One of the pleasures of the start of a new season of Mad Men is determining just where it’s picking up, time-wise, from the previous one. Season 5 appeared to end in early spring, 1967, but that is no guarantee that the first, two-hour episode of the series’ sixth instalment, airing Sunday, will resume there. Of course, it could – but knowing the perversity of creator Matthew Weiner, it could just as easily start four weeks, six months or even a year from that moment when a blonde sidled up to the bar to ask a forlorn Don Draper, “Are you alone?”
Certainly the series is entering a particularly rich period in the social, cultural and political history of the United States. Indeed, three years ago Weiner told The Globe and Mail’s Andrew Ryan that the show would include 1967’s Summer of Love. Even if that’s true, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we’ll see Ken catching Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival; Roger making patchouli oil his cologne of choice; Peggy getting her skull creased by a police baton during a Be-In/Vietnam War demo; or Megan slapping Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the hi-fi turntable (although you may recall that last season she did try to turn Don on to the Beatles’ August, 1966, release Revolver).
If we’ve learned anything since the series’ debut, it’s that Weiner and company prefer their history on the tangent – the oblique infiltration (Harry Crane buys bell-bottoms, sees Bonnie and Clyde) rather than the direct confrontation (Harry befriends Eldridge Cleaver, trashes Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to protest Dow Chemical account); the small, obscure but telling moment (Don gets an African-American secretary) over the weird or cosmic (Don meets the Maharishi, gets mantra).
As for politics, this season will almost certainly have to deal with the return of Richard Nixon, both as Republican Party standard-bearer and president-elect. The Tricky One has been a presence in Mad Men pretty much from the get-go, initially as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vice-president, then as John F. Kennedy’s adversary in 1960. Is it that far-fetched to imagine Republican bagman Henry Francis (a.k.a. Mr. January Jones) forsaking Nelson Rockefeller to make common cause with Don Draper to sell the New Nixon to the American public? Politics does make for strange bedfellows. And Lord knows, there’s been a lot of bed hopping in Mad Men.