When “Mad Men” embarks on Season 6 with a two-hour premiere Sunday, it will be the return of one of the best television series in the history of the medium. Like last season, “Mad Men” opens with a mini-movie type episode that sets up where the characters are and where they could be heading this season.
It’s easy to say showrunner Matt Weiner is examining how these characters change or not, for better or worse, during our nation’s most significant transformation of the last half-century. How Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), Roger Sterling (John Slattery), etc., respond to the sociological and cultural shifts of the ’60s is a fundamental component of the narrative. But Weiner is far more interested in the unsettled psyche of humans, no matter the era.
As “Mad Men” has aged as a series — next season will most surely be its last — the characters within have matured, although not in the traditional sense. I don’t know if Don is any wiser than he was in the pilot, only shrewder about concealing himself. He’s almost silent in the premiere, keeping his words, and more so his thoughts, to a minimum. (Hamm does some wonderful eyebrow work, though.) When Don is loquacious, it’s only about work.
Peggy, on the other hand, is coming into her own and not afraid to speak her mind. Unfortunately, she simultaneously exists more on her own. As Peggy becomes more successful she becomes more isolated, drawing a nice parallel between her and Don. The premiere is truly an exceptional episode for the character, and Olson is phenomenal — cunning, smart and hilarious. My prediction: Peggy has her biggest and best storyline this season.
Besides Don and Peggy, Roger and Betty (January Jones) take up the bulk of the premiere. Slattery’s Roger is — as always — incredible, but Betty is — as usual — frustrating. Also worth mentioning are some wild fashion and facial hair.
The Season 6 premiere, although not as strong or well-paced as Season 5’s two-hour version, did nothing to change my high opinion of the series. It did change what I expect. I think “Mad Men” is moving into its endgame, meaning this season will present monumental development for its setting, plot and, most importantly, characters.