Fourteen: That’s the number of hours we have left of Mad Men. So what better time to savor Matthew Weiner’s masterpiece than the lead-up to the Season Seven premiere? In a perfect world, you would just re-watch Season Six – or re-read our episode recaps from last season. Tempting, yes, but not practical. Therefore, we’ve condensed the highlights of the past season into this handy primer that reminds us where we left each major character circa Thanksgiving 1968 (when the finale, “In Care of,” took place). Before the big questions are answered this Sunday — What the hell is Don Draper‘s emotional state? Did Peggy Olson take Don’s office? Can women now wear pants at Sterling Cooper & Partners? What year is it?!? — get yourself up to speed.
Last spring, Matt Weiner said that 1968 “was the worst year in American history since 1863,” so it’s not a surprise that it was a pretty shitty year for the self-loathing Don too. We never heard the adman’s response to the sultry blonde’s question (“Are you alone?”) at the end of the Season Five finale, but once he slipped into his neighbor Sylvia Rosen‘s apartment during the wee hours of January 1st, 1968, the answer was pointedly clear. After an entire season of uncharacteristic fidelity to his va-va-va-voom wife, Megan, Don and his philandering ways were back in full force, only to land him at rock bottom by the end.
In the season finale, Don is unceremoniously ordered to “take a few months off” from SC&P (following a meltdown in which he revealed his sordid upbringing to his colleagues during a Hershey’s pitch), his marriage is hanging on by a thread, and the Drapers’ big plans to move to California have gone up in smoke. But Don finally came clean to his teenage daughter, Sally by bringing her to the dilapidated shell of a Pennsylvania house that he once called home, father and daughter looking at each other silently with a hint more of understanding while Judy Collins’ cover of “Both Sides Now” closed out the episode.
To quote Season One’s Peggy, life was “swell” for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s erstwhile copywriter in December 1967. Not even a year into her stint as Cutler, Gleason and Chaough’s copy chief, Peggy deftly handled client crises with Draper-esque ease, while remaining happily unmarried to the now-longhaired-and-mustachioed journalist Abe Drexler. But the arrival of 1968 brought along plenty corresponding upheaval to Peggy’s relatively placid existence. Just as Abe persuades his girlfriend to buy a fixer-upper on the then-crime-ridden Upper West Side, Peggy’s boss, Ted Chaough, announces that he and Don have merged the two advertising agencies, sending Peggy back to the soon-to-be renamed offices (Sterling Cooper & Partners).
If that wasn’t stressful enough, Ted and Peggy are totally in love with each other, so when Peggy accidentally stabs Abe in the belly with a makeshift spear and he breaks up with her in an ambulance, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief her freeloading boyfriend took a hike. The consummation of Ted and Peggy’s relationship in the season finale briefly gave us dreams of a Chaough-Olson partnership (both personal and professional), but Ted ultimately reneged on his plan to leave his wife and kids; instead, he moved his family to California to head up the creative department of the firm’s new West Coast office. Instead of snuggling up with her cat and a pint of ice cream, Peggy plowed through her heartbreak and finished out the season in a seat of empowerment: Don Draper’s office.
So, Pete, how was your 1968?
By the time Pete and Trudy Campbell got around to divorcing this season, it was beyond anticlimactic. The junior partner already had his coveted bachelor pad at the start of 1968, and he wasn’t even trying to hide his numerous affairs anymore – for crying out loud, he ran into his father-in-law at a whorehouse.
The real drama this season was watching Pete’s job be usurped by the mysteriously friendly accounts man Bob Benson. Between picking up toilet paper and offering the nursing services of his friend Manolo for Pete’s dementia-ridden mother, Bob quickly ingratiated himself into the Dyckman scion’s life – culminating with a gentle press of his knee to Pete’s thigh. Even though old Sterling Cooper accounts man Duck Phillips turned up Bob’s eerily familiar Don Draper/Dick Whitman-type history, it was too late. November 1968 found Pete’s mom “lost at sea” and presumed dead while on a cruise, and Bob getting the Chevy account instead of Pete. His options dwindling and his family depleting before his eyes, Pete decides to move to California, ostensibly to handle SC&P’s West Coast’s accounts, for a new start.
One of the smartest narrative decisions made by Weiner and Co. in Season Six was to keep the “Partnership for a night of prostitution: Was it worth it?” conversation going. Instead of sweeping this controversial plot line under the rug, it was the source of most of Joan’s dramatic moments in 1968. Yes, Joan is a junior partner at the firm, but she is still viewed as a glorified secretary, by her superiors, her colleagues and the typing pool.
