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'Mad Men:' The end is near. (Sunday, in fact)

Sunday is wrap day for "Mad Men's" sixth season, and let's now begin to ponder what it all meant, if anything - or everything. I've got a column on this very subject in today's Newsday, re-posted here for your consideration. Bottom line: Fine season, though certainly not all would agree wtih that! 

  Meanwhile, two days after the tragic death of James Gandolfini, it's worth noting that there would be no Don Draper without Tony Soprano, while comparisons between both have been very nearly constant since "MM" bowed six seasons ago, with some often asuming that creator Matt Weiner even based his anti-hero on TV's most famous/infamous anti-hero. Matt, who of course wrote long and well for "The Sopranos," tapped his own wellspring for Don but he would, I imagine, certainly agree, that without Tony, there would be no Don...

"Mad Men," AMC, Sunday, 10.

What it's about: The sixth, and possibly next-to-last, season, ends Sunday with an episode entitled "In Care Of," for which the AMC site offers this description, reproduced here in full: "Don [Jon Hamm] has a problem." Speculation has seeped into the information void - doubtless all of it wrong - ranging from the death of Megan (Jessica Pare) to the breakup of newly formed ad agency, Sterling Draper & Partners.

Last week's episode ("The Quality of Mercy") ended with Don in his office, helpless and in a fetal position, after the rejection by his daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka) and Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), who declared him “a monster.” Don has a problem, indeed.

Meanwhile, just to recap the season: To land a major account - Chevy - Sterling Draper decides to merge with Cutler Gleason and Chaough, which ends up creating conflicts, both business and personal. Megan, now deep in her career as a soap actress, finds herself further estranged from Don, who throws himself into an obsessive affair with neighbor Sylvia (Linda Cardinelli). The season shocker: Sally witnesses them In flagrante delicto.

My say: Not one of us "Mad Men" obsessives, all two million or so, seem able to agree on anything related to the sixth season, up to and including whether the mysterious Bob Benson (James Wolk) is, was or ever will be gay. Great season or boring one? Artistic triumph or artistic dud? A deep philosophic journey into the heart of Don's blighted soul? Or Don just being Don - a functioning alcoholic with the moral fiber of an amoeba? Go ahead. Ask someone (if you haven't already.) You're in for an argument.

Or better still, read someone. No "Mad Men" season to date, maybe not even any show since "Lost," has engendered quite the literary output as this one. Thousands - maybe hundreds of thousands - of blogs, articles, tweets have analyzed every scene, allusion, metaphor or parallel.

Observers have had a field day with with the meta-meaning of the sixth season, although some may now reluctantly concede that they just spent a lot of time chasing a rabbit down a hole.

This fevered output may have had more to do with the year the sixth was set in - 1968 – than with creator Matt Weiner's taste for full-blown literary invention. That terrible year, that crucible year when Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, and countless thousands of young Americans perished in Vietnam, bled through the screen this season. Death stalked these characters more than usual, Don especially.

The season began with a scream (literally) and may well end with one. Fans - us - were jittery. We needed to know where all this was going, if anywhere, and what it MEANT, if anything. Surely there was meaning in that dreamlike moment when Don, in a drug-induced stupor, "sees" Megan at the hipster Hollywood Hills party, dressed in the same shirt Sharon Tate wore when she was murdered (and also pregnant!) Or what about that opening episode, "The Doorway," when Don absentmindedly lifted the Zippo lighter of a GI on his way to the war? (Don accidentally incinerated his namesake with a Zippo in Korea – remember?)

In fact this season's relentlessly dark foreshadowing and relentless literary gamesmanship very nearly obscured just how entertaining it often was. The sixth may have been the most disturbing "Mad Men" season to date, but also the funniest - not an inconsequential feat. How will this remarkable season end Sunday? Really, we'll all find out soon enough. As "Mad Men" has pretty well established over its glorious run, it's not about the end of the journey but the journey itself, and this leg of the trip has often been a joyride.

Season grade: A  


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