Spoiler alert: There are Season 6 spoilers ahead.
Don Draper has gone from intriguing to mysterious to unpleasant to repulsive.
It’s weird. Mad Men, which returns on Sunday to begin its seventh and final season (AMC, 10 p.m.) was once as easy to admire as The Sopranos.
It had atmosphere. It was poetic. It resonated. The characters had depth. Set in the turbulent ’60s, at a Madison Avenue advertising agency called Sterling Cooper, the writing, acting, direction, sets and costumes were dazzling.
Then Season 6 came along.
And as it unfolded, something became clear: Mad Men has lost its mojo.
Maybe it was last year’s season premiere, which ended with the reveal that Don (Jon Hamm) was having yet another affair, this time with the wife of a neighbour. Maybe it was the bizarre subplot involving Pete’s (Vincent Kartheiser) elderly mother, who — what the? — is murdered off-camera on a cruise ship by her male caregiver? Or maybe it was just the gloom that pervades this dystopian universe, a mood so relentlessly depressing it makes Leaving Las Vegas seem like The Goonies.
By the midway point of Season 6, I found myself chain-smoking, pounding back Old Fashioned cocktails and praying for a time machine so I could go back to 2007. Once there, I’d break into the show’s production offices and, at gunpoint, force creator Matthew Weiner to write, “THEN HE SMILES” into at least a few scripts. Then I’d demand he promise to never repeat a plot point or I’d return from the future, strap him into a Barcalounger and compel him to watch John from Cincinnati for 40 days and 40 nights.
Did you notice how many scenes and plot points last season mirrored past seasons?
Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) has feelings for Don, her boss, in Season 1. Peggy has feelings for Ted (Kevin Rahm), her boss, in Season 6. Don takes a trip to Los Angeles and hangs out with oddball strangers in Season 2. Don takes a trip to Los Angeles and hangs out with oddball strangers in Season 6.
Sally (Kiernan Shipka) walks through a door and sees Roger (John Slattery) and Marie (Julia Ormond) engaged in a sexual act in Season 5. Sally walks through a door and sees Don and Sylvia (Linda Cardellini) engaged in a sexual act in Season 6.
Don’s brother commits suicide. Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) hangs himself. The agency is nearly bought by another firm. The agency merges with another firm. Peggy has a baby after fooling around with Pete. Joan (Christina Hendricks) has a baby after fooling around with Roger.
Everyone rides the elevators in silence.
Everyone stares out a window for no apparent reason.
Then there were moments that were really baffling.
What was that business with that little girl and her violin? How did Betty suddenly get skinny again? One second she was in prosthetics and a black wig, looking like an extra in Shallow Hal, the next she was blond and rail-thin. Did I miss something while downing more cocktails and burning my collection of pocket squares?
Also, Don’s life story as told in flashback? Are we done with the whole Dick Whitman slash assumed identity slash Korean War slash marriage-of-convenience to now-dead Anna stuff?
Is it all about the childhood brothel now?
From reading Dante on the beach in Hawaii to cheating on poor Megan (Jessica Paré), from vomiting at the funeral of Roger’s mother to his deranged psychosexual games with Sylvia, Don is now insufferable.
Honestly, I cheered as his mother beat him with a wooden spoon.
We can only hope Weiner and his writing staff return this period drama to its former glory in this last season. We can only hope these characters stop mumbling inanities and repeating the same old mistakes, drifting through the ’60s counterculture with no real sense of direction, motivation or growth.
We can only hope.
On the upside, after getting through Season 6, I have at least solved one riddle. You know the silhouetted man who plummets from a highrise past the billboards in the opening titles? The one who is presumably about to die?
That’s not Don Draper. That’s the viewer.