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Reflect back on the show’s pilot, and you’ll see his most beguiling trickery at work. We are introduced to Don, looking the picture of the carefree bachelor, as he makes a late-night visit to lover Midge and casually suggests marriage. Poor guy; she just brushes it aside.
It’s not until the episode’s last moments that we learn the truth. As the exotic jazz strains of "Caravan" play in the background, Don returns home to his wife and sleeping children, and the family is framed in a mockery of a Norman Rockwell moment.
“Mad Men” on AMC
“Mad Men” returns on Sunday for its sixth season, and Don Draper (Jon Hamm) remains an unhappy man. He’s got looks, health, money, a great job, a beautiful wife and, when the two-hour episode opens, he’s on a beach in Hawaii. But he’s not happy. Poor Don. Of course, “Mad Men” revolves around Don and his inner demons, so what were you expecting?
Watch » 7, 9:08 and 11:16 p.m. Sunday, AMC
While "Mad Men" has flipped through the mind-bending ‘60s, Don has remained steadfastly true to the music, liquor and tie-and-shirt dress code of his generation while his colleagues let it all hang out with Beatles albums, pot and turtlenecks.
But don’t mistake Draper for a lead-footed dinosaur on the verge of extinction, Weiner said.
"The world has finally caught up with Don. The world is in a state of identity crisis and he is the ultimate survivor," he said. "He’s comfortable because he’s used to disaster."
Hamm, close to wrapping up work on this season’s 13 episodes, has found himself tested over the years by his character’s dark side.
"There’s no vicarious thrill for me as an actor to doing any of this sort of bad behavior. I don’t get off on it. ... There’s a psychic toll it takes," he said. "I’m not comparing myself to a bricklayer or construction worker or miner. But it does take a psychic toll."
Those in the "Mad Men" audience cheering for Don to fall off the marriage wagon, or looking to him for guidance, give Hamm pause.
"The central conundrum is why people think this is a good person to model their lives after," he said, citing one area of exception: "Don, I feel, strives for excellence and doesn’t settle for mediocrity, and demands that of people who work for him."
"I think that’s beginning to be a lost art in our current culture of ‘140 characters and that’s good enough.’ The fact there are people who still strive for excellence ... is inspiring. That is the one good thing about Don; not that he looks good in a suit, not that he can drink, not that he (expletive) a lot of women."
With the journey nearing conclusion for Draper and his fellow travelers, Weiner is faced with the task of wrapping up the ambitious drama that put him in the front ranks of TV producers. There are 13 episodes planned for its last season, he said.
"I have an idea for what it feels like for the show to end, and I think I know how it ends, and I’ve known for a couple of years," Weiner said — cryptically, of course.
Could Don, at last, find happiness? Hamm tackles that question.
"Well, that’s the hope. And at some point it will be the journey of the series, finding that happiness, or a balance."
That’s the audience’s challenge as well. And Mr. Weiner’s call.
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