Jessica Paré and Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Grab your fedora and pour yourself an Old Fashioned — Mad Men is back.
After weeks of speculation over the meaning of teaser trailers and (possibly) Easter egg-filled posters, the AMC drama launches its sixth — and likely penultimate — season with a two-hour premiere (Sunday, 9/8c). Season 5 ended with Don (Jon Hamm) giving in to the acting desires of his new bride Megan (Jessica Paré) and helping her get a part in one of the agency's commercials. As Don literally and figuratively left Megan behind at the soundstage to seek solace in a whiskey glass, he was approached by a woman at the bar who asked, "Are you alone?"
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While we've pondered Don's response to that query in the intervening months, we've also crafted a few more burning questions about what might be ahead for the men and women of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (and Peggy!) this season. Below, creator Matthew Weiner and the cast give us their best answers.
1. Will Don cheat on Megan?
While Weiner intentionally ended Season 5 with the ambiguous words mentioned above, he told us at the time that Don being unfaithful to Megan was not a foregone conclusion. "We had this whole season where people were waiting for him to cheat on this woman and were almost disappointed at his fidelity, suspicious of it," Weiner says now. "[It] is strange to me because we saw him single and ... he was not having a great time." That said, Don is in a restless place as the season begins as he's once again haunted by his past and, among other things, mortality (see below.) How will that manifest itself in Don's decisions? "I never want the show to repeat itself, but life does repeat itself," Weiner says. "At a certain point, you come upon these events and you start saying... 'Here I am again. What has happened? How have I not grown?' [This season], the character is looking over their shoulder at themselves. That's a lot of what the show is about."
Paré also hints that, adultery or not, Don and Megan's marriage is entering a transitional phase. "There is definitely some kind of shift that is happening," she says. "There's some settling into a relationship and a somewhat more adult, responsible life. Like everything else in life, things are great for a bit and then they change and you have to make them great again."
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2. Will Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) find success after leaving Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce?
In one of Season 5's most heartbreaking scenes, Peggy tells Don goodbye after quitting SCDP, but he simply holds (and kisses) her hand, refusing to let go. But as Peggy strikes out on her own this season, there are far fewer tears. "She's trying to step out of the box that she's been in and be an independent professional," Moss says of Peggy, whose creative energies still seem intact. But will she really let go of the past? "She might be trying to emulate Don, but she's going to have to figure out how to be herself," Moss says.
Unfortunately, Moss worries that Peggy, who last season pondered a marriage proposal that never came from her boyfriend Abe, is too defined by her work to have a happy love life. "Her problem is that her work is her first love — her only love," she says. "It's something that she will always choose. When you do that, your personal life takes second place. I don't necessarily see that changing for her. That's so much of who she is."
3. Will Lane Pryce's death haunt Don & Co.?
Season 5's dramatic crescendo came when Lane Pryce (Jared Harris), after being caught embezzling money from the company, hanged himself in his office. And although you probably shouldn't expect to see the Brit's ghost roaming the halls of SCDP, the notion of death and mortality looms large over the season premiere, which features a funeral. "Mortality is something that is weighing on Don. I think he is an old man in a young man's game at this point," Hamm says. "Don obviously doesn't handle that very well. [The funeral] is just another in a series of reminders for Don that he's not going to be around forever."
Coinciding with these feelings is a renewed anxiety in Don about his past and his dual identity, something heavily hinted at in the Season 6 promotional poster. "A lot of the season... is how does he feel about himself?" Weiner says. "I think this season is about the sentence in the [premiere]: ...People will do anything to alleviate anxiety. ... I don't want the audience to think that it's the anxiety being pursued by the government or something. It's the anxiety of being flawed." Adds Hamm: "Where is he going? Who is he going there with? Which side [of him] will prevail? That's the journey of the show, following that struggle."
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4. Will Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce be financially sound?
