But the tonal shift in Season 6 is even more pronounced than the societal mutations. Everything is brighter, as if the characters had suddenly entered an era of super-saturated Cinemascope.
The show is incandescent right from the opening scenes when Don (Jon Hamm) is on a fact-finding trip to Hawaii with Megan (Jessica Pare).
Out of the blue, Don, a stranger in this paradise, has a blinding, ecstatic experience. For one mystical flash, he is unshackled and unfiltered, alive in the moment.
This state is especially profound for Don, who usually cannot escape the sense that he is a fraud. Even his name, Draper, suggests a manufacturer of superficial disguises.
“Mad Men” has always explored the issues of identity, karma, and the many ties that bind. And almost everyone in this episode is questioning his or her role in life. But this struggle becomes especially poignant for Don after his brush with enlightenment.
For Don, going halfway around the world isn’t quite far enough. He’s still got to return to his day job as Manhattan’s slickest snake-oil salesman.
When he tries to insert a taste of his newfound wisdom into his latest ad campaign for the sponsors who sent him to Hawaii, all his clients can see in the imagery is desperation and death.
After this stinging professional rebuff, Don is soon lost again, his descent achingly depicted in a scene that finds him swilling booze in the morning, dispiritedly watching the TV screen as Carl Betz trades dialogue with his TV wife on “The Donna Reed Show.”
The writing is distinctly and delightfully sharper as the series heads into its penultimate season. The show’s chronological progression this season into what is conspicuously the modern era seems to have freed the staff from its more mannered tendencies.