Mad Men in 1969: What’s Next for Don Draper and “Friends”?

| June 24, 2013
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SPOILER ALERT!

Season Six of Mad Men ended like 1968 (the year this season is set) did: on a chorus of grim notes after a series of upheavals and tragedies that would go on to shape the culture of the next decade. We watched the MLK and RFK assassinations episodes apart and the tensions that followed: Nixon’s election and the ongoing disagreement over the war in Vietnam. Meanwhile, back at Sterling Cooper Draper um, CGC (what did they end up calling the agency again? Oh, back to Sterling Cooper?), the characters went through as many shifts as the country. Don’s already problematic drinking reached its crescendo, Peggy and Ted consummated the affair that’s been building all season, Sally Draper followed in her father’s shaky footsteps, Pete Campbell’s life falls further apart and then there’s the ongoing mystery (and dilemma) of Bob Benson. As the events of 1968 would foreshadow turmoil to come in years ahead, the Season Six finale indicated even bigger changes to come in Season Seven. Here are some predictions for 2014, I mean 1969.

Don Draper: Moving Forward by Looking Backward

Photo Credit: Jessica Brooks/AMC

Photo Credit: Jessica Brooks/AMC

All season we’ve seen Don mentally revisit the brothel he was raised in and last night’s episode ended with Don physically revisiting it. Looking up at the crumbling Victorian we see it’s a house in as great a state of disrepair as Draper. “This is where I grew up.” he says to his children, inspiring a sympathetic glance from Sally who famously stated to her father: “I realized I don’t know anything about you” after the “Grandma Ida” burglary a few episodes ago. For Don Draper, the final season of Mad Men will likely involve reconciling his two identities: Don Draper is going to have to finally reveal Dick Whitman now that he’s in the free-fall of mandatory leave from the agency. He already took the first steps of merging his two selves with his confession during the Hershey pitch (by the way, that “rummaging through the pockets of Johns in a brothel for candy money” is a Hershey ad we’d LOVE to see) but it cost him his immediate future at the agency. Of course, that’s only if he can conquer his drinking which spun out of control in the finale to the tune of a night in jail after punching out an AA spouting preacher. Season Seven can either be Draper’s comeback or his slow fade now that he’s hit bottom.

Being Neighborly and the War in Vietnam

MM Photo Credit Jessica Brooks AMC Arnold and Sylvia

Photo Credit: Jessica Brooks/AMC

After getting caught in bed together by Sally, we can only assume Draper’s affair with neighbor Sylvia Rosen (played by Linda Cardellini) is over, but this being Mad Men and Don being Don we can never be too sure. What is likely is that the issue of Sylvia’s son Mitchell (the one Don was able to get into the Air Force via Ted) will again be raised as the war in Vietnam continues. Vietnam colored Season Six more strongly than seasons past: as we head into 1969 we can guess the darkest days of the conflict will continue to be felt on the show.

Sally Draper Comes of Age

Photo Credit: Jessica Brooks/AMC

Photo Credit: Jessica Brooks/AMC

Sally Draper, perhaps the best juvenile role on television EVER (paging Emmy Awards, do you read me Emmy Awards?) has entered her teenage years with a bang. In the finale she was suspended from the prestigious Miss Porter’s School in Farmington after getting caught drinking: a nod to Sally’s status in the Draper family as daddy’s little girl, even though she and Don weren’t on speaking terms after she walked in on him in bed with Sylvia. The generational divide will only deepen (as it did for so many families of the era) and although we saw something of a truce between Sally and Betty recently, we’re betting it won’t last. Something tells us childhood friend Glenn Bishop may be Sally’s gateway into the youth counterculture of 1969: after getting caught drinking, sex, drugs and even greater resistance to her parents’ authority are probably around the corner. At least we hope so; Sally’s storylines have only gotten better as the character has matured.

Pete Campbell’s Freedom

Photo Credit: Jessica Brooks/AMC

Photo Credit: Jessica Brooks/AMC

Admittedly, the Campbell boys will never win sons of the year awards after debatingr the costs of a search and rescue operation when their mother was lost at sea but this is only the latest blow this season for Pete. His marriage is over, his constant professional fears have come to fruition after Bob Benson tricks him into bungling the Chevy account and at the end of the episode it’s revealed he’s moving to L.A. (possible proof he’s no longer at the agency). But, as soon-to-be-ex-wife Trudie points out to him: at last, he’s free. Without his mother, his marriage or his career, Campbell has nothing left to lose which is a startling thought for a man so eager to hold onto whatever he could in seasons past. With the move to California in Season Seven, we want to see how legacy admissions poster-boy Pete remakes himself now that he’s free and out from under the shadows (and security) of family and old money that have hung over him since the series began.

