. The writing's very good, some of the stories are engaging, but I never connected with the show in the deeply meaningful way many people have. I appreciate the beautiful look of the show, and I like listening to the writers discuss their process. The acting's very good. I don't think there are any shows similar, aesthetically, to Mad Men. Thematically, the series isn't such a departure from classic literature or even from the finer cable dramas on television. I've joked with a buddy of mine that AMC specializes in dramas about middle aged white men in crisis. Mad Men is the ultimate cable drama about a middle aged white man in crisis. Don's identity is actually split between Dick Whitman and Don Draper. He dreams about dying, he's convinced once he's happy he'll just need more happiness, he's a terrible father and husband; he's an alcoholic, an obsessive ad man, and so on. Don's a rich, captivating, and engaging character. I continue watching the series because of Don's descent into the abyss. (The sixth season premiere is one of my favorite episodes of the series.)
Season six had plenty of other storylines besides Don's. The merger happened. The creatives in the agency took speed one weekend, which led to Ken Cosgrove's memorable tap-dance. Every character experienced displacement. The merger displaced those characters whose egos rely on their power and influence in the agency. Pete, Ted, and Don, cheated on their wives. History repeated--the more things change, the more they stay the same, which seems more noteworthy for a story set in the ever-changing 1960s. I never cared about the truth of Bob Benson. Vincent Kartheiser and James Wolk are an entertaining duo on-screen, though. The insane theories about Bob Benson were more engrossing than the actual material for Bob Benson. Bob Benson has a specific purpose in the story and for the audience. Pete experiences the deja-vu of eight years prior when he learned about Don's Dick Whitman. In season 1, the audience followed Don throughout. Flashbacks showed Don before he was Don. Bob's suspected of a darker purpose because he's without context. He shows up smiling. Ken thinks he's a sociopath, which then convinced the audience he was a sociopath because Ken's rarely wrong.
"In Care Of" showed more evidence that Bob Benson is a sociopath, but neither Bud nor Pete really cared about the death of their mother at the hands of Bob's recommended nurse. Bob just continues. Roger threatened him but he accepts Bob's presence at Joan's on Thanksgiving, apron and all, with a shrug. Bob will keep on smiling and ascending in the company.
Don's story takes another turn, and Jon Hamm's terrific throughout the next transition for his character. For nearly six full seasons, Don's been a shadow--a brilliant ad man but a shadow. No one knows him, but that changed in a Hershey's pitch. Don delivered a memorable pitch about Hershey's as the symbol for childhood love. A combination of Teddy's blank face and Don's own shaking head led to an epiphany: Don couldn't run anymore. "In Care Of" also shows Sally's descent into teenage rebellion. Betty's blaming herself for her daughter's brush with underage drinking, admitting that the broken home Sally grew up in did not help her. Betty's not blameless, but Don recognizes his role in the immediacy of what Sally's doing. She became undone after seeing Don with Sylvia, and she wounded her father by telling him she doesn't know a thing about him. Just as I'm writing about the static nature of the series, Don finds it in him to tell the truth.
Don's truth-telling begins in the Hershey's pitch when he tells the Hershey execs what really drew him to Hershey's as a child. The speech is Don's most memorable since the kodak speech in season one. Don's bad behavior in the office caught up with him. SCP advised him to take a leave, and Duck's seen bringing in Don's potential replacement on a daily basis. He's staying in New York after deciding to let Ted go in his place. On Thanksgiving morning, Don takes the next step in his life, which is letting his kids in on the secret of who he is. Sally, Bobby, and little Gene stare at the broken down house in front him and then absorb Don telling them that he grew up there. Sally and Don exchange significant glances. Don's doing this for his daughter more than anyone in the world. Betty's phone call to Don late in the night is one of Hamm's best scenes in the series, especially the moment when he drops his head, as the phone dangles from his ear, and he absorbs what Betty's telling him about their daughter. The upcoming turn of the century seemingly will coincide with the turn of Don Draper.
I don't know if the turn of the century will coincide with the turn of Don Draper. I do know Mad Men is ending in summer 2014, and I am very interested to see how it'll all end.