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‘Mad Men’ refresher: Get up to speed before season six starts Sunday
“Are you alone?”
A flirtatious young stranger posed that question to Don Draper at the end of “Mad Men’s” last season — the most polarizing yet of the AMC drama. (I loved it, but the Emmy magnet that snagged Outstanding Drama Series four seasons in a row left last year’s award ceremony empty-handed for the first time.)
Season five was especially full of chaos and upheaval, much like the counterculture of the 1960s that serves as the show’s mesmerizing backdrop.
Fortunes changed. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce lost one of its namesakes. But when we left the advertising agency in the spring of 1967, it was no longer in dire financial straits.
An aging Don, perpetually in a state of reinvention, struggled to start a new life with the much-younger Megan. He also said goodbye to his protg Peggy.
Joan got promoted, but not in a way that would make the women’s liberation movement proud. Suburban Pete got pugilistic. Roger dropped acid — and his trousers — in a hotel room, alone.
That critical question — are you alone? — is one that each of “Mad Men’s” richly drawn characters will grapple with again this season, starting with Sunday’s premiere.
Written by series creator Matthew Weiner, the richly symbolic two-hour episode suggests this penultimate season will be no less tumultuous than the last.
Before diving into new drama, here’s a refresher on what happened with key players last season:
Don Draper (Jon Hamm)
He temporarily took his eye off work to focus on his new wife, Megan, who bruised his ego by forsaking a career in advertising for acting. Like his co-workers, Don is shaken by the suicide of embezzler Lane Pryce.
Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks)
The young mother ended her marriage when she found out Greg volunteered for another tour in Vietnam. She fended off Lane’s advances but eventually followed up on Pete’s suggestion that she sleep with a client to land the Jaguar account — a move that made her a partner in the agency.
Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss)
Her hard-fought rise at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce came to an end when she decided to jump ship and work for Don’s rival. Her relationship with Abe got more serious but she was disappointed when he asked her to live together instead of putting a ring on it.
Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser)
Self-exiled to the bedroom community of Cos Cob with wife and child, he excelled at work but that wasn’t enough to fill the void in his life. He struck up an affair with a depressed neighbor, who forgot about him after undergoing electroshock therapy.
Roger Sterling (John Slattery)
He dabbled in LSD, divorced trophy wife Jane, seduced Megan’s mother and flashed New York City from a hotel window. And he continued to deliver the season’s best one-liners.
Betty Francis (January Jones)
Living with her second husband and kids in a Victorian mansion, she struggled with her weight and continued to be jealous of Don’s “child bride.” She spilled the beans to daughter Sally about the “real” Don Draper’s wife, Anna Draper, in a failed attempt to stir up trouble between Don and Megan.
Megan Draper (Jessica Pare)
She surprised Don with a sexy “Zou Bisou Bisou” serenade at his 40th birthday party, but she wasn’t a big hit when she tried to make it as an actress. Don eventually helped her out by getting her a gig on a client’s shoe commercial.
Sally Draper (Chicago-native Kiernan Shipka)
She bucked authority and bonded with her stepmom while blossoming into a woman, as evidenced by getting her period while on a clandestine getaway with Glen Bishop.