It’s a near certainty that it will be on the top list every year, but did season 6 of “Mad Men” deserve yet another Emmy nomination for outstanding drama? The short answer, if you dutifully slogged through it, is no.
The longer answer, as with all things “Mad Men,” is up to a broader interpretation. (Avert your eyes, those of you who’ve not watched all those episodes yet.) Some viewers thoroughly enjoyed the slow and more-dour-than-usual unraveling of the Don Draper epic, treating the season as a necessary layover to the final destination, next year, when Don, et al, will likely crash-land on 1970. Only in the season’s finale did any of our time investment pay off, when Don melted down in a meeting with Hershey’s chocolate executives and was forced to take a leave of absence from SC&P.
In addition to ho-hum nominations for Jon Hamm, Elizabeth Moss and Christina Hendricks the Academy of Arts and Sciences did correctly nominate the season’s most intriguing and compelling performance: Linda Cardellini got a guest-actress/drama nomination for her terrific turn as Sylvia Rosen, the downstairs neighbor who has a torrid affair with Don, leading to one of the season’s few memorable scenes, when Sally Draper walks in on the couple while they were having sex. (And hey, where is Kiernan Shipka’s Emmy nomination, anyhow? Sally is scarred for life, after all.) I’m also glad to see Harry Hamlin get a nomination for his guest performance as Jim Cutler, a rival ad exec turned partner. (Bob Benson, next year is all about YOU.)
As a television critic, I’ve never had more readers and colleagues try to pull me into a concerned talk about a show’s current condition. “Something’s wrong,” one friend mulled, sadly.
“Something beyond what’s supposed to be wrong?” I asked. “Their world was always meant to fall apart.”
But I get what she was saying. Season 6 seemed to be standing in place. The hallucinatory aspect was intriguing (and apropos, given the 1968 setting), letting you wonder just how much of it was really happening versus how much of it might be a trip. The show’s knack for verisimilitude – for all-encompassing era-replication – seemed to flag. It was strange to see “Mad Men,” with all its styling expertise, make mistakes with “hippies” and counter-cultural types, whose wigs and clothes made them look more like trick-or-treaters. I’m on record as a being a fair-weather fan of “Mad Men.” My favorite season was 2012, aka 1966 (aka “Zou Bisou Bisou”), when it seemed to be hitting all its best notes, from ennui to humor to surprise, and had what for “Mad Men” passes as momentum. I find it a hard show to root for when things just grind to a halt. Another nomination for outstanding drama feels less like an honor and more like a habit.