Mad Men returns on April 7, which means ads, photos, and promos are beginning to flood the cultural zone, leaving the Mad Men fanatics—and there are (too) many—grasping for answers about season six. Of course, there are no answers. There are never any early answers with one of television's most over-analyzed shows. Creator Matthew Weiner notoriously keeps the secrets of Mad Men close to his vest both onset and in public, leaving legitimate fans and denizens of the Internet and perhaps one too many professional TV bloggers (often all three at once) with few options beyond wild speculation. Because, really, there's not way to know what's going to happen on Mad Men three-and-a-half weeks out—trust us, we've tried, and we're trying now—other than to experiment in pure, overwrought conjecture. And while it's fun to guess what all the "symbols" in the new poster mean—and Weiner does love his symbols—we also wonder, is it worth it? Is there no patience left in our spoiler-loving, teaser-happy TV realm?
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Okay, so if you want to try and believe that this speculative process works on a show like Mad Men, the biggest clues thus far have come from the exquisite official poster by artist Brian Sanders. Unlike some of the more sparse advertisements of the show's past, this is as packed with imagery as Michelangelo's The Last Judgment—at least by basic-cable standards:
Here are just some of the bold predictions a single sketch—and some other tidbits—hath wrought:
Dick Whitman Returns
Some TV watchers, such as the folks over at Esquire and BuzzFeed, have wondered whether the double Don Draper imagery implies that more of his fellow characters might learn that Don Draper is really Dick Whitman. (If you haven't been watching—first of many spoiler alerts here—Dick stole Draper's identity during the Korean War, and only Pete, Betty, Megan, and Bert Cooper really know.) And the unraveling of the show's ultimate mytery seems like a logical enough conclusion... at some point before it goes off the air! And that day is not that far away. Weiner has said the show has a seven season cutoff.
Darren Franich at Entertainment Weekly speculated that the policemen in the poster could have to do with the changing American landscape. Last season left off at 1967, and Franich writes: "Assuming this next season follows the usual pace of Mad Men's history, we might entering 1968 — a turbulent year in American history that saw violence and unrest across the country, not to mention — Potential Spoiler Alert For People Who Should Really Read More History Books — the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy."
Weiner's comments in the following promo about the years following 1967 also imply that historical events will reverberate in our characters' lives, and that's not unusual for the show. Remember the JFK episode?
Or, you know, we could always skip that year entirely. Weiner's been known to time-travel between seasons. But '68 would be a pretty big one to skip.
Don Returns to His Philandering Ways
Well, if you watched the season-five finale, this is a pretty obvious conclusion—and it doesn't require bloggy tea leaves. Plus, the fact that the woman in the poster is obscured means there are questions as to whether it is actually Don's wife Megan. But who really knows?
The promo below doesn't include any photos of Peggy Olson. Vulture wonders, does that means there's less Peggy in the new season?
Well, yeah. She did quit the agency, but we do know she definitely is coming back. You don't just fire Elisabeth Moss.
Where do any of these predictions really get us? Before last season, there was speculation that Megan, to whom Don proposed at the end of the fourth season, might not play a big role in the coming season... and then the season premiere happened and so did Zou Bisou Bisou, and then there was just a ton of Megan. Weiner has said he uses the character to reveal details about his protagonist, Don.
To be sure, the beauty of Mad Men is its unpredictability, even though it tells a linear story. If you had asked us to guess at this stage last year that the season ahead would—spoilers—end with Don having explored marital contentment, Lane Pryce dead after a suicide, Joan deciding to sleep with a man for the good of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, and Peggy leaving the firm, well, we would have been as shocked as the prognosticators will be come spring 2013.
And maybe Weiner should be rewarded, because it's hard to keep much a secret in Hollywood these days. Movies are especially good examples of that. We knew which actress played The Wicked Witch of the West in Oz the Great and Powerful before we got to the theater, we're pretty sure Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Khan in the latest Star Trek.
Despite all the speculation—ours and everyone else's—let's face it, together as fans: We don't actually know much of anything about what's to come on Mad Men. We know that Harry Crane's clothes get crazier and a part of the season was filmed in Hawaii. The Mad Men cast and crew are whipped by Weiner into keeping things quiet. The latest promo has talking heads who don't actually say anything, so much so that Vanity Fair's website decided to write a satirical take on all the guessing games.
Does speculation actually really ruin anything? No. Is it annoying? A little. If you must, give in and just take a look at these new photos, then develop crazy theories, and try being patient for a couple more weeks. We know it's hard.