Sean Beaudoin recaps the season premiere of Mad Men… The good, the bad and the ridiculous.
First hour of “The Doorway”:
Fade from black. Or at least clips from last season: a doctor performs CPR on the camera. We are seeing a near-death experience from the patient’s POV. Vegas immediately lays 6-1 odds Roger Sterling has gone all-in on his third heart attack.
Cut to Don on the beach, halfway through a paperback copy of The Inferno. Was it he who died? Is this heaven or just another coil of hell? Either way, there’s some screwing, and then it’s luau time. Some suit advises “stop whining about the poi and just eat the suckling pig.” In almost any context, excellent advice.
Megan reprises “Zou Bisou Bisou” Hawaiian-style, but doesn’t really have the hips for it. The cheesy emcee shows her the moves, laying down a little back door frottage. “This is my job, fellas,” he gloats. Don could get angry, but he lights a cigarette instead, knowing that he too takes the world from the rear as a matter of philosophy, profession, and Divine Comedy. Don is adrift. At the beach. More water imagery is coming.
Tedious Plot Twist Alluded To That Doesn’t Actually Happen: Megan is approached for an autograph by a fan of the soap opera she’s on. We’re expecting Don to get jealous about being upstaged, Mr. Megan Calvet, which was already boring in a different package last season. But no, he’s cool about it.
Obligatory Sledge-to-Forehead Symbolic Moment: Megan gets asked for an autograph by a fan of the new soap opera she’s on, called “To Have and To Hold.” Could it be an allusion to the Bogart/Bacall dynamic in To Have and Have Not? Is Roger Sterling a modern Walter Brennan? The fan calls Megan “Corrine,” which is actually the name of the character she plays. Get it? Just like Don is Don Draper, but he’s also Dick Whitman? She’s Megan Calvet, but she’s also Corrine the Evil Maid. This is known in the word of cable dramady as “subtext.”
Later, Don can’t sleep. He gets up and meets a hammered soldier in the hotel bar. We’re figuring this isn’t going to end well, but Don eventually warms to Pfc. Dinkins, who not only is on leave from Vietnam, he’s going back soon. But first he’s getting married to “a Mexican.” Pfc. Dinkins drops the Heavy Import Line of the first hour by telling Don “one day I’m gonna be a veteran in paradise. One day I’ll be the man who can’t sleep and talks to strangers.” Not likely. Don gives the wife away at a wedding on the beach. With fantastic timing, Megan is there to snap a pic with her Leica. Cameras as a meme, theme, and punctuated symbolist language will appear throughout the rest of the episode. Does a photograph steal our soul, like some Native American tribes once believed? Can a picture represent who we really are? What if we, like Don, don’t have a soul to steal in the first place?
There is an excellent chance that five episodes from now Don will somehow hear that Pfc. Dinkins was killed in Hue, and then he’ll get really drunk and treat Sally badly.
Speaking of which, you really couldn’t cram more naked Megan into the first twelve minutes of “The Doorway” if it were required by a series of obscure FCC bylaws. Fans of sausage across the country loudly bemoan the lack of full-frontal-Draper.
Already This Season’s Totally Superfluous Character: Henry Francis. We’re back at stately Wayne Mansion and it’s obvious Henry is going to do nothing but lie in bed and give bad advice, or lean against a counter in a ludicrous sweater and say things like “ask your mother.” Meanwhile, Betty has dropped half the fat suit and Sally has blossomed into young Jennifer Aniston. Or maybe Edie Sedgewick. Sally’s friend Sandy is a handful. Sandy gets up to play violin in the living room, which for some reason sounds as if it’s being run through a pre-amp and thousand dollar speakers.
That night, after Henry mentions the girl in passing, Betty baits him with a sexual fantasy that involves (devolves into?) full-on rape talk, although later on she’ll get angry at Sally for using the word “tampon.” When Henry protests, Betty smiles evilly. “You said you wanted to spice things up.” He almost swallows his pajama collar. She went pure cayenne, while he was thinking a touch of sea salt.
Later, Betty (just like Don) wakes up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep. So, she goes downstairs and (instead of drinking like Don) gorges on peanut butter. Witness the awesome vintage Ritz cracker product placement. Then, (just like Don) she gives advice to a young person, in this case the proto-hippie Sandy. Sadly, she does not preside over a wedding, but instead manages to drive the girl away by simultaneously being too aggressively obtuse about what’s going down in The Village, as well as obviously giving advice primarily aimed at keeping Sandy’s bad influence as far away from Sally as possible.
Best Line So Far:
Sandy: (concerning the hippies she saw sharing a squat): “People are naturally democratic if you give them a chance.”
Betty: “Are you on dope?”
Cut to Peggy, now living in sin with Edmund Fitzgerald-era Gordon Lightfoot.
While Gordon is having gastric distress over the punishment of a vegetarian dinner, Peggy gets a call from her boss intimating that there is trouble with the Julius Caesar line they have grafted upon a Koss headphones campaign which is supposed to run during the Super Bowl. “Lend me your ears” has been torpedoed by a comic on the Tonight Show making jokes about soldiers wearing ear necklaces. It’s all very reminiscent of the Raymond Carver story Vitamins. Turns out Carson had a guest host that night, Phyllis Diller. Also, not a coincidence. Peggy is Phyllis to Don’s Johnny.
Cut to Roger on the literal and metaphorical couch, facing away from his psychiatrist. For some reason he has adopted Klaus Nomi’s haircut, except pure white and leaning far right. There’s a bust on the windowsill that must mean something. Is it Heraclitus? Seneca? Che Guevara? We get a healthy dose of Roger’s philosophy on doors opening and closing, and not just the ones of perception.
