Mad Men Season 6: Ups and Downs of Being a Mad Gentleman

The men of Madison Avenue are returning to AMC for their sixth season. The notoriously tight-lipped creator, Matt Weiner, along with the cast of Mad Men got together to not talk about the new episodes, but instead to reflect on their characters’ tumultuous lives.

The state of things to come. One might think Weiner would want to give some kind of hint to the clamoring masses on what to expect this season. Not so. “I know it sounds funny,” Weiner explains, “but I actually feel like the fabric of the story, the events in the story, are so fragile on this show. The scale is so small that when you give it away it’s like immediately not as much fun.”

That doesn’t mean that the viewers don’t have any clues, though. When the season six teaser poster was revealed, fans started to immediately dissect the various components. Whose hand was Don holding? What did the dual image of him symbolize? Weiner hints about the theme of the sixth season, “[T]here’s a few themes but what you really see on the poster, and I know it’s like people are looking for meaning and everything. There is a lot of meaning in it.” For those that find this explanation dissatisfying, Weiner offers a few more crumbs, “[I]t’s a very different economic time and different political time than when the show takes place, but we’re talking about a period of powerlessness, a huge boom in technology that might be more alienating than we like to believe. [T]he society is having an identity crisis and is just like Don is and in a little bit of a moment of low self-esteem, if I can use that expression. So, you have a choice about like can you change? And I feel like there’s that person that’s you – that’s right behind you, and you know what they look like and inside you’re something else.”

Hamm further teases the poster’s meaning, “I think the central motif of it obviously is these two versions of this one man crossing. Both central, but which one are we supposed to be following? One of them is with somebody and one of them is not. I think that shouldn’t be lost on people. One of them has a briefcase in his hand, one of them doesn’t. It’s a very rich image.” Looking even closer, “There’s a one way sign, there’s a stop sign, there’s a lot of things,” Hamm muses. “Those aren’t mistakes. If you guys have talked to Matthew, you realize that he doesn’t say ‘Let’s put 12 tape recorders out here because 12 is a fun number.’ No, he says, ‘Let’s put seven, because we need seven.’ He thinks about these things. He’s very involved in that. Matt was very involved in the choosing of this particular image and finding the artist he wanted. He wanted this specific style of art.”

The Draper effect. There have been several episodes where we hear very little come out of Don Draper’s mouth, yet his presence still dominates the scenes. Weiner explains this phenomenon, “[Jon Hamm] is a commanding presence. I’ve had to train the directors that have come in – to explain to them that he is not talking and the scene is about him . . . .” The power of Draper’s silence is ironic considering his job is to use words to convince people to consume. From Weiner’s perspective, “[Don] talks his way out of a lot of stuff. But a lot of that is based on the fact that he doesn’t talk until he needs to. And to hold your attention and to be intimidating and formidable, you gotta be on camera but you gotta be someone like Jon Hamm.”

For Hamm, Draper is a quasi-tragic figure. “I think Don’s life has been one out of balance for quite some time. Not to get too ‘Life of Pi’ on anyone here – which was an excellent film by the way. If you haven’t seen it, please do. We find out more in season six about why Don is how he is. And why Don does what he does. His house is built on a weak foundation. He’s a fundamentally damaged and broken guy.”

Weiner takes another view of Draper. “He’s a kind of hick in many ways. But he is completely organic in his creative approach, and I think he stays current by being completely curious. I mean, this is a guy who throws research reports away and talks to people in bars.”

What it’s like to be a mad man. Slattery confesses that he has a great time playing Roger. “He’s so funny. It really is great. Hamm and I sit next to each other at these read-throughs and we’re just cackling because it’s so funny. And then he’ll point out how many jokes I have, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, but look at the women sitting across the table who are playing the women that you’re going to be in bed with.’ You know, it’s just a great series of good fortunes that this has been, and it’s going to be over soon, which is just sort of dawning on all of us, doing this, because it’s coming on again and then next year will be it. Because we’re almost done with the shooting for this season.”

The way forward. Trusting Weiner seems to be the guiding principal for the actors. “The storytelling is so good,” John Slattery professed. “So, there’s more of that coming. You sort of know where we are headed culturally, too. The amazing thing is he’s figured all this out six years ago. Matt, that is. I mean, not all the particular steps along the way, but he knew that he wanted to do this, and that’s what I find amazing. He’s got one more, and I think he’s got it figured out.”