No, not Bob Benson, and not PFC Dinkins. The unspoken, implicit, omnipresent character of Season 6 Mad Men is 1968.
In the past, world events have encroached on our characters in ways both small and large. Matt Weiner is always careful to show that our characters live in a specific world, whether that means an ad campaign focused around real politics or simply a casual conversational reference to the news of the day. But Don, Peggy, Joan, Roger, Betty…they live their lives next to the world, like you and I do. We care about the world and sometimes we get involved, but mostly, we care about our lives, our relationships, our jobs, and our families. That’s how it’s been for five seasons, unless you’re talking about huge, huge news that stops the world in its tracks: Once each in 1962 and 1963.
Not so in 1968. In Season 6, the world encroaches constantly, pervasively, and disturbingly. The Tet Offensive, the assassination of Martin Luther King, crime, pollution, the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, racial unrest, war, music, sex, it’s a never-ending presence. Characters are seen every episode watching TV, listening to the news, discussing the news. Every episode: To the point where you want it to stop, to the point where many questioned the wisdom of that much news coverage on the show.
But in this season, the 60s aren’t a setting, a milieu, or a style. They’re everything. The smaller, interpersonal world is frequently swallowed up by change, by turmoil, by 1968.