Every Mad Men premiere puts a weird taste in my mouth. Every single one. Matthew Weiner likes to tempt us with little hints dropped about what year it is, who’s going to get some character development, etc, but it’s always bullshit. He loves to go over the audience’s head, writing insane things and calling it theme setup. Remember Season 5, Episode 1? Zoobie zoobie fucking zoo.
But the thing is, the premieres are never bad. The confusion is always dark and frustrating and ornate and delicious. I love the fact that the last couple, including Season 6, have been two hours long. The act of watching feels like dreaming after you’ve fallen asleep on your laptop after a MM binge. There are all our familiar faces and voices, but something’s off. How much time has passed? What have they been doing since the screen went black a year ago, in real time? The two hours never enough to explain everything. Or anything.
Honestly, when I first watched “The Doorway,” I didn’t like it. The changes were very jarring, and as I feared, the show is really settling into the scattered, nihilistic tone ushered in by Season 4. The passage of time has taken center stage now. Back then, it felt like a chill, a dullness around the corners. Now, everyone is old and angry and very afraid of death. It’s hard to get used to, for a loyal viewer who first fell in love with a warmly-photographed Don Draper whispering of sweet nostalgia. Now he’s getting used to the cold truth:
First, let’s deal with the good things. There is, of course, Peggy.
Darling Peggy, hard as nails, railing on her new team at Cutler, Gleason, and Chough. Her hair has continued on its upward swing towards acceptable, and she is not only sustaining a modern relationship with Groucho Marx…
…she is also work-flirting with Ted Chough because she’s just that talented. Peggy is now unquestionably the Draper of her new outfit. I love Elisabeth Moss’ flawless timing and eyes like ice chips; she has managed to make Peggy multi-faceted and troubled while retaining the straight-laced girlishness that made her such an appealing presence in the first place. She has naturally risen to the status of co-protagonist in the whole Mad Men universe.
I also might be alone in this, but I liked parts of Betty’s storyline in this episode. Most of it was kind of bleh – she tries to mother Sally’s sullen, violin-plucking best friend and ends up teaching some bums how to make goulash in the big city. It was a very convoluted side plot that was just an all-around bad idea. But I REALLY enjoyed her scenes with Henry and the family, especially the moment when she returns to him and the kids after dyeing her hair dark brown. Still a little chubs around the cheeks, she looks chipmunky and hopeful, craving only Henry’s approval (which is good, because Bobby flatly and hilarious declares “You’re ugly”). Their relationship mirrors that of Betty and Don’s circa Season 1 – but things are different and much more adorable because Henry is actually a good guy. He’s realistic but upstanding, and he doesn’t give a shit if he’s got Fat Betty.
This moment, like most of Roger’s moments, merited a GIF. Genius writing for The Silver Fox. He lost his mother in this episode, and attempts to sift through the waves of numbness with a therapist. Roger knows this is futile. No one, not even Don, has ever come close to self-diagnosing like this guy does. I felt it RIGHT HERE when, at the end of it, when he thinks he’s out of the woods and has endured a loss without losing face, he bursts into agonized sobs at the news of his shoe-shine’s death. Roger doesn’t feel familial ties, he doesn’t feel loss, he barely feels sex. But he is a creature of habit. He feels time. And when the familiar little touches start to slip away, that’s when he starts to lose it.
He could use a good redhead to brighten things up. Still pulling hard for a Joan ‘n Rog reunion.
Ah, these two. Don and Megan are as attractive and colorful as ever on the surface, but now he’s cheating on her with Linda Cardellini. Linda Cardellini! Do you EVER get tired of homewrecking, my nineties princess?
And I honestly like Megan and the role she plays in Don’s narrative, but it’s clear that Weiner doesn’t care about her beyond her function. She struts around smoking weed during their Hawaiian getaway, flashes teeth, is oblivious. She better not be in the dark for long; since we learned that she knows Dick Whitman, I am over rooting for Don to get away with keeping a secret life.
They’re currently hanging with fellow upper-echelon couple Linda and Brian Markinson, who never ceases to pop up in network shows and make me mentally fish for his name. He’s a doctor, and his power to save a human life has touched Don in some strange way. The give and take between the two men is really interesting. I think it’s probably the most profound thing about the premiere and, in time, will say the most about the direction this season is going to take.
You see, Don used to believe that what he did was important. He used to think that advertising wasn’t about superficiality at all – it was raw and real and ESSENTIAL, and said more about the human mind and society than anything. A great ad got further inside than any surgeon’s scalpel.
But now, there is doubt and anguish. Don’s ageing and starting to look back on his choices. The pain is becoming great. Maybe being an ad man was the worst thing he could have done – maybe it was natural for a shapeshifter and a liar. Rosen represents a paragon of selfless goodness and awesome power to him – all the more because he’s being cuckolded by Don. Watching Rosen snowshoe his way into the night at the end of the episode, plowing into a snowstorm to save a life while Don prepared to meet his wife in the broom closet…it must have felt awful and thrillingly evil.
This is a new Don this season, no doubt. I can see why Weiner said it was a D-centric season. I mean, they always are, but he’s coming to a precipice now. Hard to believe this isn’t going to be the last season. It has death and destruction written all over it. Which is kind of cool, because the cinematography has never been brighter, more modern, or more sumptuously beautiful. The more dazzling the lights and colors, the blacker the souls of the players. You gotta love that about this show. It reaches. It SAYS something. Its beating heart throbs, sometimes erratically, but always louder.