After some initial struggles to get the new firm off the ground, Season 5 ended with hope for brighter days: Don & Co. landed the Jaguar account (thanks to a little prostitution from Christina Hendricks' Joan) and there was talk of adding a second floor to the office. But don't expect that to slow down the firm's most ambitious weasel Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser). "Sometimes success breeds more ambition," Kartheiser says. "You have a little bit of success and you realize how much more there is to gain. They're a successful small firm, but they're a small firm. There is always another level."
The good news: After landing Jaguar, Don seems to be back on his game — or at least more on it than he was last season, when he was too distracted by newlywed bliss. "[There's] a progression of that newfound creative energy," Hamm says. "[But] there are some days where you just don't want to do it. ... You need inspiration. ... That's where Don is this season: seeking that inspiration and finding it in various forms."
5. Will Roger (John Slattery) become a drug addict?
We're kidding, of course. But you shouldn't discount the importance of Roger's Season 5 experimentation with LSD. (And not just because it gave us the great image of him howling at the moon bare-assed.) "I think he's decided, toward the end of last season, that it's too soon to throw in the towel," Slattery says. "I think the LSD experience is something he wants to try to get meaning out of. I think he's gotten some insight. ... He's sort of on a quest for some kind of change of heart, some kind of reinvigoration of his appetite." In the absence of drugs, look for Roger to seek enlightenment and new perspective by trying something else entirely — something of which Season 1 Roger Sterling would hardly approve.
6. Will Pete Campbell ever be happy?
Last season, Pete responded poorly to living in the suburbs by visiting brothels and ultimately starting an affair with a friend's wife — until she underwent shock therapy to erase her memories of Pete. So, has his marriage to Trudy (Alison Brie) improved at all? "He definitely does love her and definitely feels his version of love toward her," Kartheiser says. "But she gets pretty much everything she wants and it doesn't really matter that it's not at all what Pete wants." (We'll take that as a no.)
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At least Pete's still got his work, right? Well, maybe not. "His challenge is to adapt to a changing environment in a country and society that is rapidly shifting to something that is foreign to him," Kartheiser says. "His ability to adapt is challenged." But hasn't Pete always been ahead of the curve when it came to cultural shifts in the business? "The curve is speeding up and it's hard to stay ahead of a curve that's becoming a U-turn," he says. "It's speeding up at the same time as he's hitting his middle age, when you just don't have the same fire in your belly. You have to take a nap at 2 p.m."
7. Will Betty (January Jones) have lost any weight?
One of the biggest shocks of Season 5 was seeing former model (and model trophy wife) Betty eat her feelings and pack on the pounds. By the end of the season, she was attending Weight Watchers, but struggling with the program. So, was that story line a one-season answer to covering up Jones' real-life pregnancy or will Jones still be wearing a fatsuit? "I'm torn. If [Betty] loses the weight it's back to girdles for me," Jones jokes. "It depends on what I think is more uncomfortable."
Kidding aside, Jones argues that Betty is in a happier place this season. "We're all trying to struggle with our identity and who we are and who we want to be and who we actually are," she says. "It's about trying to be happy in her present situation and trying to find something in it that makes her feel fulfilled physically and emotionally. Henry is a good husband to her and she is probably as happy as she's been. But that doesn't mean she's not searching for something else." And, fat or thin, look for Betty to remind us that she's still somewhat driven by vanity.
8. Will Megan's acting career take off?
After Megan struggled to land auditions in Season 5, Don finally gave in and asked a client to put her in their commercial to help jump-start her career. But will it lead to a full-time acting career or even fame? And will it impact her marriage? "There's tons of possibilities and they could all end in catastrophe," Paré says. But don't look for Megan's outlook on life to be so pessimistic. "Megan is happy," Paré says. "This is all a big change for the girl who started as a receptionist a little while ago. ... She's part of the first generation that just assumed that she could have it all — that she could have a career and a family and that there weren't going to be any kind of great societal barriers to that."
Mad Men's two-hour premiere airs Sunday at 9/8c on AMC and weekly on Sundays at 10/9c beginning April 14. What do you think will happen in Season 6?