Episode 1 - The Doorway (1 + 2)
14 April 2013
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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