Mad Men
Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), Joan (Christina Hendricks), Don (John Hamm) and Roger (John Slattery) all return for the new season of Mad Men. [AMC]

"Are you alone?" That was the question posed to Don Draper (John Hamm) as he sat at the bar, drinking an old fashioned with cigarette in hand, during the final moments of the last season of Mad Men. Now with the new season starting on Sky Atlantic the answer is set to be revealed, albeit very slowly.

Because the period drama likes to take its time with things. Utilising the strengths of television, the New York-set show has gracefully unfolded over roughly 54 hours as it charts the lives of advertising executives coping with the changing times of 1960s America.

Its glacial pace might be frustrating for the impatient, and indeed its low viewing figures serve as confirmation that it is at odds with modern action-orientated TV. But in the place of fast food style storylines we are served a gourmet feast of deep characterisation, poignant themes and magnetic dialogue.

Dark Shadows

The previous season was the darkest of the show yet, with the violence of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement mirrored by the show's references to Sylvia Plath and the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

This morbid tone culminated in the death of one of the show's most important characters, reserved British accounts man Lane Pryce. The upper-class Englishman's suicide was not only representative of the fall of the British Empire during the period, but how all the characters in the show are victims to both the times they live in and their own mortality.

Other characters have seen their lives progress and their fortunes change. Peggy and Joan both managed to move up the career ladder, though in wildly different ways, whilst even old fogeys like Roger experimented with LSD.

But for the most part the focus was on the passage of time and how we all age, as the old guard of Don, Lane and Roger realised they were slowly being pushed off stage by next generation upstarts such as Michael Ginsberg and Pete Campbell.

State of Anxiety

Whilst last season focused on death and the characters getting older, have they really changed? Mad Men's creator Matthew Weiner explained what this season would be about.

"It's a state of anxiety to not know who you are, and to be fighting with the things that you do that you don't like. It's said in the opening episode that people will do anything to alleviate anxiety, and that's a lot of what this show is about," he said.

Don managed to remain monogamous for all of last season (an impressive achievement considering his previous philandering affectations) whilst still in the honeymoon period with new wife Megan. Don Draper, or more correctly Dick Whitman, has always been a man of dual identities. The question we were left to dwell on was with his renewed hunger at work, will his hunger for other women return?

The Times They Are a-Changin'

The joy of watching Mad Men is not through watching the characters themselves change, but through seeing how they react and adapt to the incessant progression of time. We've seen them pulled through the changing social and cultural mores of the 1960s as Eisenhower's secure patriarchal society of nuclear families slowly crumbled after protests, upheavals and assassinations.

Season Six now takes us to 1968, the year of monumental events such as the Tet Offensive and the killing of both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. As anti-war sentiment swells in the US, and mourning and outrage was sparked following the murder of these revered figures, the new season is likely to witness the most radical changes yet.

Matthew Weiner has said this series will be the penultimate before the drama signs off with a seventh and final season next year. With the end now in sight, it's hard not to feel melancholic about the show as it marches towards the exit door.

Though there are sure to be plenty of twists and turns along the way, the central question of 'Who is Don Draper?' is the one that after five seasons, we are still waiting to see answered.

The new season of Mad Men premieres at 10:00pm, Wednesday 10 April on Sky Atlantic HD