Timeline: December 1967 – November 1968
Plot: The story picks up some months after the ambiguous conclusion of Season 5. As we all remember the fifth season ends with a stylish and cool tribute to James Bond with Don Draper walking into a bar and ordering an old fashioned to the tune of “You only live twice” by Nancy Sinatra where a woman asks him if he is single to which he respondswith a noncommittal gesture.
Several months later it’s December 1967 and Don and Megan are sat at a paradisiacal beach in Hawaii. They seem to be having a great time although Don is surprisingly silent for a long time. We then learn that they are staying at the Sheraton Hotel invited by the management since SCDP is pitching them a campaign within a few weeks. Much to the shock of the partner once the meeting is held, the pitch Don delivers is a complete failure and the clients leave disappointed.
We are later introduced to two new characters Dr. Arnold Rosenthal and his wife Sylvia who live in the same building and have become good friends with Don and Megan whom they adore. We are soon to find out that Don is back to his infidelities and is having an extra marital affair with Sylvia. This affair will be one of the key engines to the season dragging Don to his lowest levels ever.
Just like the tumultuous 1968, SCDP suffers from the erratic behaviour of some of its leading forces. The agency is divided into two or even three sides depending on the occasion, with the irresponsible and juvenile Don and Roger on one side playing at being the “cool kids” and the more level headed Bert and Joan along with Pete playing a more pragmatic role. At a less senior role, the underappreciated Harry Crane continues to bring in success to the company yet feels irritated at not being recognised for his value. Ken struggles to find the right balance between being a good husband and father and a successful professional without giving up on his dream of one day becoming a writer. He also has a new and interesting character in his team, a young and earnest account executive, Bob Benson with a over the top friendly attitude and a devious past.
Don whilst at a meeting, impetuously fires Jaguar as a client since he can not be in the same room as Herb, the head of the dealers association who in Season 5 coerced the agency in organising a night to have sex with Joan in exchange for his vote. Roger on the other hand now more conscious than ever that he has to deliver some new business goes behind everyone’s backs and gets a meeting with Chevrolet. Unbeknownst to both of them the other three partners organised a confidential meeting to make SCDP a publicly traded company which is then obviously called off since the contract with Jaguar was quintessential for the deal to go through.
If that did not suffice, Don in a highly irresponsible and selfish way convinces Ted Chaough from the rival ad agency CGC and Peggy’s new boss, to merge both agencies without consulting the other partners for one second.
The merger is completed with Peggy, now a highly successful and reputed advertising executive back at her previous office and struggling to hide her disappointment. The merger proves to be a success for its initial purpose which was to win the Chevrolet account but a complete disaster on all other fronts. Considerable frictions arise from both agencies struggling to cope with each other and form a successful new company. They go ahead for months without even a new name and constantly clash over what communication channels to use, accounts duplicity and priorities. Above all, Don’s highly erratic, selfish and unprofessional behaviour is a major source of tension between both sides until the more level headed Bert and Joan acquiesce with their new partners at the firm and agree to fire him after a major faux pas with another client. In order for Don to keep his dignity they communicate to him that it’s a leave of absence where he can take time to recoup but without a guaranteed return date.
Critique: Season 6 like 1968 is clearly a dark, disturbing time in the lives of our protagonists.
The whole ambience of Season 6 is a violent and unstable period in American history in the 20th Century. Gone are the days of the optimistic beat generation making their way at the beginning of Mad Men or the liberal hippies who followed later. 1968 was the year of Martin Luther King’s assassination which was followed by some of the most violent street riots ever seen in America. The viewer is constantly treated to background noises of sirens (police, firefighters or ambulances) in the background of many scenes. This is followed by the numerous and violent protests by young people openly against the War on Vietnam which they saw as an extension of America’s abusive Imperialism. Robert Kennedy’s assassination brings another blow to American society which seems lost amidst all of this turmoil.
Don Draper (Jon Hamm) – Don is clearly now on the downslide. Gone are the days where he was the source of admiration of clients and envy of competitors in Madison Avenue. Season 6 aims to display many parallels with the first one and now and how low has our protagonist fallen since then. Whereas before Don could improvise in the blink of a second an impressive advertising pitch to Lucky Strike, he now fails miserably with Sheraton Hotels. He callously makes important decisions on behalf of the other partners like firing Jaguar or forming the merger with CGC only to win the Chevrolet account. He is late for meetings or skips presentations to clients altogether whilst having and affair with Sylvia.
The discreet Don when cheating on Betty is replaced by a drunk and clumsy 40ish year old who has a tormented affair with his friend’s wife. The relationship he has with Sylvia is highly disturbing. Not only is it so because of the obvious “cheating on his wife Don” is back. He clearly respects and likes his friend Arnold and yet suffers no remorse whilst sleeping with his wife. On a couple of flashbacks further details of Don’s impoverished and miserable adolescence are revealed. We learn more of the brothel where he grew up under his abusive aunt Abigail and stupid pimp, Uncle Mac. He loses his virginity to a prostitute and is beaten by his aunt when she finds out. This shapes his future misogynistic attitude towards women where he is unable to truly love and remain faithful. He plays numerous mind games with Sylvia sometimes giving her money after having sex or making her stay at a hotel room for hours waiting for him at his complete servility.