The Talented Mr. Benson

Photo Credit: Jessica Brooks/AMC

Photo Credit: Jessica Brooks/AMC

More than any other character in Mad Men history, Bob Benson has inspired questions, rumors and constant speculation about his motives and identity since arriving on the show at the beginning of the season. After the revelation that his friend Manolo married Pete Campbell’s mother (after Bob recommended Pete hire Manolo as her nurse) and possibly tossed her off their cruise ship for her inheritance, Benson seemed as unshaken as always. NOT SO the viewers. After his sexual pass at Pete was rebuffed and their work relationship quickly deteriorated, Benson tricked the vehicular challenged Pete into crashing a Camaro at Chevy’s headquarters which ostensibly left the account wide open for the taking. Between his sexuality, duplicitous actions with Pete and his constant attempts to ingratiate himself with the partners at the agency, Benson brings to mind a late ’60s Talented Mr. Ripley. Or, as many fans have pointed out, a nouveau Don Draper (alliterative assumed names, shady pasts, lack of family ties, ambition). Benson has been a wild card all season (many fans guessed he might be gay but no one one guessed he might be gay for Pete) and will probably continue to be in Season Seven if he returns to the show. Then there’s his friendship with Joan: Roger clearly doesn’t like it but Joan has more than indicated that she’s aware Benson is not the dating kind. Is this another strategic move on Benson’s part or are he and Joan just spiritual fore-bearers to GBF couple Will and Grace? You laugh, but Joan IS a redhead.

Megan on the Verge

Photo Credit: Jessica Brooks/AMC

Photo Credit: Jessica Brooks/AMC

To put it simply, Megan Draper (or, as she’s professionally still known, Megan Calvet) has had enough of being Mrs. Don Draper. After crying with excitement and hope at the prospect of a fresh start in California (something so many of the characters yearned for in this season’s finale) she walked out the door, possibly for good, when Don announced they would not be making the trip but that he was resigned to live a “bicoastal” life with her. We’ve seen Megan go from secretary to copywriter to babysitter to wife to soap opera actress: there’s no doubt Megan has another transition coming her way once she makes the move to Hollywood. Of course, success is not a foregone conclusion: whether Megan becomes a star or is eaten alive by the Hollywood scene, we want to be there for the journey. Just remember: 1969 was the year of the Sharon Tate murder in Hollywood. Be careful, Megan!

Peggy and Ted: A clean break?

Photo Credit: Jessica Brooks/AMC

Photo Credit: Jessica Brooks/AMC

All season long an affair has been building between Peggy and Ted and in the finale it was realized. But, as quickly as the one-time mentor and protege fell into each other’s arms, Ted was begging Don for the chance to take his place running the Sunkist office in California so he could have a clean start with his wife and children away from the temptation of Peggy. Whether this is truly the end of the affair remains to be seen but what we can guess is that Peggy is only going to continue to grow from the shy, mousy secretary of Season One into the sexually confident, independent career woman that closed Season Six. Few characters have had the journey Peggy has had since the show’s premiere: more than any other woman on the show she has benefited from changing sexual politics and the cultural rise of women in the workforce. The real question in Season Seven is whether Peggy stays at the agency if not offered a greater role during Don’s absence. Since Joan has already made junior partner it’s not a stretch to suggest that may be a goal Peggy has set for herself and that she would be ready to walk if it’s not made available. As the seasons go by Peggy, has become less and less sentimental.

How Betty Francis Gets Her Grove Back

Photo Credit: Jessica Brooks/AMC

Photo Credit: Jessica Brooks/AMC

After going from blond to brunette and back to blond, regaining her figure (bye-bye, bugles) and backsliding into bed with Don (and then sliding back to her none-the-wiser husband, Henry), Betty Francis got her grove back. The Henry marriage seems to work better than the Draper marriage (either Draper marriage) ever did and with Henry’s political ambitions possibly coming to the character’s forefront it’s possible Betty will get the stage of a campaign to act upon in Season Seven. Political wife might just be the role Betty was born to play: it’s not that different from her previous career in modelling. Smile, wave, sell the product, look flawless and keep your mouth shut. Okay, it’s possible Betty might have to make an effort at that last one.

L.A.

Throughout the finale the prospect of relocation to L.A. was held out by various characters (first Stan, then Don, Ted and eventually Pete) as the key to salvation. Historically, New York is headed into an era of crime and urban decay in the ’70s as flight to the suburbs continues, so it doesn’t seem that far off that major characters are contemplating the move off Madison. Like the Mamas and the Papas once sang: “California dreaming on such a winter’s day.” How large a role will a change in scenery play in the show’s final season is the question on many minds after last night’s episode.

1969: What the Future Holds

Since the show is so tied to the real life events happening in the 1960′s here’s a look ahead at some of 1969′s more noteworthy events. Perhaps we’ll be seeing them on the small screen in 2014 when Mad Men returns:

-First year of Richard Nixon’s presidency

-The Stonewall Riot and the rise of the LGBT community

-Continued conflict in Vietnam and Southeast Asia including the My Lai Massacre

-Senator Ted Kennedy’s notorious “Chappaquiddick” incident resulting in the drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne

-The Charles Manson Killings

-Deaths at the Altamont Free Concert given by the Rolling Stones are documented in the film Gimme Shelter

Only 10 more months until Season Seven! What do you think the future holds for the men and women and children of Mad Men?

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About the Author ()

Tony Bravo is a San Francisco freelancer covering fashion, menswear, lifestyle and entertainment stories. He is a regular contributor to The Bold Italic and the San Francisco Chronicle's Style section.

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