The high life of the Kennedy years is behind us as the sixth season of "Mad Men' opens Sunday at 7p.m. on AMC in a two-hour premiere. The darker mood of an indeterminate period some years later is overtaking the Manhattan advertising executives. A general unease fills the air as the society in general becomes a bit more like Don Draper himself — cynical, pessimistic, dissolute.
Matthew Weiner, the creator of the phenomenally pervasive, Emmy-winning series that has brought renewed focus to the American experience of the 1960s, has a great deal to say about the American mood of 2013.
And he's put it all into his period piece.
Talk to him, and his interest in exploring the present ennui threatens to overshadow the specific historical past he's re-creating. But talking intellectually about his show is his way to avoid spoilers about the story itself. So many parallels to spot, so much allegory.
In a pre-season conference call, Weiner said the '60s of "Mad Men' is his canvas for painting a picture of present-day angst and general social detachment.
In a way, that's piling extra issues on top of a period that was overloaded with social import as it was. Each era's sense of alienation is its own. The social decay then may be parallel to the decay now, but it had a different specific framework.
"Mad Men' remains a brilliant, perfectly designed and visually exciting series — one of the very best the medium has to offer — whether you take it at face value or find the experience of watching the TV series enriched by tracing the modern echoes. We know, unconsciously, why the story resonates.
The painful, slick "Mad Men' trades in superior storytelling, beyond demonstrating our collective loss of self-esteem, the insecurities of adapting to new science and technology and the social turning inward.
"People are in a state of not knowing who they are,' Weiner said. He's talking about now, applying it to then.
Clearly he's got his eye on the endgame as he launches a brand new season. This will be the penultimate season of
"Mad Men,' Weiner has already stated.
"I want to finish before we've overstayed our welcome.'
While season 5 took a sharp turn and ended on a sad note, the episodes made available for preview are particularly dark; Weiner prefers to see them as funny, even "cathartic.'
To him, the essential question now is: What right do we have to be optimistic about these characters? "Why would we think anything is better?'
The downward spiral of the graphic over the opening credits mimics the direction of the characters and their problems. Everything that's led to this moment is building to the idea that "no matter where you go, there you are.' (Or, per the verse in the 1969 musical "Sweet Charity': "No matter where I run I meet myself there.')
The key factor in Don's life, no spoiler here, is the anxiety he feels about being a fraud. Weiner suggests that's something we're living with as a society.
America's current sense of insecurity is Weiner's touchstone.
Our self-esteem has been challenged. We've been pushed into a state of anxiety by an awareness that the previous era of prosperity is over. Rapidly evolving technology has us on edge.
How will we handle it? How will the characters of "Mad Men' handle it?
"It all depends on how excited you are about change,' Weiner said.