Note: Don’t read this if you haven’t watched the entire sixth season of Mad Men.
Great television spoils us. And even worse, even as it raises our expectations for what serialized drama can be, we quickly employ our newly evolved standards against the very thing that inspired us. This is, naturally, what has happened with Mad Men. After five knockout seasons, it seemed more viewers were on patrol for a decline in quality than were actually enjoying the vicissitudes of the sixth season.
I’ll confess to occasionally being one of them. There were times when it seemed the series lacked the same tug on me that earlier seasons had—I put off watching it at times; I wasn’t sure I was missing anything. Most of the criticism stayed locked on Jon Hamm’s Don Draper. Hadn’t we indeed seen this movie before? The drunkenness, the philandering, the flashbacks and the fantasy sequences. He seemed trapped on a treadmill to nowhere. Other characters seemed to be suffering the same fate, quippy Roger, unlikeable Pete, vexed Peggy. Had the show overstayed its welcome like an articulate but ultimately exhausting party guest, someone who hours ago sounded insightful but now simply tries the patience?