“Mad Men,” the seemingly perpetual Emmy and Golden Globe winner on AMC, has never been my favorite show. I enjoy what creator Matthew Weiner does with the show, and I love how it looks, but “Mad Men” has always had a pretty high barrier for entry into the stylish and morally despicable world of Don Draper. “Mad Men’s” penultimate season however is the shows most accessible and also the most enjoyable season yet.
The time is late 1967, early 1968, and the world is spinning out of control. Vietnam is in full swing and so is the ensuing counterculture. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) who is the embodiment of the old generation, is trying to keep up with the times but he is cracking, going insane as he sees his perfect world slip away. As the world gets more chaotic so does “Mad Men,” introducing mystery elements and red herrings galore. Just head over to Buzzfeed on Monday after an episode airs and check out all the conspiracy theories about Mr. Bob Benson.
The reason I love this season so much is the brisk pace. Previous seasons have moved slow as molasses, reflecting how little everyone at the agency of Sterling Cooper, and then Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has evolved. But now that Don is losing his mind and hallucinating, the pace has quickened dramatically as people cope with their issues instead of simply lamenting into a bottle of booze. A great example is the merger of SCDP and CGC, which happens in the middle of the season and injects drama into the series.
“I knew, but I’d hoped that you wouldn’t destroy him.”
As the characters unravel the episodes take odd twists and turns like never before, often invoking the moment in season three when a lawnmower chopped off a foot. In episode “The Crash” most of the creative team at the agency takes speed and things get crazy. In the following episode Peggy Olson, one of the copywriters, accidentally stabs her boyfriend in a moment that makes you laugh at the absurdity and the sheer horrific nature of the violence. I have awkwardly laughed more times watching this season than during the five preceding seasons. The absurdity of life in the late 60’s and the brisk pace gives “Mad Men” a good sense of finally going somewhere, and for once it’s going somewhere that I want to see and enjoy.
No one would ever call the late 60’s and early 70’s the peak of fashion, at least not for men’s fashion, what with the flair pants and the plaid and the sideburns. I love all the mustaches but I hate all the sideburns. “Mad Men’s” production team, led by Dan Bishop, has consistently created lush and accurate sets and costumes, and this season finds them at their peak. The absurd costumes perfectly match the absurd lives Don and his cohorts lead. The direction this season has also become much more lively, especially the episodes directed by John Slattery, doing double duty as director and actor. His episodes have a certain bounce and sense of fun to them that I really dig.
“Who cares? We pick up the cheque, they pick up our business, and we pick up our cheques.”
If there is one knock against this season it’s that the writing can sometimes get too heavy-handed. I’ve found “Mad Men” to be ponderously slow before, and rather obtuse, and while I enjoy the new sense of forward momentum and focus, I still don’t want things spelled out to me. The best example of this heavy-handedness comes in the season premiere “The Doorway,” when John Slattery’s character sits in his therapists chair and espouses on and on about doorways and thresholds. The times are changing, we get it!
Other than the occasional lack of subtly however, I’ve really grooving with “Mad Men’s” penultimate season. Like most dramas in their later seasons, when the endgame is near, “Mad Men” has found new purpose and focus, making season six the best season of “Mad Men” yet.
My Rating: 8.5/10