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Entertainment

"Mad Med" Makes Marvelous Return

mad-men-season-6-photo_514x360“Mad Men” returned to AMC Sunday night for its sixth season with a two-hour premiere.

Darkness loomed over the offices of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce as the advertising agency moved into the year of 1968. Even as the firm itself is flourishing and late 1960s social change is growing through cultural cracks, a sense of morbid anxiety permeates throughout.

This doom and gloom is especially apparent with the show’s perennial cad, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), who is back to his womanizing antics after a season of fidelity following his marriage to the lively, young actress Megan (Jessica Paré).

The opening shot of Draper shows the adman laid out in what looks like a Hawaiian paradise, however, soon the words of Dante’s “Inferno” are heard and Don is diving into the book as a “heavy” beach read. Could Don, on a vacation in paradise, really be entering the gates of hell ready to confront his past demons?

Don’s midlife anxiety is amplified when he returns back to Manhattan and the office. He spends his days sulking and drinking, makes a spectacle out of showing up drunk to Roger’s mother’s funeral, pesters his doorman about what it felt like to suffer a heart attack, and pitches a morbid ad centered around the idea of death to the resort, the Royal Hawaiian. The ad, which was quickly dismissed as being reminiscent of suicide, featured disappearing footprints and the copy, “Hawaii, the Jumping off Point.”

Don’s past and present are both as mysterious as ever. As the alluring Megan’s acting career gets a major boost when she lands a recurring role on a television soap opera, Don’s eyes continue to wander. This time Don’s mistress is Sylvia Rosen (Linda Cardellini), a neighbor’s wife, who gave Don the dark “Inferno” to read on his vacation with Megan. The irony of the affair lays in the fact that Don’s neighbor is a doctor with a job saving lives, rather than tearing the fabric of relationships apart, as Draper does.

Jon Hamm’s portayal of Don Draper is better than ever as he silently absorbs the rising outward tensions of the late 1960s along with his own anxieties concerning the inevitability of aging, his Dick Whitman/Don Draper identity confusion, and his virtual addiction to marital infidelities. Hamm’s subtle and restrained acting showcases both Draper’s perennial charm, as well as his inner demons without having to lament heavily on either of the matters.

One look at Draper’s distracted glance and all of his complicated emotions rise to the surface. By the end of the episode, Draper fully acknowledges his ripe unhappiness, anxiety, and the lies that never seem to escape him. When Draper’s mistress, Sylvia, asks him what he wants for the New Year Don plainly admits, “I want to stop doing this.” However, judging by his past attempts at reform, Draper unlikely will. Unless Don confronts the fact that his own identity is a lie, the lies and adulterous behavior will continue.

Along with the turbulent historical events around them, the offices of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce are witnessing considerable changes in both form and substance. As the men’s hair grows longer and the secretaries hems get shorter, the only employee at SCDP who remains physically unchanged by the times is Draper.

While “creative” employees like copywriters Ginsberg and Stan sprout long facial hair and psychedelic clothing, more conservative “account-men” like Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and Roger Sterling (John Slattery) are even lured to the mod styles of side-burns and double-breasted blazers.

Even though all the characters central to “Mad Men’s” engrossing storyline were present in the season-opener, the episode focused almost exclusively on the characters of the previously mentioned Draper and his one-time protégée Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss).

While the men of “Mad Men” seem to be caught in a spiral of anxious despair, the women soar to new heights of success and amusement. Peggy asserted herself as a business leader in the field of advertising at the firm Cutler, Gleason and Chaough.

Peggy made strides of success and surpassed her new colleagues with ingenious problem solving solutions and her knack for creative advertisements. She is her firm’s version of Don Draper in his prime, if he refrained from sulking and sported a mod shift dress. She is self-assured, assertive, and stays calm under pressure.

Peggy makes the men around her-from her headphone-sporting boyfriend, Abe (Charlie Hofheimer), to her male office counterparts- look like impish, distracted children, as she navigates the firm through a scandal surrounding ad copy and the Vietnam War. When a late-night TV host makes a lewd joke about Vietnam that relates to an upcoming Super Bowl ad for Koss headphones, Peggy swiftly finds a solution.

The women of “Mad Men” also manage to inject the angst-ridden season opener with a tinge of dark humor. In one amusing scene, Don Draper’s first wife, the uptight and bitter Betty Draper Francis stumbles into a run-down village brownstone and makes limp ghoulish with a bunch of counter-culture bohemians.

Betty also dyes her Grace Kelly-like golden locks to a muted brown that instantly ages her and displays the growing chasm between aging characters like Betty and Don and their inability to adapt to the surge of youth and social change that envelopes their surroundings.

The premiere of “Man Men” was not nearly enough to catch up devoted fans of the whereabouts of the agency; storylines featuring the conniving Pete Campbell and the beautifully strong Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) went untouched, and Lane Pryce’s (Jared Harris) season five death remained un-addressed.

However, judging from the strong first episode, this season won’t fail to please. While the glamour of the early 1960s may have escaped the world of “Mad Men” in 1968, it is replaced with the impetus of social change that bridges the gap between the ground-breaking show and our own modern world.

Watch “Mad Men” Sundays at 9 on AMC.

IMAGE TAKEN from tvfanatic.com

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