Welcome back! Season 6 of Mad Men started last night, much to the consternation of many people on Twitter. I guess six years of a show is about right for people to tire of it, for them to no longer see its relevancy, to start trotting out their constant objections to it not conforming to their personal standards instead of just enjoying a great show that exists on its own terms. There was a point last night where I was planning an elegant defense of the show, but I got bored and annoyed just thinking about doing that. Here's a recap instead. To Rich White Dude Problems!
I will concede one thing to the haters, this episode was slow and dark. The opening sequence, set during a winter Hawaiian vacation, was completely surreal in its editing and presentation. Don barely spoke for the first ten minutes; he's introduced reading a copy of the Inferno, classic beach reading. And in spite of fancy meals, warm weather, and hot stoned sex with Megan, Don still chases his demons away by bonding with self-destructive hopeless types in the form of a PFC he meets at the bar.
In New York, Don is haunted by thoughts and visions of death. He witnessed his neighbor and new buddy, Doctor Rosen, revive his doorman (Little Carmine!) with CPR after a near death experience. Again, this scene was cut to induce maximum shock and confusion.
The show returns us to a bustling and hip SCDP featuring jarring changes in fashion and facial hair. The story picks up when Roger is informed of his mother's death. This leads us to a raucous funeral scene where Don shows up toasted with his own glass of whiskey (BYOW). He vomits into the umbrella stand and has to be escorted out by Pete and Ken, but what really ruins the funeral is a childish tantrum by Roger.
Meantime, Betty is exploring her own lost dreams through a young girl who is staying with the Francis family. When she runs away, Betty braves the squalor of St. Mark's Place in search of her, but instead helps some transients make goulash and gets a lesson in crushed expectations. This inspires her to dye her hair brown.
Death! Depression! Inexorable change and decay! A pall of morbidity hung over Season 5, leading eventually to the suicide of Lane Pryce. In a season that begins with Roger's mother dying, where will we end up?
Some other plot lines: Peggy's a high-powered writer now, head of a department. She and Stan have an adorable, late night phone call friendship. I am so glad we're sticking with Peggy's story. She is every inch Don Draper's protege, now in command of her work and her abilities. Some new accounting guy is annoying everyone, trying to get noticed at SCDP. And of course, Don is sleeping with the wife of his new man crush. (Lindsay Weir! Awesome.)
The episode was called "The Doorway," which coincides with a long, ironic speech that Roger gives to his shrink. I don't remember it verbatim but it was something like, "You spend life going through all these doors and over bridges and then you realize life is just going through doors and leaving things behind and then you die." Over the course of the episode we see this idea put into practice. The characters are moving into new phases of their lives. Peggy might learn to soften up. Joan is clad in royal purple. Megan is becoming a minor TV star. Betty is a brunette. Roger is alone. Everyone has weird long hair, sideburns, creepy mustaches, beards, plaid...
Don, who hated his life and built a new one which he still hates, accidentally switches lighters with a soldier on leave in Hawaii for his marriage. They don't show you if the lighter he loses says Dick Whitman on it or not, but the implication is that his old life, his true self, is gone. There were many moments in the episode that echoed back through the show's past. Betty talks about her youth in New York, Don reluctantly presents a slide show of their vacation, the lighter he lost might be the very one that caused the accident which made him Don Draper. The PFC's lighter even has a very heavy-handed inscription on it about living a life that might not be the one you want.
—The pitch Don offered for the hotel in Hawaii so heavily implied suicide, it was hilarious how everyone saw it but Don. Stan's line, "That's what so great about it!" = line of the episode.
—Betty searching for that girl was the most I've liked Betty in a very long time. This of course following her weirdest and creepiest scene EVER, introducing some rape and torture fantasy into the bedroom. To quote Henry, "What the hell, Betty?"
—Another great line belonged to a haughty Sally Draper. "She acts like she's 25 just because she uses tampons."
—I like the introduction of the Doctor Rosen character and the potential conflicts there. Don admires him, he admires Don, Don is sleeping with his wife. It's an interesting variation on the dynamic he had with the Barretts in Season 2.
—The show is finally where we knew it would one day get, at the end of the 60's, with people openly smoking weed at the office, wearing beards and turtlenecks (Roger was wearing mod boots), Don and Betty more anachronistic than ever before.