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Don Draper Is Back But Is He Losing His Touch?

Mad Men 6 don d
Photo Michael Yarish/AMC
Michael Yarish

At the  Mad Men Season 6 premiere last month at the Director's Guild Theater in Hollywood, Jon Hamm told reporters that the drama's time frame for this season has parallels to today - an intriguing idea, in that Mad Men is now in 1968, arguably the most dramatic year of calamity and change in those tumultuous times.  (Yes, yes - we know hyper-secretive series creator Matt Weiner wanted the year kept under wraps, but it has already been reported elsewhere.)

There is certainly no way of knowing by the hints dropped in tonight's  two-hour season opener where Weiner will be taking Hamm's ad man Don Draper and his associates.  As has happened before, Weiner could be laying groundwork for something unexpected a few episodes down the road.  But in a striking change, he gives us a glimpse of Draper failing; he  presents his plans for an ad campaign and the clients react  negatively.  Draper's imagery of a man walking into the sea does not make them think of an enticing "experience" at their Hawaii resort.  Rather, it reminds them of James Mason as Norman Maine, heading out to drown himself at the end of the 1954 Judy Garland movie  A Star is Born.  Has the charmed pitchman lost his touch?  Is he out of touch amid the reefer-scented new social order?  He's 40 now, in a world full of young people vowing not to trust anyone over 30.

Weiner has said that this is the season in which we will discover the real Don Draper/Dick Whitman and the "broken foundation" that's led him to be as he is.  What a risk! At this point, the wisp-of-smoke mystery of the character could well be more intriguing than any concrete reality even Weiner could fashion.  I can hardly wait to see.

Weiner's integration of   A Star is Born is tantalizing because it is the story of a woman's career overshadowing a man's and the men of Mad Men seem to be burning out while women rise. Former secretaries Peggy and Joan (Elisabeth Moss and Christina Hendricks)  have ascending careers now, just ahead of the hear-me-roar women's movement curve.  Weiner's title for the premiere episode -  "The Doorway" - is telling, too, as Roger Sterling (John Slattery) muses to his shrink about life being a series of doors that close behind us, and at some point we reach a final door, a final experience. Weiner's genius for extracting the essence of the past with well-chosen iconic references that seem specific to his characters shows again - Experience, Doors of Perception - as he heads for his landmark series' final door this penultimate season.


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