Never one to be a doormat, though, she refused to put up or shut up when Don swooped in on his white horse and got rid of the grubby-palmed Herb Rennet and the Jaguar account. (“Don’t you feel 300 pounds lighter?”) To Don’s surprise, Joan was furious at his decision, because from where she sits, she’s now degraded herself for nothing. Later in the season, Joan dusted herself off and set out to prove her mettle as more than just an office manager by bending a few rules Working Girl-style to land the Avon cosmetics account. Ever since Harry Crane took away her TV-script-reading duties in Season Two, I’ve been waiting for Joan to find her business niche again.
For all of the death imagery surrounding Don’s story line in the Season Six premiere, it was pampered playboy Roger who was force to confront loss head-on – twice. Having given up LSD for psychiatric analysis (which meant no views of John Slattery’s naked ass this time around), Roger seemed way more centered than he was in previous seasons. This his emotions unleashed themselves at an unexpected moment: “The Doorway” saddled Roger with the passing of both his 91-year-old mother, as well as his loyal shoeshine man, Giorgio. Three guesses as to who caused Roger’s tears to flow. (Hint: The deceased wasn’t named “Sterling.”)
Other than the occasional airline stewardess, like the one who tipped him off to the Chevy opportunity, Roger’s existence was a lonely one this season. And once the merger between SCDP and CGC was in place, Roger had a brand-new adversary in the form of cutthroat accounts man Jim Cutler, slowly pushing the Sterling Cooper scion further into irrelevance.
At the start of Season Six, Megan was still living the charmed existence as both the wealthy wife of an advertising partner (free trip to Honolulu!), and as a regular on the soap opera To Have and to Hold (autograph seekers!). Unfortunately for the oblivious Montreal native, the dark side of her marriage reared its ugly head. She’s so clueless about her husband’s behavior that she confided to Sylvia Rosen about her miscarriage before even telling Don.
Megan’s star is rising, however, so as soon as Don suggests they relocate to L.A. in a last-ditch attempt to run away from his demons (Sally catching him with Sylvia; getting hammered before breakfast and being thrown in a police-station drunk tank), she puts a slew of Hollywood meetings in her calendar. What she didn’t expect was for Don to start telling Hershey’s execs about how hookers would give him chocolate bars if he pocketed enough change from their johns. Needless to say, Don giving his L.A. spot to Ted and his intention for the two of them to have a “bicoastal” marriage didn’t sit too well with the aspiring starlet.
Weight fluctuation and a brief change of hair color can not ever make us forget Betty’s brief descent into WTF?-dom in the Season Six premiere: suggesting to husband Henry that he rape Sally‘s teenage friend Sandy in the next room while Betty “holds her arms down.” She may have been joking, but apparently there was some truth to her insinuation that sex in the Francis marriage has become rote.
Why else would she fall back into bed with Don while visiting Bobby at summer camp? By that point, she had slimmed down to her pre-Season Five figure and ditched the Elizabeth Taylor brunette look, so it’s not surprising she and her ex got a little nostalgic for the Eisenhower era. She may have looked like the “Betts” of yesteryear, but Betty Francis is no longer a sucker for her ex-husband’s charms. She bemoans Megan’s fate as the latest Mrs. Draper (“that poor girl”), and presents herself the next morning as the valedictorian of the Don Draper School of This Never Happened, sitting quietly at breakfast with Henry.
Sally’s visits to her father’s apartment this season included meeting a wack-job intruder passing herself off as “Grandma Ida” (before making off with a bunch of valuables), and Arnold and Sylvia Rosen’s dreamy draft-dodging son, Mitchell. The latter doesn’t sound so bad, but when Sally snuck into the Rosens’ apartment to retrieve a “Why I Like Mitchell” note her friend slipped under the door, she never expected to catch her father rolling around in bed with Mitchell’s mom.
Scarred for life and bereft of a safe haven, she bolts for the nurturing walls and snooty roommates of Miss Porter’s, quickly winning over the Muffys and Bitsys by inviting old pal Glen Bishop (now sporting an Army jacket covered in anti-war buttons) and another dude over for a make-out session. A few weeks into the semester, Sally’s rebellion catches up with her and she’s suspended for getting drunk on campus. No better time than the present for Don to get real with his increasingly messed-up kid and take her on a road trip to the flophouse he once called Brothel, Sweet Brothel.