Mad Men Season 6, Episode 1 & 2 Deconstructed

by: L.P. Hanners

We begin our weekly Mad Men recaps with a walk through “The Doorway”…..

“What are the events in life?  It’s like you see a door. The first time you come to it you say “Oh!  What’s on the other side of the door?” Then you open a few doors, then you say “I think I wanna go over that bridge this time. I’m tired of doors”. Finally, you go through one of these things, and you come out the other side, and you realize that’s all there are…doors…and windows, and bridges, and gates…and they all open the same way, and they all close behind you.”  -Roger Sterling

A season of Mad Men, commonly, begins ambiguously and ends ambiguously. “Who is Don Draper?” began Season 4; “Are you alone?” ended Season 5. The first shot from this season ((“The Doorway” appears to be set in the last week of 1967.)) is from the point of view of a man on the edge of death.  We hear Megan’s shriek and assume that Don is this man, then promptly discover it is Don’s doorman in the compromised situation. And we find out later, at the climax of the episode, that Don is sleeping with the wife of the resident doctor whom is on top of the doorman ((Arnold Rosen, played by Brian Markinson)) pounding away on his chest trying to revive him.

After this opening scene, we are transported to a literal paradise, coupled harmoniously with a voice-over from Don reading a profound, and congruous, line from Dante’s “Inferno”: “Midway through our life’s journey I went astray from the straight road and awoke to find myself alone in a dark wood.” We then are overwhelmed with the sounds of the beach, harmonies that soon transport Don, open him up to a heightened level of meditation ((Much like Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks, Don Draper is a class-act of an enigma. Now these two characters have meditating in common.)).  The paradise Mr. Weiner has painted for us is Megan and Don’s Hawaiian vacation, a trip that has an enduring affect on him – amplified by an encounter with a young soldier, Private First Class Dinkins, who emulates a fledgling version of Don Draper, one not so burdened with the past ((The young GI’s lighter that Don accidentally takes home with him continually haunts him throughout the episode.)).

Hawaii sticks with Don well after the trip is over. The iconic scene from the show’s title sequence of him standing and staring out the window motionless actually plays itself out when Don returns to his office. Don is meditating. The view out the window was his trigger, and the sound of the ocean is his chant.  And these meditative thoughts reach an unfortunate eclipse when Don presents his sales pitch ((He went to Hawaii on business to get inspired to create a campaign for the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.)). This pitch brings new meaning to the phrase “commercial suicide”.  Don unsuccessfully tries to defend his rejected idea afterwards, and the comments he makes are absolutely classic Don – but they reveal he might be defining modern times cryptically differently than the rest of the world. At long last his existential troubles are seeping into his work. And in response, he gets plastered for Roger’s Mom’s funeral ((Listening to diatribes about a mother’s unyielding love for their son will make anyone queasy, especially Don, considering his past.)) and then harasses his lucky doorman about what it was like to die and come back. Don is obsessed with death ((It is impossible not to think of Roger’s regurgitation in Season 1, “Red in the Face”, when Don was getting ill at Roger’s mother’s funeral.)).  And Don is, as usual, struggling with his own identity…who he actually is.  As the first hour of “The Doorway” came to finish, a photographer tells Don during a photo shoot “”I just want you to be yourself”.  So much easier said, than done…..

Because of his venture into the world of LSD, I was especially interested in Roger’s story-lines in Season 6. Before the drama thickened, it was amusing to witness another one of his infamous conversations on the phone with random girlfriends staying at his place ((Reminiscent of Chevy Chase’s shtick on Weekend Update thirty-eight years ago when he would be doing exactly that in the beginning of the sketch)).  We find out that Roger’s been going to a therapist, and we get to go along for the ride. He jests about the ridiculousness of therapy, but he’s trying it anyhow because he desperately wants to get back to living on a meaningful level. Two people very close to him die during the course of the episode. The first one is his mother – his “parachute” – which doesn’t initially affect him much ((It’s all business too him until Mona, his ex wife which he openly yearns for in the episode, brings her husband to the funeral.)).  The second is the man he employs to shine his shoes.  Roger, in tribute, receives the man’s shoes shine kit, which acts a catalyst for the news about his mother to hit him, and he breaks down crying heavily.  I don’t recall ever seeing Roger cry before.  He always seemed too rotten for something like that to occur.  Despite the miserable experience he’s having, some very promising news pops up.  His daughter offers him to invest in fridge trucks, as a new wave of delivering fresh food was coming.  Of course we know this something that could be greatly successful for him.  I doubt more money will bring a man like Roger more happiness though.

“The Doorway” is another in a long series of love letters from Matt to the fans of his show. He never force-feeds random bells or whistles. The show plays out naturally, organically, and most gorgeously believably. Besides our beloved agency, we now get to follow Peggy’s storyline at her new job. The Francis residence now features Sally’s changing vocal chords in the midst of puberty, the loss of Betty’s chip on her shoulder, and a talented house guest ((Sandy – who treats us to a version of Chopin’s “Nocturne in E Flat Major, Op. 9. No 2)) that’s making an impression on everybody ((Betty’s actions in the abandoned house with the starving artists might have even revealed that Betty improved her social habits, matured, and opened her mind.)) Later, it was interesting to watch the dynamic between Betty and Sally progress. When Sally slowly shut the door in Betty’s face, an even-tempered Betty simply walks away, not venting about it in some ridiculously dramatic way like we’re used to. When Sally rushed home to be with her Mom in last season’s episode “Commissions and Fees”, that signaled that a new and comfortable dynamic might be on the horizon for the two of them. To hammer Betty’s developments home a touch further, she dies her hair black at the end of the episode.

I had a feeling that Megan was going to be struggling as an actress as the season commenced. This wasn’t initially apparent in the early moments of the episode when she was signing an autograph for a fan, but we can gather that Don is disenchanted with her acting at this point. Throughout the episode Megan would frequently explain to Don what is going on with her character on the soap opera, and Don would simply be going through the motions in the conversations.  Don is detaching himself from Megan, and it is hard to believe they have a future past this season. As she rises in her field she will continue to grow away from Don. They are a mismatched pair. Don wants to own people. She was too good for the agency. She will soon decide she is too good for Don.

As the episode was winding down, I finally noticed that Linda Cardellini was playing Arnold Rosen’s wife.  Being a Freaks and Geeks alumnus, I immediately had high hopes that we would continue to see her throughout this season and that this wouldn’t just be an insignificant character, which is what they’ve done with the supremely talented Zosia Mamet.  My wish was answered in full at the end of the episode when it’s revealed that she’s having an affair with Don – a reveal which was segued into with poignancy as Arnold Rosen says to Don just beforehand: “People will do anything to alleviate their anxiety”  – then we witness him seeking some temporary happiness in another woman’s arms.

There is no doubt there are still good things to come on this show.  Weiner has us poised for another wild ride.  Nothing, and everything, has changed.

My only regrets about this episode ((Which fell to a close with Elvis Presley’s 1961 version of “Hawaiian Wedding Song” over the closing credits.)) were that even with an extra hour Campbell and Ginsberg were barely in it.  But, we have just merely begun.  We have only just walked through “The Doorway”.  So much more awaits us within…..

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