Review: Mad Men, Season 6 (Weiner, 2013)

Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

I don’t think I have ever liked a TV show as much as I like Mad Men, and the penultimate season 6 might have been its best season yet. Having just finished it a few days ago, I’m still going through withdrawal, knowing it will likely be over half a year before I get to see another episode.

(To think, I would never have watched this show if it hadn’t been for my husband breaking his face, getting surgery, and needing something to entertain him during the boredom-filled days of recovery. I had/have a prejudice against shows that everyone loves. Hence we’ve yet to watch Breaking Bad.)

Everything in season 6 is building toward a climax. Don Draper, finally over his smug, maddening honeymoon phase with Megan in the relatively weak season 5, is back to his usual bitter, depressed, alcohol-drowned, past-haunted self. The flashbacks re-emerge full swing, and though I was never a fan of the somewhat awkward portrayals of Don during his youth (including those played by Jon Hamm himself as the eager-to-please, slightly tacky salesman that Roger Sterling unwittingly hired), I appreciate them as an aspect of Don’s soul-searching, of his bittersweet, self-flagellating yearning.

Elisabeth Moss continues to be brilliant as the sometimes plucky, sometimes whiny, always ambitious Peggy Olson. (I missed her performances in The One I Love and Listen Up Philip at Sundance this year, but I’m sure I’ll see much more of her. Is it just me, or is her star rising faster than Jon Hamm’s?) Peggy’s story line regains some of the depth it lost in recent seasons, though unfortunately never reaches the same level of darkness it had in season 1.

I’m interested to see where the writers will go with unctuous newcomer Bob Benson (played by James Wolk, who sometimes reminds me of a dafter-looking Tom Cruise). Will he be a Talented Mr. Ripley type of character, or someone a little less creepy? Either way, his interactions with Pete Campbell offer some of the best comic relief of the season.

How does one review a whole season? Is it considered a single piece? Or the summary of impressions made from each episode? I admit that the finale weighs heavily in my opinion, and I loved the finale of season 6. I would say it’s the very best episode, but it couldn’t have been what it was without the buildup from the rest, so suffice it to say that everything works in tandem. Season 6 satisfied both my destructive and redemptive streaks. I never appreciate Don Draper so much as when he is hanging on by a mere fingernail. Even better to know he is where he is because of his own actions (or inaction) and not the clunky circumstantial tools that other, less sophisticated storytellers use to drive a narrative forward. Mad Men is perhaps the most character-centric show I know of. No wonder Don Draper, Peggy Olson, Pete Campbell, and Roger Sterling all feel as distinct as the people in my own life. And just as unpredictable.

Thank you, gods, for giving us Mad Men! And how sad that there’s just one more season!

Note: 1) Effusive praise aside, can someone tell me why all the child actors on this show are so bad? 2) Whaa? I’m a year late on this news, but Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell) and Alexis Bledel (from Gilmore Girls) are engaged?