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Mad Men



Episode 1 - The Doorway (1 + 2)

14 April 2013

Credit AMC

Apologies that this review is so late (written one week after the episodes aired). The one advantage of my hectic schedule has been the chance to hear all the reaction to Mad Men's season six premiere before writing about it.

The thrust of the response from critics and podcasters seems to surround the issue of how on the nose this was. The theme of the episode was death and a sense of time passing. To demonstrate this we had Don meeting a soldier who points out that one day he will be the middle aged ex-soldier sitting at a bar, unable to sleep. We had Peggy doing exactly what earlier seasons Don would have done. She insisted that a client listen to her and came up with an advertising solution based on a personal experience. We had Betty seeing a young girl who had talent and promise (just as she had) and taking it upon herself to try and protect her from the bad things in life. We had Don's doorman nearly dying, Roger's mother and shoe shine guy actually dying and then finally Don's new Doctor pal telling him directly that people will do anything to avoid anxiety before we cut to Don back to his adulterous ways.

None of that was particularly subtle but there was plenty in the episode that felt more organic. The trip to Hawaii was gorgeously shot and really helped transport you to the 1960s. The accidental lighter swap with PCF Dinkins was a clever way to send Don deep into contemplation. The "Jumping Off Point" campaign which looked just like suicide but Don couldn't see it was typically clever. The way Don dresses the same but everyone else has updated their wardrobe or hairstyle made its point without shouting about it. Even the bizarre triple cut around the doorman's heart attack which felt awkward and confusing somehow seemed to work as part of Don's whole journey through whichever circle of Dante's world we were meant to imagine him in.

That's the thing about Mad Men. Sometimes it seems so on the nose that the response from fans seems to be to question whether it's really a good show or not. But I think that question implies that we all know it is a good show. It's hard to always create organic plot points and storylines. Sometimes we can all see the fingerprints of the writers. But ultimately there are very few shows on TV as rich as this. There was so much to enjoy and sink your teeth into. There was so much dialogue that didn't seem connected to the plot which was just entertaining. Minor characters received more attention than they would ever get on other shows. How do we account for Bobby getting excited by a violin case that looks like a coffin? Or Stan obliviously claiming that the suicide angle is what's so great about the Hotel ad campaign? Or Harry Crane being moody that the photographers were in his way? Those little moments make this feel like a real lived-in world. They help smooth over those moments when the show loses its subtlety.

I think in general the plot of this double episode was less important than the mood. I'm no expert on 1960s New York so I don't know what to take from the young people living in squalor that Betty meets but I doubt it will have major repercussions for her. Similarly Roger's story gave us a glimpse of the spoilt child he's always been but I'm not sure him feeling his mortality is going to lead us anywhere in particular. Meagan and Don are growing apart which is no surprise. The fact that Don tells his lover that he didn't want to be doing "this" anymore felt odd. But that revelation does put Don back on the path toward drama which is usually very good.

I don't have a lot of insight to add at this stage. I think your reaction in the comments below covers the spectrum of my thoughts. I enjoyed this, it wasn't the best the show can be, it was relatively slow but I was engaged throughout.



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  • I’m still trying to decide how I feel about this season opener. On one hand, I felt like that acting was great and a couple of the storylines, particularly Roger’s, were engaging to me. But it was such a big letdown to see that Don is sleeping with his neighbor, and presumably has been for some time given their familiarity with each other. It’s just such an easy thing to do. I realize that this show is about Don. He’s a fascinating character and he’s acted in a very believable way, however the more we see him go through life the less fascinating he is as a character and the more sad and uninteresting he is. I thought it was actually pretty sad to see him deciding to cheat on his beautiful, loving, successful wife for no apparent reason other than maybe he’s bored or he’s jealous of her success or something but really it doesn’t matter because he’s cheated on his significant other so many times over the years that there really doesn’t need to be a reason. It might be interesting if it was the first time but this is just nothing new and doesn’t really deserve any thought. He’s just a bad guy who doesn’t really care about anybody but himself, and he doesn’t really care that much about himself either.
    Is he actually that deep of a character? He sort of looks around like he’s deep in thought and maybe spits out a couple gems of thought now and then but basically he just does what’s expected of him for as long as he can and then gets really drunk or cheats on his wife or both. It was also interesting to see that his idea for the Hawaiian ad was not particularly good.
    I still love the show but it just seems like Don is so disappointing and he doesn't seem to have much of a constitution other than he does whatever he wants whenever he wants and he’s perfectly fine hurting people.
    Other than that, there were quite a few scenes that should be in your unknown section. I didn’t really understand the doorman collapsing scene. Also I noticed that Megan’s coat magically disappeared in that scene so I thought it was a dream since I can’t imagine they would make such a glaring mistake. Since it apparently wasn’t a dream, I just didn’t really get it. I don’t buy that Don is pre occupied with death because of him seeing that private heading to Vietnam. If he did, he probably should want to cozy up with his wife instead of running around with the girl a floor down.
    Also I know that they want to portray Peggy as competent and stern but I just don’t like her when she’s acting like Don. She was particularly rude to the guy re-enacting the comedy routine and a line like “There’s no second act” just doesn't work for her in my opinion.

    Viewer score: 55 / 100

    Posted by Dan, 09/04/2013 5:30pm (7 years ago)

  • The Lighter . ."In Life we often have to do things that just are not our bag."

    Season 1 E12 . .
    Dick Whitman drops a lighter (the same kind in this episode) in gasoline and kills Don Draper in Korea . .I believe you guys know the rest of the story . . :) Fire!! Ouch!!! (Inferno) . . ;)

    Jim A.

    Viewer score: 65 / 100

    Posted by Jim A, 09/04/2013 9:50am (7 years ago)

  • I honestly have no clue what to make of what I think was the most challenging episode of Mad Men to date. I admire how uncompromising this show is, how it seems to defy itself and reinvent itself with each season. And while this time was no exception, it felt especially icy and detached this time. I didn't sympathize with anyone or relate to anyone, or really even care about what was happening. I was confused about the new characters. I couldn't trace the path that brought Don to his current mental state. There just seemed to be pieces missing. It was a series of very interesting parts that didn't quite form a cohesive whole.

    I'm looking forward to your analysis here and maybe it will give me a better perspective.

    Viewer score: 45 / 100

    Posted by jeremy, 09/04/2013 6:53am (7 years ago)

  • I still love Roger. His story arc over these two episodes was the center piece for me.

    His inability to feel anything over the loss of his mother and the repeated attempts to reach inside with therapy were nice touch stones sprinkled throughout both parts. So the best scene for me was his break down over the death of the shoe shine man's tool box. Nothing could highlight better the loss of his former glory. How empty itentity is.

    Don falling back on old habits to avoid really feeling anything was good too. But John Slatterly was my favorite on this one.

    I am eager to see what comes of Peggy and Joan. My two most favorite female characters.

    Viewer score: 65 / 100

    Posted by Yogabon, 08/04/2013 11:05pm (7 years ago)

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