Mad Men Season 6 Review: Mortality is the Newest Client in this Standout Season

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A lot of truly great dramas don’t get this far without some issues. Season six of The Sopranos was tainted by its controversial series finale. Many Lost fans point to much earlier as to when the show went downhill. Friday Night Lights and Breaking Bad will have only made it to season five. But here we are, Mad Men season six, and this was quite possibly the best season.

No, it didn’t quite pack the punch of season three, its biggest competition right now, but intellectually, thematically, and emotionally, Matthew Weiner and company were in top form this year.

Looking at the 12 episode season (or 13 depending on how you look at it), the number of classic episodes outnumbers a lot of the show’s other seasons. The Collaborators (Trudy leaving Pete), The Flood (the MLK assassination), For Immediate Release (the massive company shake-up), The Crash (everybody on drugs!), The Better Half (Don and Betty in the sack), The Quality of Mercy (Pete learning from his past), and In Care Of (the perfect season finale) all stand among Mad Men‘s best. But if I had to choose, The Flood actually caused a flood from my tear ducts when Don described his love for Bobby, so that’s probably my favorite of the bunch. Either way, that’s seven episodes. More than half the season was perfect.

That being said, The Doorway and A Tale of Two Cities were two low points for sure. But I’ll take two losers to have seven incredible winners.

For years now I’ve been saying “I can’t wait for when the show reaches 1968.” Boy did one of the most tumultuous years in American history make for great television. Between the MLK assassination, street riots throughout the country, and Nixon getting elected, this season likely featured a lot of the reasons the show was set in the ’60s to begin with.

Don Draper’s story picked up right where season five left off. He’s officially over his short-lived lust for Megan, and cheating on her with one of the neighbors, Sylvia (the excellent Linda Cardellini). He has even lost his drive to succeed at work. It was a worse downward spiral than we’ve ever seen on this series.

By the end, Don knows there needs to be a change. That is part of what made the finale so special, Don’s desire to fix his life. Instead of running away to California, he begins to let clues about his past slip. The season ended with him bringing Sally and the boys to the whorehouse in which he grew up.

Sally was a major catalyst for Don’s wishes to change. “I know nothing about you,” she tells him over the phone. No one really does it seems. A great reminder of that was also in the finale, after Don’s confession, when Roger asks “Is that all true?”. Even his closest ally in the office, and fellow lone wolf knows nothing about him.

But now, this shadowy figure is ready to improve. With just one final season left, finishing Don’s story will have to be the main focus here on out.

But that doesn’t mean some of our other favorites should be forced out of the spotlight. Mad Men is as much Peggy’s story as it is Don’s, and she also had another fascinating season.

Honestly, Peggy’s arc was so beautifully realized last season that if she didn’t appear in the rest of the series it would probably have been fine. Too bad for her that Ted finds himself merging agencies with Don midway through the season. It barely seemed like she had any time away from SCDP. She can’t escape anymore than Don can. Her final moment of the season, sitting in her mentor’s chair, had both a massive satisfaction and terrible feeling of dread.

It’s a pitch perfect Mad Men moment, showing us that our lives are never black and white.

Ted was an excellent new regular this season as well. Don’s former rival really came into his own as both Peggy’s boss and the new partner of SC&P. By the end of the season even he was struggling to keep his cool around his new co-workers. There must just be something in the air on Madison Avenue.

Pete Campbell continued his downward spiral from last season, with Trudy leaving him early on and ending the season with his mother dying. He’s never been a likable character, but man I was impressed when he chose not to reveal Bob Benson’s Draper-esque secrets in the penultimate episode. As detestable as he is, Pete may be the only character who actually learns from his mistakes.

Betty also had a wonderful arc this season. Freed from the fat suit, Betty seems completely content with her life. She’s getting along better with Sally, has a loving marriage with Henry, and even sleeps with Don in an odd role reversal that showed she had all the power. Her hatred for her ex-husband has subsided and they now have a very lovely working relationship. Ok, well it’s lovely compared to what it was before.

Roger and Joan both had quiet seasons after their trips to the dark side last year. But if the finale was any indication, they will hopefully be a big part of the finale season (Roger + Joan 4ever).

What really made everyone’s story this season so special was that it flawlessly brought us closer to each characters’ endgame. Mad Men is coming to a close and this season prepared us for that by giving us payoffs we’ve been hoping for since season one.

And it was all done with gloomy, beautiful nostalgia we’ve grown to love over these six years. While I mourn the close of another season and another many Mad Men-less months, a season this good this late in the game has me mourning the end of the show sooner than expected. See you next spring. Grade: A

By Matt Dougherty

 

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