We find out it was Jonesy the doorman who died, or nearly so. Don’s neighbor, Dr. Arnold Rosen, saves him. Don, for once, is impressed. So he gives Dr. Rosen a brand new Leica.
Reefer is the new highball. Sure, it’s 1968, but could low level art dept. employees really get away with smoking joints at work? Meanwhile, Stan now looks like a less reliable Dennis Wilson.
“Wow, are you tan” people keep telling Don. He does look disconcertingly like John Boehner, if 12% less inclined to burst into tears over last minute addendums to highway appropriations bills. Or wait, is the tan supposed to be a figurative second skin? Either way, it’ll fade. Or shed.
The camera as semiotic fetish comes into play again as all the principals of the firm have publicity shots taken. Joan climbs the stairs to pose like Vivien Leigh against the balustrade of Tara, except she’s swathed in sixty square yards of purple dress and looks like Grimace with a pair of F-cups. “Put your hand this way, Gorgeous,” suggests the photographer, in one line encompassing the entirely of the woman’s liberation movement. Especially as we cut to Peggy at her new firm, relishing an opportunity to boss her team around just like Don would.
Roger calls Don “Don Ho” and then asks if Ernest Borgnine chased him down an alleyway with a switchblade, referencing From Here to Eternity. Interestingly, “Eternity” contains many of Mad Men’s themes, including a court martial, infidelity, the loss of Donna Reed, Pearl Harbor, assumed names, heavy drinking, and things floating in the water in search of meaning. Pete Campbell, lurking nearby and without much else to do in the episode, manages to increase his Reptilian Quotient by a factor of ten.
Cut to Don’s new office. He’s annoyed that it has been re-arranged. There’s a long Kubrick-style shot of the back of Don’s head, then a jump cut close up of the back of Don’s head, then another long shot of the back of Don’s head.
Obligatory Sledge-to-Forehead Symbolic Moment: When it’s Don’s turn to be shot, he has an epiphany staring at Pfc. Dinkins’ Zippo, feeling no doubt very Dick Whitman-esque, and then asks the photographer what he should do. “Just be yourself,” the photographer answers.
In the elevator, Don and Dr. Arnold Rosen flirt for a while. They decided to do New Year’s Eve together. Don talks to the art team, and we get a heavy dose of the pushy, less attractive woman who is an obvious stand in for Peggy. Don barely acknowledges her.
Roger’s office is ludicrously sleek, white, and heartless, complete with the requisite Saarinen tables and colorless liquor. Roger, like vodka, is a neutral spirit. When told his mother has just died, his reaction is pre-embalmed.
Roger’s mother’s wake is sparsely attended. Mimsy is dead. A woman in a wheelchair insists on talking about how much Mimsy loved Roger, that she was devoted to him. Don has a sudden attack of Mimsy envy. The theme of family running throughout the episode is tied together as Don realizes he has no family. An existential nausea sweeps through him, and although he seemed perfectly sober when first arriving, he leans over in the middle of the room and pukes. Hard to believe a veteran drinker like Don wouldn’t have scarfed a bagel and switched to Chardonnay for a while. Nothing ruins a good wake like a Doric column covered with vomit.
Roger loses it and calls off the wake, but no one leaves. Like a child, he goes up to his room and lies on the bed under some fur coats. His first wife shows up to comfort him. Predictably, he tries to fuck her, but she easily and Oedipally laughs him off.
Least Believable Scene in This Episode: Betty heads downtown to try to rescue Sandy from the horrors of squat goulash, and spends all day in her Burberry jacket hanging out with hippie utopians who use “grok” as a verb. Betty is a Stranger in a Strange Land, but she isn’t buying a gram of Heinlein. An Eddie Vedder-looking dude menaces her a bit, but she bluffs her way out with Sandy’s violin, only to leave it on the ground floor. Hey, just like Don did with the lighter! Moral: you can’t rescue anyone, even yourself. Also, utopian communities have been doomed since Sir Thomas More, if only because the leader is invariably an insufferable jargon-spouting prat.
Peggy is in her office typing with a Van Gogh print on wall behind her. She’s trying to rescue the “lend me your ears” campaign. Wait, wasn’t there something about Van Gogh and an ear?
Bob Benson the brown-noser is destined for a larger role, even though he gets bitch-slapped by Ken Cosgrove for sending a nosh to the wake with his card on it.
Finally, Don tries to sell his clients the new Hawaii campaign, and for the first time we see him shot down in flames. Hard. Because, as he slowly realizes, his campaign is not about shedding your clothes and “experiencing” Hawaii at all, it’s about swimming out into the water and committing suicide.
Betty goes Veronica, coming home after her failed attempt to save Sandy, newly recast as a brunette. Spice things up? The kids are appalled, but Henry Francis seems to dig it.
One Last Obligatory Sledge-to-Forehead Symbolic Moment: Roger breaks down in tears over the death of a shoeshine boy, mourning his mother through the medium of a can of leather wax and a buffing brush.
There’s a hilarious scene with Fondue and vacation slides at Don’s apartment that references illicit Sen. Larry Craig-style bathroom man sex. Don and Dr. Arnold Rosen give one another knowing looks. Is it because he’s doing the doctor’s wife?
Somehow they shoehorn in another Allen Ginsberg joke.
Upshot of The Entire Episode: Beware Peggy, for she is on the rise. Et tu, Brute?