“Mad Men” makes a triumphant return Sunday. If only the show’s ad executives could say the same thing. | ★★★½ out of 4 stars
Don Draper is losing it in more ways than one. In Sunday’s two-hour premiere of the sixth and next-to-last season of “Mad Men,” Jon Hamm’s normally unflappable character upchucks at a less than desirable time — and that’s the least of his problems.
“I want you to be yourself,” a photographer later says to Draper, completely unaware that the request is impossible. Being lost in a martini cloud, loveless affairs and a fake identity was once a luxury for our protagonist. No more.
Creator Matthew Weiner has brilliantly rebooted the series so that Draper and his fellow suits are now firmly the outsiders unprepared for long-haired hippies, women hosting “The Tonight Show” and 1968, a looming Armageddon for the buttoned-down mind.
Weiner dropped several hints last year that the times are a-changin’: Draper being befuddled by a Beatles album, Roger Sterling (John Slattery) experimenting with drugs, Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) striking out on her own. But the shifting tide no longer seems like a struggle — it feels like a drowning.
The signs are everywhere: a roasted pig on a spit, a Vietnam vet heading back to battle, a copy of Dante’s “The Inferno” as beach-side reading.
“Who cares what time it is?” asks Draper’s much younger wife when her hubby’s watch stops.
Draper does, along with the rest of the once high-flying ad executives who seem doomed to take the fatal leap from the top, as telegraphed from the very first episode in the iconic opening credits.
This season premiere is a reminder that at its best, “Mad Men” remains one of TV’s smartest dramas, even though it was shut out at last year’s Emmys and none of its performers has yet to win.
Slattery may be in the best position to break that losing streak if he remains as stirring as he is in this opener, reacting in wildly different directions to a pair of unexpected deaths. But this is still primarily Draper’s story — and indications are it won’t end well. □
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★★★½ out of 4 stars