The sixth season of “Mad Men” is just about at its midpoint, with episode seven of 13 airing Sunday. (The season finale will air on June 23.) This season has been a little slowgoing compared with previous ones, but things picked up in episode six, which turned the focus back to the advertising business with a surprise merger that will mark Peggy Olson’s return to the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce offices.
Before episode 7 (“Man with a Plan”) airs on AMC Sunday at 10 p.m. EDT, let’s take a look at where some of the key characters and plot points stand now, and think about where the rest of the season (and the series) might take us.
In a sudden and controversial move, Don Draper and Ted Chaough decided to merge their firms, hoping that combining their creative forces would give them a much-needed competitive edge in the pursuit of big-ticket accounts. This means that Peggy Olson will be back at SCDP, reporting to both Don and Ted. From the look on Peggy’s face when Don and Ted broke the big news (in a most patronizing manner, it should be noted), she’s not very happy about it -- and she shouldn’t be. Peggy has been trying to get out from under Don’s shadow for a long time, and even as she’s been thriving in her new position, we’ve often heard the echoes of her mentor’s influence in her aggressive handling of clients and prickly office demeanor.
Peggy’s departure from SCDP was a big loss for Don, emotionally and professionally speaking, and he must be feeling pretty smug about getting her back under his wing. Peggy had every reason to want to break free of the SCDP chains, and, on some level, even Don knows that. No doubt, he’s happy to have her back, but Don can be a pretty vindictive guy, so there’s no telling how he might make her pay for her breach. But, more immediately, Ted and Peggy shared a long-time-coming kiss just before the merger was done: Will they put their brewing affair on ice?
With mergers come redundancies, which bring layoffs. It doesn’t seem reasonable to expect that everyone at both firms is going to be able to keep his or her job. Ted’s creative director is dying of pancreatic cancer, which makes him a likely candidate for a leave of absence -- or a buyout: Did companies offer buyouts in 1968? But what about SCDP -- will everyone stay? Everyone hates Pete Campbell, but he’s a pretty important player at the firm, although he did just lose the Vicks Chemical account, compliments of running into his father-in-law at a brothel. Whatever happens, let’s hope he trips down the stairs again.
Peggy And Abe
Peggy and Abe’s romance has been pretty easy to get behind until recently. They have an easy rapport, and seem to genuinely care about each other. But their differences have come into sharp focus in the last few episodes: After Peggy lost a bid on a Yorkville apartment, Abe convinced her to move to the more bohemian Upper West Side, and Peggy doesn’t like the shabby digs one bit. Although she hasn’t fully articulated it yet, she probably also doesn’t like sponsoring a boyfriend who is no rush to propose. Abe’s been eagerly lapping up the free milk with little hint of shame or gratitude, and he couldn’t afford to buy the cow even if he wanted to. In episode six, Peggy was fantasizing about Ted during a romantic moment with Abe. Not a good sign.
Don And Megan
Megan and Don’s marriage confuses me so. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve long suspected Megan is hiding a secret or two of her own, but admit that she’s really growing on me this season. The big question now is whether she will continue to put up with Don if he continues to be a first-class asshole. In episode five, Megan gave Don a much-deserved dressing down after he showed up on the set of her soap opera -- which he has never once watched -- to supervise her love scene. But by the next episode, all was forgiven, and Megan was laser-focused on making sure Don felt appreciated. For the most part, Megan has seen him at his worst, but she hasn’t yet been on the wrong side of his philandering ways. If his affair with neighbor Sylvia Rosen is found out, how will Megan make him pay?