On an occasion whilst many of the creatives are forced to work during the whole weekend to come up with creative work for Chevrolet he along with many others takes Amphetamines, produces terrible work and whilst stalking Sylvia who wants to stop their affair, carelessly leaves his flat’s back door open. His children who are staying at his flat during the weekend and are left out alone at the time, are burgled in part obviously, due to his neglect of his parental duties but also because of his secretive nature with his children about his past. It is surprising how Sally, an intelligent and inquisitive young girl partially doubts her reasoning when the burglar (not very convincingly) tried to convince her that she she brought Don up in his childhood as his grandma.
The accumulation of one failure to another finally ends up with Don making a major blunder at an advertising presentation to Hersheys where he breaks down and reveals details of his miserable past. This final straw pushes the remaining partners from CGC to convince Bert and Joan along with a reluctant Roger to fire him.
Yet the lowest he reaches is with his daughter Sally when she accidentally witnesses him having sex with Sylvia. She is so disgusted with his cheating and subsequent lies to cover it up that their relationship will hereafter jarred forever.
Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) – Peggy who has been Copy Chief at CGC for some months now is finally getting the professional recognition she always longed for at SCDP. At her new company she is able to flourish creatively, lead a team of her own, receives public recognition from her boss and packs an enviable salary. She is widely recognised in her industry as a successful and creative executive and wins a Clio award for her advertising projects.
She is thinking of buying her own flat in a posh area in Manhattan but her boyfriend Abe convinces her of investing in a more upcoming multicultural area in New York City with lower prices and more interesting people. Her relationship with Abe is seems to be going well, yet deep inside there will always be points of conflict. Abe, a liberal leftist journalist who abhors capitalism doesn’t always understand Peggy’s drive and energy to produce adverts whose aim is to promote mass consumerism. They choose to avoid touching these matters until tensions start running high between the couple when they realise that the neighbourhood he has convinced her to move in may be multicultural and diverse but in those days highly unsafe too. Peggy also starts to harbour romantic feelings for Ted, her boss and somewhat suspects he might feel something similar for her. Eventually after a freak accident at home. Abe breaks up with Peggy.
Professionally life also begins to turn sour following the merger with SCDP. Having to come back to her previous office and work with part of the same team as before seems to her like a step back. She has grown from being the eager junior copywriter who full of enthusiasm to impress Don with her ideas and zest and is now a self respecting professional with years of experience and success in the industry who will not hesitate to stand up to anyone.
She no longer feels a massive need to impress Don and boldly tells him off on a couple of occasions where his behaviour crossed several lines. She does maintain a solid friendship with Stan Rizzo and Michael Ginsberg. The constant frictions between both agencies bring Peggy and Ted closer together and the pair begin flirting and sleeping together, with him promising her that he would divorce his wife and start a new life with her. Later she is shocked when he regrets his actions and moves to California to the company’s new branch to give his family life a second chance.
Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) – Peter like Don is sliding downwards. Slowly the young account executive with the aristocratic family, lovely wife, hunger for success and vision for business starts to fade away. His deplorable actions from the past slowly begin to catch up with him. At the beginning of the season he cheats on his wife once again with a mutual friend from Cos Cob and when she finds out, kicks him out of their home.
He runs into his father in law of all in places, in a brothel and subsequently the agency lose Vicks Chemicals as an important client. He moves into the city living in a miserable apartment. His own parental family life does not get any better, his mother, an elderly widow suffering from dementia shows up at his office and he is forced to take care of her distracting him from attending several key meetings.
This does not go unnoticed to other partners who begin to question if after the merge exactly how essential is Pete. The only person who looks up to him is Bob Benson, the new account executive with an easygoing and (slightly over the top) friendly attitude with everyone. He convinces Pete to hire Manolo, a male nurse who can take care of his mother. He is later surprised to realise that Bob harbours romantic feelings for him and Manolo is fooling his demented mother. After investigating Bob he finds out that (like Don), Bob is a fraud, no one checked his background before hiring him. He is also shocked when Manolo has manipulated his mother into marrying him and then allegedly pushing her off a cruise inheriting her money.
He replaces Ken the manager in charge of Chevrolet although following a blunder with them is relegated behind Bob in the pecking order and consequently sent off to the new satellite office in Los Angeles as a demotion.
Megan Draper (Jessica Calvé) – Megan is finally having a successful career as an actress on a TV show but is unhappy in her personal life. She has a regular role in a hit TV show and gets recognised in public. We still find the optimistic and upbeat young woman with dreams and aspirations who is able to convince Don to step out of his comfort zone on more than an occasion. Yet whilst at home, her insecurities start to pop up, she believes that she is unable to make her marriage work and feels guilty about it. She understands something is obviously going wrong yet, cannot put her finger on the “why”. She suffers a miscarriage and is reluctant to tell Don about it. She is very fond of Sylvia and Arnold and get along fabulously with them. Like most youngsters she is in shock with the atrocities and constant violence America had to endure in 1968, she suffers with the assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and is aghast at the police violence against a public protest.
