Last year, Mad Men teased its return from a very long hiatus with a pair of very cool advertisements: A minimalist teaser ad which inspired a fill-in-the-blank graffiti meme, and an evocative image featuring a pair of extremely suggestive existential mannequins. But this year the show has taken a decidedly more classical approach. A new poster that hit New York subways is actually a drawing that looks straight out of an advertisement in a mid-60s New Yorker. (As reported by The New York Times, the poster was actually illustrated by an old pro named Brian Sanders, a commercial artist who’s been working since the ’60s.)
Check out the official image below, and read on for some theories about what it means for season 6. (Click on the picture for a bigger image.)
The story arc of every season of Mad Men is usually a mystery, even once the season begins. But in hindsight, season 5′s mannequin ad provided a helpful roadmap. That season was all about Don trying to live up to a certain ideal of monogamous domestic bliss; the end of the season ended with Don possibly returning to his old womanizing ways, while the theme song to You Only Live Twice played in the background, a soundtrack choice that could indicate rebirth or deception.
This poster almost feels like it picks up right at that moment. Don is living two lives. On the left — Graysuit Don — is a man carrying his briefcase, maybe going to work or on his way home to see his lovely wife. On the right — Blacksuit Don — is a man going out for the evening with a lady on his arm. Maybe that lady is supposed to be Megan; maybe not. (We can’t quite make out his left hand, but Blacksuit Don doesn’t look like he’s wearing a wedding ring.) There’s very much a Superman Red/Superman Blue visual dichotomy here — maybe season 6 is about Don rediscovering his old “double life,” cheating on Megan?
Or maybe Graysuit Don is supposed to be Don’s past, while Blacksuit Don is walking into an uncertain future. Season 5 left us in 1967. 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. The policemen in the left side seem like a reference to that unrest. (Blacksuit Don’s eyes are staring in their direction.) The bright red “STOP” sign and the off-kilter “One Way” sign add a weird sense of inevitability and danger to the image.
The version of this image released for subways is just a little bit tweaked, with more graffiti-friendly white space and an additional taxicab. But there’s one other key difference: The subway poster does not feature that airplane in the background. Planes have always figured prominently in Mad Men. Sometimes they’re vehicles for escape, like whenever Don goes out to California and experiences a sun-drenched epiphany. Sometimes they’re engines of death. (Pete Campbell’s dad died in a plane crash.) Sometimes they’re just important marks for the Accounts boys: Could that be a Mohawk Airlines plane? It surely seems notable that most of the image is focused leftward — Blacksuit Don’s eyes, the “one Way” sign — while the plane is clearly flying in the other direction. Could the plane indicate the onrushing future, while Don is trapped in the past? (This is the guy who couldn’t handle “Tomorrow Never Knows.” What will he think of Sgt. Pepper’s?)
Mad Men fans, what else do you spot in this image? Also, Jon Hamm Rorschach Face Test: Does Don Draper look confused, worried, resigned, depressed, or bored?
Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich
AMC’s ‘Mad Men’ gets return date, plus Matthew Weiner talks season 6
‘Mad Men’: John Slattery, Jon Hamm to direct episodes in season 6
Aloha, Don and Megan! New photos reveal ‘Mad Men’ in Hawaii