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Maddening Men

Much-anticipated new season of retro-cool series begins next week but promotional trailers show us what we already know

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Mad Men fans are getting antsy. AMC's gorgeously depressive deconstruction of the American Dream starts up again next Sunday, but in keeping with the series' obsessive secrecy, the first trailer for season six is made up of scenes from season five.

Thanks, Matthew Weiner. Thanks a lot.

Irritatingly enigmatic show creator Weiner seems to be taking his trailer concept from Don Draper's now famous Kodak Carousel pitch. The season six trailer isn't a spaceship, taking us into the future: "It's a time machine. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again."

As Don explains to the entranced Kodak execs, the biggest idea in advertising may be newness, but sometimes you just have to go with nostalgia. This backward-looking feeling can be "delicate but potent."

Yes, potent. Or possibly aggravating. When there's this much tease in the teaser trailer, it can be hard to feel what Don calls "a sentimental bond with the product." Mad Men devotees have been reduced to puzzling over mysterious promotional stills and cryptic, closely guarded interviews, trying to figure out what the hell is coming next.

Weiner isn't saying much. He admits, for instance, that season six will be "very much a reflection of the period we chose." But which period would that be exactly, Matthew? Most Internet analysts are suggesting that the show will pick up in 1968, to capitalize on that year's highly charged historical events.

And Mad Men enthusiasts who have parsed the sparse material have uncovered a few basic facts: Betty seems to have been liberated from last season's fatsuit. Sally is still a sad little thing. And Peggy is back -- somehow, some way, we don't know the details, but we're so relieved we don't care.

And what about Don? Staged promotional photos depict the major characters at a swanky hotel accompanied by the double-layered phrase "The Affair of the Year." Does this mean affair as in "big splashy party" or affair as in "Don prowling around like a tomcat?"

Well, I know which option I would go with, but just in case I'm getting complacent, AMC has also released an interview with Jessica Paré, who plays Don's second wife, Megan. Flashing that giant toothpaste smile, she tells us that whatever we're predicting, we're probably wrong. "It's not what you think is coming," Paré warns, sweetly.

Words are often deceptive on Mad Men. In a television series in which plot points can turn on a little black dress or a fur jacket, the best clues probably come from the fashions.

Some season six photos depict Harry in a fat tie, Pete in big sideburns, Megan in even bigger hair -- small details that add up to big social shift.

Just as revealing is the new Mad Men-themed collection at Banana Republic. Since the store actually wants to sell clothes, it can't afford to be too coy, and it seems to be proclaiming that it's now a mod, mod, mod, mod world.

These are youth-quaking clothes, made for angular, long-legged Megan, not for Joan and her va-va-voom curves. On the men's side, there's a loud plaid sportcoat, and that has to be bad news for Don.

Finally, Weiner has intimated that season six, like all of Mad Men's seasons, will be about happiness, or rather the characters' conspicuous lack of happiness in the face of happiness's bright, shiny new trappings. In the trailer, we hear Don asking: "What is happiness? It's the moment before you need more happiness." He's talking partly about endlessly deferred satisfaction, the destructive dynamic that keeps the ad game going.

But it's also personal. "The next thing will be better," he adds in the trailer. Is he being optimistic, or is he just voicing his perpetual emotional discontent?

Bring on the ambiguity! After all this waiting and wondering, season six can't come too soon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2013 E1

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