Joan, Jaguar And Prostitution
I don’t think we’ve gotten through a single episode in season six without some reference to Joan Harris’ hotel-room rendezvous with creepy Herb from Jaguar, which won SCPD the luxury-car brand’s business and earned Joan a partnership. As Joan told a girlfriend in episode four, she’s still being treated like a secretary -- and she often still acts like one, too. In episode six, Don unceremoniously cut ties with Herb and Jaguar, a decision that was in no small part motivated by his disgust with what Joan had to do. (Remember that Don tried to talk Joan out of prostituting herself, but he was too late.) No one back at the SCPD office appreciated Don’s autocratic dispensing of the Jaguar account, least of all Joan. “Honestly, Don, if I could deal with him, you could deal with him, and what now?” she said. “I went through all of that for nothing?”
Indeed, Joan will surely feel even more insecure in her partnership now that SCPD is no longer holding the spoils of her unseemly sacrifice. More generally speaking, prostitution has been a running theme throughout season six (and further): In a flashback scene, we saw young Don spying on his stepmother having sex for money in the brothel where they lived at the time, and we also saw Don toss some pocket money at Sylvia on his way out the door after a morning tryst. His pious mistress was happy to slut-shame Megan for considering an abortion when she was briefly pregnant, but has no problem holding a fistful of Don’s cash in one hand and rosary beads in the other (figuratively speaking.) On “Mad Men,” where there is sex, there is money, and where there is money, there is sex, forever and ever, amen.
Trudy And Pete Campbell
“I’m drawing a 50-mile radius around this house, and if you so much as open your fly to urinate, I will destroy you.”
You do not mess with Trudy Campbell. In season six, Pete’s long-suffering wife grew a pair, and it’s been glorious. After discovering his affair with a neighbor, Trudy laid down the law: She wasn’t going to give Pete a divorce, but he was only welcome in their house when she gave him explicit permission. After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Pete felt the loss, and tried for a hot minute to get back in Trudy’s good graces and become the family man he never was. But after the brothel run-in with Trudy’s father, Trudy told him to take a permanent hike. The only possible downside to this development is that we might be seeing less of the fantastic Alison Brie. Here’s hoping Trudy makes good on her promise to destroy Pete in a way that keeps her on the show for a while.
For the last couple of seasons, Roger Sterling has been increasingly in his own world, experimenting with LSD, ignoring his and Joan’s illegitimate child, and bedding one young mistress after another. In the season six opener, Roger’s mother died, and although he was publicly dismissive of the loss, we saw in a closing scene that we was privately torn up about it. In episode six, Roger reclaimed his fading relevance at SCDP by landing a pitch meeting with Chevy with the help of his flight-attendant girlfriend. In the same episode, we saw that Megan’s mother, Marie Calvet, who fooled around with Roger in season five, might have some serious designs on him -- she visited her daughter alone, and was visibly disappointed when Roger bailed on a business dinner, one that Mme. Calvet was interested in joining only because she thought she would see him. Roger has never been a long-term fan of women over 30 other than his first wife Mona (played by John Slattery’s real-life wife, Talia Balsam). Let’s hope Mme. Calvert is still around in Sunday’s episode: A full-blown affair between her and Roger would be a train-wreck parfait.
Betty, Henry, Sally, Bobby And Gene
We haven’t seen a whole lot of Don’s ex-wife so far in season six, and the estranged couple has not shared a single scene together. Betty is still struggling with her weight, and she’s dyed her hair brown. But she doesn’t seem completely miserable, especially now that Henry has decided to run for state senate, something she told him she’s wanted all along. In “The Flood” episode, dedicated to the MLK assassination, Don spent a day at the movies with his son Bobby -- who has barely uttered a word throughout the entire series -- and it awakened in Don a rush of paternal love that had previously eluded him. I predicted last year that Sally Draper would do something scandalous, like get knocked up, but we haven’t seen any sign of something like that happening. In fact, we’ve hardly seen Sally at all. (Maybe it’s because she’s busy getting knocked up!)
‘Mad Men’ History Lessons: What Does The Past Tell Us About Future Episodes?
