Starring Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Karthieser, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, John Slatterly, and Kiernan Shipka.
TV series review by Donovan Richards
*Spoiler Alert for Previous Seasons*
Truth and Untruth
What is the economic value of a lie?
Generally, we ought not to lie. The effectiveness of a lie demands a world which does not lie. If everyone skirted the truth, lying wouldn’t work. In other words, lying is philosophically inconsistent.
More practically, deceitfulness is painful for the inflicted parties involved. It takes advantage of others and leaves them in a place of vulnerability.
And yet… lying has its benefits every once and awhile. What if lying saves a life? What if it benefits the majority at the expense of a couple? Isn’t there a level of gray in black-and-white scenarios?
Given these factors, is falsehood ever warranted? It seems as if it could be, given the circumstance. So what about business? If you stand to make a greater amount of money to help more people, that’s a good thing, right?
Season 6 of Mad Men returns to this encircling dilemma constantly during its 13 episodes.
Characters Encircling Characters
Told more in a series of short stories than as an overarching narrative, it’s difficult to diagnose a plot summary. Nevertheless, the characters series creator Matthew Weiner has developed continue to move forward, changing with times. The late 1960s offer much turmoil with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy grabbing the headlines and race riots ever threatening New York City. The ad agency, as a whole, and the characters within, act and react in equal parts to this widespread milieu.
For starters, the principal character, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), continues to run from his past, establishing a complexly fabricated life for those around him to see. He continues searching for that thing which will fill the hollow hole in his heart and he pays little attention to the destruction in his wake.
Don’s protégé, Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), discovers more responsibility at her new firm yet continues to feel trapped. While all of the characters around her pursue life altering decisions for their families and their co-workers, she longs for even a sliver of agency.
Then there’s Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), the once junior account man who attempts to follow Don Drapers path through life with varying-but-poor results.
In perhaps the most mysterious move of the season, the ad agency has a new face, Bob Benson (James Wolk), a brown-noser who appears out of nowhere and seems to always pop up in the right place at the right time, climbing higher up the rungs of the executive ladder. We don’t know his back story, but the mystery adds to the intrigue.
The Ad Agency and Bending the Truth
Despite the wide variety of stories encountered in Season 6, the central motif surrounds the notion of lying and the questions of beneficence.
Colloquially, an ad agency represents that which is deceitful in business. It exists as the mouthpiece for a product, the team which massages desire and meaning to products no matter the utility of the good or service.
Is the product harmful for the environment? Well, let’s focus on the way it improves the color of your lawn. Will the product lead to obesity? Well, let’s sell the “cool” factor.
To a certain extent, the characters of Mad Men lie for a living. This process leaks into personal lives as families construct and deconstruct around truth and lies.
At certain points during the season, however, the truth sets people free. In other places, the truth means the loss of business. So, then, how shall we live?
Shall we live in the gray where there might be an occasional morally justified reason for hiding the truth, if not outright lying? I could imagine scenarios in which such a position is viable—refusing to divulge personal information about another employee to a discriminatory boss, as an extreme example.
There are other times, however, when the truth is mandatory, it will set you free, and you’ll be out of a job. Whistleblowing, for example, is a morally important task, but it won’t pay off in the long-term. It, however, is still worth doing.
Mad Men flourishes in presenting the ambiguity of truth. We all agree, for the most part, to be truthful. But how do we manage the gray areas? That will always be the million-dollar question.
Season 6 offers another fantastic series of television. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Donovan Richards earned an M.A. in Business and Applied Theology from SPU and works as a consulting analyst for See Seven. You can read more reviews on Donovan's blog.
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