Last season’s finale left most of our favourite Mad Men and women in varying states of precarity. Will Don revert to his sleazy ways? Will Joan forgive and forget? Will Roger find someone to get high with? Courtney Shea poses these and other essential questions
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DON DRAPER — The question: Can a Draper change its spots? This question can be considered in two ways – will Sterling Cooper’s top talent revert to his past behaviours or did he ever really change in the first place? Last season the only infidelity we saw from Don happened during a dream sequence, but the final moments of the finale saw our antihero back in familiar (scummy) waters. Back when Don cheated on Betty, we forgave him – would anyone want to be married to that adolescent ice queen? – but Megan is a different story. If Don can’t make it with the love of a good (and impossibly sexy woman), then it stands to reason that he just can’t make it period, which may be what Jon Hamm was getting at when he described his character as fundamentally broken. The mathematics of the situation don’t bode well (Don plus self-loathing plus the swinging sixties equals shag-o-rama), but it should be fun to watch.
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MEGAN DRAPER — The question: Are Don and happiness mutually exclusive? In a promo for Season Six, Mad Men’s creator Matthew Weiner jokes that “Don and Megan are soulmates – they’re one person and that person is Don.” It’s true – last season any attempts to establish an identity outside of “Mrs. Draper” were met with whisky drenched disdain from her supposedly loving husband. Flashes of Megan’s family life show us that she has gone from a mother who doesn’t think she’s anything special to a husband who would rather. (Does no one understand how hot this woman is?) After yet another row about her career, Megan tells Don that if forced to choose between her husband and her career: “I’ll choose you, but I’ll hate you for it.” Sounds like someone’s been looking into her crystal ball.
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JOAN HARRIS — The question: Was it worth it? Last season her decision to pimp herself to a Jaguar executive earned the one-time secretary a seat at the partners’ table. Joan can forgive herself for what happened – wallowing isn’t in her DNA – but can she ever really forgive the men who pushed her toward it – particularly the one who is her son’s father? When Joan nonchalantly asked Lane whether Roger Sterling was one of the partners who approved the indecent proposal plan she may has well have asked, “does anyone truly care about me?” (Anyone other than Don Draper: The fact that Matthew Weiner can resist taking the obvious route re. scorching Joan-on-Don chemistry speaks to the brilliance of the series.) Season-six promo shots show Mrs. Harris sporting a much groovier wardrobe, so perhaps the summer of love will mean new beginnings, though for practical we assume bra burning is not in Joan’s future.
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PETE CAMPBELL —The question: What’s with the sideburns? All is well on the career front (his is the phone that won’t stop ringing), but after a season marked by Don Draper-style hound-doggery, Pete will probably have to face up to the emptiness of his existence. The hard-won “apartment in the city” might help to validate him in the short term, but just like his wife, his daughter and his lobotomized mistress, we’re talking about “a temporary bandage on a permanent wound.” (Not to be confused with the perpetual physical wound that is Pete Campbell’s bloody nose.) Given the persistent rumour that the figure seen falling from the building in the series’s opening credits is Pete, it’s hard to imagine to imagine a happy ending in the long term, though jaunty new sideburns (as seen in Season Six promo photos) suggest that, at least for now, the party isn’t over.
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ROGER STERLING — The question: Will someone finally do LSD with him? For Roger, last season was about self-discovery which climaxed in the episode where he dropped acid, experienced a spiritual awakening and realized that he and his young wife (also along for the trip) were not meant to be. Now he’s back to bedding various co-eds. ”It’s too easy,” he tells Don after hooking up with a 25-year-old coat check girl who has never tried room service, but is it Roger – is it really? For all his seeming detachment and searing one liners, we are talking about a man without a country. Roger wishes he could drum up Don’s marrow-sucking passion for the work, or any kind of passion, for that matter. In the finale he begs Megan’s alluring French mother to drop acid with him. Later we see him stark naked staring out his apartment window. Hard to tell if he’s just put another notch on his bedpost or decided to trip out on his own.
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PEGGY OLSON — The question: What does being a modern woman really mean? Her defection to Cutler Gleason and Chaough was a major blow, particularly for those of us who consider the platonic romance between Don and his protege to be the beating heart of the Mad Men universe. With the new gig heading up the Virginia Slims account, she will have to prove to herself that the passion for advertising was about more than winning Don’s approval. It also seems like a good opportunity to delve into the complicated question of what women of the late sixties really want – independence, equality, mini skirts! Peggy has already flirted with the era-defining social movements in previous seasons (beatnik boyfriend, pot smoking), so it’s likely that relevant gender and class issues will be experienced through her lens.
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MICHAEL GINSBERG— The question: Will he be Don’s undoing? Since we have only lily-dipped into the complex character that is Michael Ginsberg, season six is likely to bring a lot of revelations. So far we know that he was born in a concentration camp, he loves garish blazers, and he’s a brilliant copy writer – maybe better than his boss and certainly more in tune with the times. Sterling Cooper Draper (and still Price?) needs a guy like Ginsberg, which is something Don can’t quite make peace with – if this guy is the agency’s hot young star then where does that leave him? (There are only so many ad campaigns he can “lose” in a taxi.) Like Peggy, Ginsberg is likely to become entrenched in the politics of the period. A Bob Dylan obsession feels like a foregone conclusion.