To the delight of obsessive armchair “Mad Men” analysts everywhere, Matthew Weiner and his staff habitually write real historical events into “Mad Men” episodes. For the most part, they get it right, although there were some complaints that “The Flood” overplayed both the threat of riots in New York and the typical white folks’ reaction to the assassination of MLK. A more trivial misstep this season was Joan’s claim to have a reservation at Le Cirque, which didn’t yet exist in 1968, as noted by Vulture, among others.
When episode six left off, we were somewhere in late spring -- it looked like a few weeks had passed since MLK’s assassination in early April. It’s a near-guarantee that Bobby Kennedy’s assassination will make it into an episode very soon: RFK was killed in Los Angeles on June 6, 1968, just after winning the California Democratic presidential primary election. As we know, Bobby Kennedy was a champion of civil rights, and had the enthusiastic support of liberal-leaning Americans of all races and demographics -- especially those who opposed the Vietnam War, as he did. His assassination would arguably impact the characters on “Mad Men” even more significantly than the deaths of MLK and John F. Kennedy (which was also addressed, but not with the same amount of attention given to MLK’s assassination.)
If RFK’s assassination is a major “Mad Men” event, then we may also expect to see the show address Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern’s presidential bids: In episode six, Abe and Peggy briefly discussed their hopes for the next president, with Abe expressing support for McCarthy and Peggy saying she loved Bobby Kennedy. It really depends on how much time the remaining season six episodes cover -- McGovern didn’t officially enter the presidential race until two weeks before the Democratic National Convention, which took place in Chicago Aug. 26-29 in 1968. (As IBTimes managing editor Marcus Baram suggested, if Abe’s still in the picture by then, he will no doubt get arrested at the convention, as hundreds of anti-war protesters were.)
The Vietnam War has been in the background of “Mad Men” since last season, but (unless my memory is faulty) the fighting hasn’t impacted any one character on a personal level besides Joan, whose estranged husband Greg was serving as a medic in Vietnam: When we last saw him, he was planning to return. In season five, Don’s secretary Dawn made a reference to her brother wanting to enlist in the Army, but I am not sure if he ever went over. Will someone on “Mad Men” lose a brother, son or ex-husband to the war?
Besides the war, the Civil Rights movement, the presidential election and historical assassinations, there are a few other events from 1968 that could be written into the show: On June 3, Andy Warhol was shot in a failed assassination attempt. “Mad Men” so far has not paid much attention to Warhol and the Factory (the last reference may have been in season four, as noted by the Wall Street Journal), but Warhol did famously create a series of paintings featuring the Campbell’s Soup can, and Campbell’s Soup is owned by Heinz, which, until they lost it, was a significant account for SCDP. And, incidentally, Jared Harris (aka the dearly departed Lane Pryce) played Warhol in the 1996 film “I Shot Andy Warhol.”
Speaking of Great Britain, in May 1968, 10-year-old Mary Bell strangled to death her 4-year-old neighbor, and, in July of the same year, she and a friend strangled, mutilated and killed another young boy. Days after the first killing, Mary vandalized a local nursery, leaving handwritten notes claiming credit for the crime, as recapitulated by Antonia Monacelli on HubPages. One read, “I murder so that I may come back.”
“Mad Men” doesn’t typically concern itself with events across the pond, especially since Lane’s death, but the show has incorporated serial killings and mass shootings into the script before. Also, Bell’s mother was a prostitute. How could Weiner resist?
Looking Further Ahead ...
It’s too far in the future to expect it to be addressed in season six, but the Apollo 11 moon landing happened in July 1969. It’s only a dream at this point, but a man on the moon would certainly make for a poetic series finale, especially if Don Draper dies in the end.
(Hat tips to IBTimes reporters Christopher Zara and Roxanne Palmer for their helpful input, as well as to Joyce Carol Oates for writing “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” in 1966. Read it here.)
For "Mad Men" musings and more, follow me on Twitter @EllenKilloran. Questions? Comments? Concerns? Email me at email@example.com.