She longs for the romantic flame in their relationship to come back and just when she feels she has had enough of Don being a terrible husband, she is taken back by Don’s proposal of starting all over for both of them in Los Angeles where they can both be happy. She is so hopeful that this could recover their breaking marriage that she accepts. The next day when Don tells her that unfortunately their plans have changed she is disgusted once more at his selfish and unreliable behaviour and storms off, maybe forever from his life.
Roger Sterling (John Slattery) – The beloved Roger is going through an existential crisis at the beginning of Season 6. We see Roger undergo psychotherapy. After having failed at two marriages he begins to question what will his legacy be. He suffers two immediate blows with the deaths of his beloved mother and curiously his shoe shiner for whom he felt very affectionate. His spoilt daughter gives him more than a headache when she demands that he give financial support to her husband on his (not very convincing) business projects.
Single once more, he embarks on affairs with attractive younger women. One of them happens to be an air stewardess who also supplies him with vital information about executives from potential clients so that he can “spontaneously” be on the same flight as them and thus begin to court them to sign an advertising agreement with SCDP. This is how he befriends an executive from Chevrolet whom he wins over.
His frivolous and nonchalance nature remain intact as do his personal charm and legendary quotes. Loyal to Don till the end, he is the most difficult partner to convince that Draper be fired from the agency and only acquiesces when the option of a leave of absence is approved.
Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) – Ted Chaough, until now, a minor character in the show and mainly known for being Don’s nemesis on Madison Avenue acquires a more central role on Mad Men in this season. Creative Director at CGC, a medium size like SDCP they tend to compete for most of the same accounts. Ted who initially seemed like an arrogant and self centered ad man surprisingly turns out to be a well mannered and respectful manager. He is supportive of Peggy and recognises her value and drive. He likes to get along with his team and unlike Don enjoys taking an active role in their creative process when coming up with campaign ideas and tags.
He respects Don from a distance whilst being rivals and is then taken aback with his unpredictable and confusing behaviour once they join forces. Slowly his romantic feelings for Peggy start to flourish and the two begin to openly flirt with each other much to the embarrassment of the rest of the staff something This does not go unnoticed for Don who exploits this weakness in Ted to subtly expose him in the middle of a meeting with a client. This does not stop Peggy and Ted who end up sleeping together. The day after, a broken Ted who strongly resents his actions and having cheated on his wife convinces Don to cede him his spot in the LA office where he goes to start over with his family leaving a broken hearted and hurt Peggy behind.
Betty Francis (January Jones) – Betty a more secondary role is struggling to fit into her family life with Henry Francis. She clearly harbours feelings for Don yet. She is openly resentful of Megan In an effort to regain her beauty she dyes her hair black, openly signalling her jealousy of Megan and then manages to lose some weight recovering her previous looks.
During a weekend where she takes Bobby to Summer Camp and is joined there by Don, the two end up sleeping together where she proves she really does know Don when she tells him that the “worst way to get to him is by loving him”.
Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) – Sally’s character takes another huge leap in developing her personality in Season 6. She is turning out to be one the most interesting personalities in the show. Poor Sally has to endure constant shocks and
disappointments. Her close friend runs away from home. Whenever she visits her dad he is pretty much absent emotionally and has to do with Megan who tries to make up for him.
She suffers the shock of a burglary with her father drugged on amphetamines and Megan out on auditioning for a role. Yet no one could have prepared our beloved Sally for the trauma of catching Don having sex with their neighbour. She is devastated to see her beloved former role model so openly cheating on his wife who has never harmed anyone. She is disgusted by his lies and how he tries to manipulate her after some hours so that she won’t tell on him. The relationship after that will never be the same between both.
She is accepted at a boarding school where we see she has rekindled her friendship with Glenn, their neighbour in previous seasons, and tries smoking and drinking.
Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) – Joan, who has being a junior partner at the firm having improved her monetary status is evolving into a more determined and driven professional. In a way similar to Peggy she starts to see a career change more ambitious than being a secretary or executive assistant as she one day labels herself. A dinner with an executive from Ponds Cream which she initially took for a blind date ends up being a professional meeting where she is pleasantly surprised to notice how well she can present SCDP to a potential client.
Ignoring the company’s rules and policy she decides to leave Pete out of the nexMad Men Season 6t meeting with Peggy representing the creative department and the client. This infuriates Pete and Ted who shout at her, yet it paves the way for her future as an account executive at the company which is finally called SC & Partners. Her relationship with Don takes an unexpected and sour turn. Up until now she always admired and respected him. She valued that he was the only partner who really tried for her not to sleep with Herb from Jaguar. However his impetuous and selfish attitude starts to gnaw at Joan who openly resents him for having clumsily sabotaged the company going public and is easily convinced when the question to fire him comes up.