By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Mad Men" returns to television on Sunday to find suave advertising executive Don Draper on a beach in Hawaii reading Dante's epic poem "Inferno."
That is about all the detail that Matthew Weiner, creator of the Emmy-winning 1960s-era drama, wants viewers to know ahead of the two-hour premiere of the sixth, penultimate season that he says is packed with more than its usual share of action.
Weiner, who is known for eschewing the plot leaks, trailers and teasers that promote most other TV shows, says the opening scenes capture the overall theme of the new season.
"This season is really an answer to the question (posed to Draper) at the end of last season - 'Are you alone?'," Weiner told Reuters.
"This season is about Don Draper's identity crisis and that of all the show's characters. ... It's not being caused because he is out of touch with society, or because he is old. This is his problem and society has caught up with him. The whole world is in the same state as Don Draper."
The last season of "Mad Men" ended in the spring of 1967 with enigmatic advertising genius Draper (Jon Hamm) newly married to his vivacious aspiring actress wife Megan (played by Jessica Pare), his protégé Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) departed for a rival outfit, and his New York firm on the brink of expanding after a tough financial year.
Just as the United States and much of the Western world was on the brink of big social and political upheaval in the late 1960s, so too are the characters of "Mad Men."
"Mad Men," broadcast in the United States on cable channel AMC, is credited with driving a new era of smart, complex drama on both cable and network television since it first appeared in 2007 and went on to win four Emmy awards for best drama series.
Yet for all its influence in reviving interest in 1960s fashion and design, Weiner says "Mad Men" has never been just a history lesson or even merely a character study but rather a way of using the past to illustrate the present.
LOTS OF PLOT
"I always use the historical events to illuminate the issues of the characters," said Weiner, who was a philosophy and history major in college. "Don comes first, and Don comes from me and where I am in my life and what I think is going on in the world."
"What I am feeling right now is that the economic and political situation in the year the show is set and right now are very different from each other. But there is a similar sense of identity being adrift," he added, noting current anxiety over job security and advances in technology that sometimes appear to separate rather than unite people.
If that sounds a lot to digest in a TV show, Weiner says he hopes viewers will allow each episode to "marinate" in their minds, rather than watching several episodes in "binge-viewing" sessions.
And for those who thrive on the slow-burning drama that has characterized past "Mad Men" seasons, Weiner promises plenty of action this year as the series begins to draw to a close.
"There are a lot of events and plot and a lot of exciting things that happen based on Don's personality, his impulsiveness. Some of it comes from goodness some of it comes from childishness.
"Some people say it's a soap opera - I don't consider it an insult. If that's the genre, they are really going to enjoy this year. If I was in the audience I would be happy the way the show turns out," he said.
Weiner has long said that he plans to end the story with Season 7, due to be broadcast in 2014.
"I don't know if it's enough (time) for me to finish telling the story but I do not want to overstay my welcome. The longer you do a show the harder it gets ... and I don't want to repeat myself," he said.
The series' unbroken run of Emmy wins was halted in September 2012 when psychological thriller "Homeland" swept the TV industry's most coveted award as best drama series and drama actor and actress.
Weiner said the goal of "Mad Men" had never been to win trophies, but the loss was disappointing for the entire cast and crew just as filming for Season 6 was beginning.
"An award is literally a gift that comes from outside ... But I am a human being and I am always, always sure we are not going to win, and I did not know it would feel that bad (to lose). The fact that we won ever is a shock to me."
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)