Get ready to kiss the 1960s goodbye.
The Mad Men cast is about to experience the onset of 1969 as the AMC series returns on April 13th for its final season.
Indeed, as 1968 gave way to 1969, few felt optimistic that the world would suddenly grow more tranquil in the new year. And for the characters of Mad Men, we shouldn’t expect them to feel any differently. Hope was in short supply following the upheavals and violence of 1968 – considered one of the most divisive years in American history. In 1968, you had the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, urban riots following King’s murder, and clashes between student protesters and police that summer on the streets of Chicago outside the Democratic National Convention. In 1968, even Andy Warhol got shot (albeit he survived). By the time 1968 was over, all you could really feel was numb.
As a child growing up in the ’60s, I remember it as an era of foreboding. At nine I remember combing the pages of Life magazine and seeing full-bleed color photos of rioters and riots, of city buildings aflame, of long-haired protesters in angry confrontations with police, of exhausted soldiers in the mud of Vietnam, with bloody bandages around their heads, arms, legs and midsections...
Whether the kids of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) will be experiencing the era in much the same way that I did is something not yet delineated on the show.
So what should you expect to see in the season opener on April 13th?
Well, ambitious and independent Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) breaks down and drops to the floor of her New York apartment in tears, frustrated over the loneliness and seeming futility that has taken over her life. Apparently, her choosing to forgo a family in favor of taking on the testosterone-filled ad industry has won her nothing but heartache.
Buxom office manager Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) is still the subject of browbeating chauvinism from the firm’s male execs even as she outshines them behind-the-scenes at their own jobs. And remember how senior partner Roger Sterling (John Slattery) started getting psychedelic on us last season? Well, expect more of that, along with him tapping into a free-love lifestyle outside of the office. As for once-buttoned down, uptight Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), he’s sporting a more casual look and sunnier attitude following a move to the firm’s L.A. office.
The one character who seems to have changed the least since 1960 is Don Draper, whose short hair, trimmed sideburns, thin-lapelled suits and skinny ties mark him as a man increasingly out of step with the modern world as the decade nears its conclusion. (But isn’t that what makes him so damn interesting?). He is, at the very least, at loose ends as the new season begins. His position with the firm is still up in the air, and his marriage remains intact but it is now bicoastal, with wife Megan (Jessica Paré) now living on the West Coast in pursuit of an acting career.
In the premiere, we hear Richard Nixon’s distinctive voice emanating from Don’s television set: “We have found ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit, reaching with magnificent precision for the moon, but falling into raucous discord on Earth,” the president aptly says in his first inaugural on January 20th, 1969.
President Nixon’s inaugural reference to mankind’s striving toward the moon foreshadowed the moon landing and subsequent moonwalk in July 1969 by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. In the real world, this space mission was the buoyant high point of the year, if not the entire decade. In Mad Men’s “1969,” the lunar landing will undoubtedly be difficult to ignore.
As for the year’s other big news stories, the show’s producers can take their pick from a number of horrendous events, most notably the bloody killing spree in late July and August by Charles Manson and his self-styled “family” in the hills around Los Angeles; the incident on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts, on July 18th in which Sen. Edward Kennedy drove his car off a small bridge, leading to the drowning death of his 28-year-old female passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne; and in December, the violence that erupted during an infamous performance by the Rolling Stones at Altamont Speedway in California, in which a concertgoer was stabbed to death by a member of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club who had been hired as security personnel.
By contrast, the music festival known as Woodstock drew 400,000 concertgoers to an isolated farm about 100 miles north of New York City in mid-August and became one of the most legendary events in the entire tumultuous history of the 1960s. Perhaps this iconic music festival – situated so close to New York City and its suburbs – will figure into a Mad Men storyline featuring Don Draper’s maturing teenaged daughter, Sally (Kiernan Shipka).
However, if past seasons of Mad Men are any guide, the outer world and its events won’t intrude too significantly into the lives of the show’s characters. The real question for them is: How will the 1960s end for the men and women of Mad Men? And: Who among them will live to see the 1970s?