'Mad Men' Season 6 premiere recap, 'The Doorway'

  • No more Hawaiian shirts, Don.
No more Hawaiian shirts, Don. (Michael Yarish/AMC )
April 07, 2013|By Jordan Bartel, assistant editor, b

Did Don Draper cheat on Megan? You get an answer, but it is far from the point of the episode.

"The Doorway," the good-but-not-great, often poetic (but also often very slow moving) Season 6 premiere is not an exuberant return. The action is often very detailed, very muted, very dark. But after a not-the-best Season 5, it was wonderful to see "Mad Men" become a bit more nuanced with its characters and the themes it has often explored: the various types of masks people wear, if people are stuck in their lives or can change.

Co-creator/series mastermind Matthew Weiner wrote this two-hour premiere, which tried to balance four plot lines while still maintaining a cohesive feel. The major themes here are death and mortality -- fun stuff! Notably, the stuck-in-muck lives of Don, Roger and Betty.

The title, you ask? Let's leave it to Roger -- who is uncharacteristically in therapy and very introspective -- to explain. He says life is just one door after another.

"That's all there are and they all open the same way," he says. "And they all close behind you."

Yikes. As witnessed in the statement above, some  most of Weiner's metaphors and themes are handled in a heavy-handed way. At one point someone tells Don: "I want you to be yourself." He's a photographer, but still.

Again, it's all a bit  heavy-handed: In a previous interview Weiner said this season is all about how "people will do anything to avoid anxiety," and in the premiere a character actually utters those words.

So yeah, the themes are bleak -- but the dark humor we all love about "Mad Men" is there in full force.

Drunk Don even vomits during a memorial service. Really. Oh, and Betty makes joke about her husband flirting with a friend of Sally's and again, jokingly (thank god), mentions that he could rape the girl as a way to spice of their marriage/life.

Again, dark. But this was riveting stuff. Let's go over how Weiner set up his major characters for Season 6.

Don Draper: It's Christmastime, 1967 (Peggy at one point mentions the teams for Super Bowl II, which is basically the only way to tell), and Don and Megan are in Hawaii. He's checking out a new client, the Royal Hawaiian hotel (hey, it's better than the Howard Johnson trip).

But he looks bored to death. He's even reading about death -- Dante's "Inferno." Yes, Don Draper has officially become the only person ever to read "Inferno" on a Hawaiian beach.

A lot of the Hawaii scenes include a lost-in-thought Don staring into space and not smiling at all, while Megan smuggles joints into their room, laughs at everything and goes up on the stage during a luau and probably holds back from singing in French.

You also learn that Megan now stars (as a maid) in a soap opera called "To Have and to Hold," which sounds pretty awful. Don's manly pride/control issues seem to have passive-aggressive problems with Megan's new acting career.

Don's so restless that he wakes up in the middle of the night and goes down to the lonely hotel bar where his only company is a dude passed out.

A drunken GI, PFC Dinkins, on leave from Vietnam, shows up and explains that the passed out dude is his best man (he even asks Don to be the guy's replacement at wedding the next morning and Don does a non-Don Drapery thing and agrees to give away the bride). Dinkins eventually tells Don that one day he'll be the sleepless guy sitting alone at a bar -- ouch. Maybe Don should steer away from the midlife crisis Hawaiian shirt-wearing.

Back in NYC there's more death imagery (Don flashes back to seeing his building doorman having a heart attack), before tan-but-unhappy Don goes back to work to take inane company partner photos.

Side note: For some reason, in the press kit, Weiner told TV reviewers not to say whether the company expanded to another floor. We saw them  expand in the Season 5 finale, so it really is no surprise/not a big deal to say, yes, SCDP is now multiple floors.

Also, is it called SCDP, now that P is gone? It's never explained.

The photo shoot scene with Don is exquisite. While he's struggling to pose for the shot, Don looks at a lighter in his pocket. It was PFC Dinkins and it's inscribed with: "In life we have to do things that are just not our bag." Most depressing/honest lighter inscription ever?

Don's bag has never been being himself, but also not staying faithful. When he returns from vacation, his writing staff (including a new female writer, who looks like some sort of frumpy combo of Peggy and Jan) are working on a campaign for an oven cleaner.

The company wants them to use the word "love" and their first ad mock-ups include a imagery of an affectionate married couple in their kitchen.

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