I was on vacation last week, so its time to set a few things in order.
First of all, the best show currently on television (and the second best TV show of all-time), Mad Men, is back. Let’s all take another moment to breathe deeply, acknowledge this fact and give thanks to the god of Life of Pi (sorry, watched it on the airplane).
Second, I will not be writing episode reviews for The Montreal Review during this season of Mad Men. There are a variety of reasons for this happening, but regardless, I will not be doing those recaps. However, a new short story of mine will appear in The Montreal Review next month.
Third, I will be doing Mad Men recaps on this blog.
Fourth, since I missed last week’s episode, “The Doorway,” I’m going to just provide a few bullet point observations and thoughts in this post and then publish a recap of Episode 2 later on today. In case you don’t religiously read TV recaps each week like I do, you can read the excellent work by great writers such as Matt Zoller Seitz, Alan Sepinwall, Todd VanDerWerff, and Molly Lambert. I’m going to avoid repeating the points touched on in their columns wherever possible.
- As a fan of Sergio Leone films like Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America, I loved the fact that Don did not speak in “The Doorway” until about the eight-minute mark. Granted, Don's silence is slightly less epic than the openings to both of those Leone films, but it was still effective as an attention grabber and mood setter for both the episode and for perhaps the season as a whole. Those first eight minutes featured a lot of Don watching Megan—taking in her shape, her beauty, her ebullience—and the fact that others are now watching Megan as well, as evidenced by his wife’s impromptu autograph session.
- “The Doorway” continued the streak of excellence that occurs whenever Don speaks to a stranger or has a prolonged interaction with a new acquaintance or acquaintances. This streak stretches back to Midge’s bohemian friends and the hobo in “The Hobo Code” and was further exemplified with Joy from “The Jet Set,” the hitchhikers in “Seven Twenty-Three” as well as Mrs. Farrell’s brother in “The Color Blue.”
- As in past examples, this interaction left Don with something to think about, as the soldier says to Don, “One day I’ll be the man in paradise who can’t sleep and talks to strangers.” Add in the fact that this soldier very much resembles what a young Roger Sterling (or John Slattery) might look like, as well as the fact that Don is reading The Inferno and that Paradise is the final book in Dante’s Divine Comedy, there is a lot to interpret from that kind of loaded statement—that is, if you are into that kind of thing.
- The time cuts didn’t completely work for me. I understand using the jarring image of a doctor resuscitating someone as a way to open an episode, but I thought the slow, silent use of Don drifting through the resort for eight minutes was just as effective—and I enjoy jumps in time as much as the next modernism loving reader and writer. This just didn’t feel right. When Mad Men is at its most experimental, it feels natural and it achieves the effect of leaving a viewer without the ability to even scratch their head and say, “Wait, what did that mean?” In this case, I just didn’t see why it was needed.
- I enjoyed the scene of Betty getting pulled over and laughing at the droll delivery of Sally’s friend Sandy saying, “My mom’s dead,” thus making Grandma Pauline Francis’ rant about the fact that things “couldn’t possibly get darker than this” seem as absurd as it actually was. Betty’s scene alone with Sandy was also well done. Though that motherly instinct that Betty showed throughout the episode when backed with her very odd, “rape fantasy” remarks to Henry Francis just made her even more confusing as a character. Hopefully that confusion turns back to “complicated” and makes Betty an interesting character again, which she was through most of the first two seasons.
- Peggy’s entire storyline was solid and may have featured some of the funniest Mad Men lines ever. A quick rundown: “I hate vegetarian food, it reminds me of Lent.”; “Burt it’s late and you sound…under the weather.”; “Fuck the Tonight Show.”; “Now, Peggy, I think the Army is at fault here.”; the entire scene where the guy with the thick Brooklyn accent re-tells the jokes from Carson; Ted Chaough’s reaction to the guy in the headphone ad: “This guy. What a pain in the ass.”; and the fact that the guy in the headphone ad looked exactly like Andy Milonakis.
- As many have mentioned, having Roger in therapy is an amazing addition to the show’s level of humor. I mean, this is where Weiner and the writers decided to introduce Roger in his first session of the episode: “…probably part of a deeper question—none of them are really blonde anyway.” There were more flashy lines for sure, but I found that decision by the writing team to be truly genius.
- And then there is Roger’s speech about doorways. You can unpack it thematically as much as you want, but when read as text, it is actually an extremely well written and speech:
"What are the events in life? Like, you see a door. The first time you come to it, you say, ‘Oh, what’s on the other side of the door?’ Then you open a few doors and then you say, ‘I think I want to go over a bridge this time. I’m tired of doors.’ Finally you go through one of these things, and you come out the other side, and you realize that’s all there are: doors! And windows and bridges and gates. And they all open the same way. And they all close behind you. Look, life is supposed to be a path, and you go along, and these things happen to you, and they’re supposed to change your direction, but it turns out that’s not true. Turns out the experiences are nothing. They’re just pennies you pick up off the floor, stick in your pocket, and you’re just going in a straight line to you-know-where.”
- The photographer’s declaration of, “I just want you to be yourself,” to Don is more interesting at the beginning of this sixth season than perhaps at any time in the series’ history. All of the Don Draper/Dick Whitman stuff is gone. Don had to confess to Betty and thus he opened up and was able to tell Megan right off the bat. Anna Draper died, Peggy was allowed to see Don at his weakest and that effective split was done away with. Now, Don’s conflict, like the rest of us, is simply about how we are "ourself"—how we find satisfaction and the fringes of “happiness.” The show has always been about that, but now that fact is even more evident.
- What record do you think Abe is listening to when Peggy gets the idea for the new headphone ad? Zappa would be too easy. It’s late 1967, so—based on Abe’s head sways— I feel like it’s either Anthem of the Sun by the Grateful Dead, Axis: Bold as Love by Jimi Hendrix or Disraeli Gears by Cream. He and Peggy already played out Sgt. Pepper’s during the summer. Some sleeper picks: Moby Grape, Something Else by the Kinks, and Buffalo Springfield Again.
- Don’s failed pitch to the hotel reps was a strong scene overall. However, Roger’s traditional post-pitch “moral of the story”/one-liner was the most interesting part of all. “You know, we sold actual death for twenty-five years with Lucky Strike. You know how we did it? We ignored it.” How much will these characters ignore death? How much do we ignore death? What happens when you embrace it? What happens when you understand dwelling?
- Aren’t you glad we have Facebook now so that you can have your own private slideshow viewings of other people’s vacations and memories instead of having to watch them in your neighbor’s apartment?
- This probably flew under the radar for everyone except me, but there was an Audi commercial during the last twenty minutes of the episode that featured the best Mad Men woman of all-time. Yes, that’s right, it was Mrs. Farrell!
I’ll be back later on today with a recap of the second episode of Season Six. It really is great to have Mad Men back in the Sunday routine.