Mad Men Season 6 Premiere Review: The Jumping Off Point

Mad Men S06E01/S06E02: "The Doorway"

The darkness that permeated Mad Men's fifth season culminated with the suicide of Lane Pryce, but the cloud that parked itself over Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in 1966 and stayed there into 1967 doesn't appear to be dissipating, even though the firm itself appeared to be flourishing when we caught up with Don, Joan, Roger and the others in the days leading up to New Year's Eve 1968. SCDP expanded to a second floor in the Time Life Building, an expansion partially funded by a pair of strong fiscal quarters, but also partially enabled by the large life insurance policy that Lane left behind for the firm, which casts a bit of a morbid shadow over all of the good fortune that SCDP apparently experienced during the Summer of Love. 

The lingering sense of doom and gloom was further illustrated with our very first Season 6 shot of Don himself. Megan, whom we learned nabbed a small, but recognizable role on a soap called To Have and to Hold, was stretched out in the Hawaiian sand while Don determinedly pushed himself through a reading of The Infernonot exactly a beach read, that one. Adding to the unease, Don's watch randomly stopped while he was contemplating Hell with Dante Alighieri. Megan casually theorized that he'd somehow gotten it wet, but Don was unnerved, and that feeling was reflected later on, during his pitch to the Royal Hawaiian hotel people after he'd returned to New York. 

In news reports concerning disasters, deaths, and other unfortunate events, we often hear about watches and clocks that've stopped at the time of impact or detonation. Don's watch stopped unexpectedly on that beach in Hawaii, where he claimed to have had an experience that he couldn't define. He spent the days immediately following his and Megan's return to the city drinking and despairing, making a spectacle of himself at the funeral of Roger's mother, and dogging his doorman—who'd survived a heart attack some time earlier—about what the man saw when he "died" and specifically, whether the "light" he mentioned was anything like a warm "tropical sun." 

Needless to say, the Royal Hawaiian people weren't exactly thrilled with Don's pitch, which seemed to imply that their beaches were an amazing location... to commit suicide. But the hotel folks weren't the only client Don and his team struggled to appease. Don rejected a pair of ideas from Stan, Ginsberg, and Fake Peggy that tried to inject a little romance into a Dow oven cleaner, calling them outdated: "Anything matrimonial feels paleolithic." Don went on to rant against the word "love" in advertising as a whole (and knowing Don, life in general), claiming that society had worn out the sentiment during the heavily hyped "Summer of Love" that'd taken in San Francisco in the preceding months. The convergence of all kinds of people from all different walks of life changed the connotation of the word, at least from an advertising perspective. The old idea of love—meaning neat little newlyweds and neat little families in neat little homes—had started to feel stale, and the new idea, at least to Don, was too difficult to define, continuing the trend from last season of Don Draper, the man who always seemed to know what America was thinking, struggling to keep pace as the sixties sped up. 

The influence of the Summer of Love could be seen and felt even on the other side of the country. It represented a rejection of "the Establishment," of the culture and ideas that Don has relied on to make his name and fortune by understanding and exploiting it on a deep, intrinsic level. One of the greatest threats to Don, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, and the business at which they excel is the difficulty of marketing to population that doesn't want to be marketed to. One that, at least for a little while, rejected the whole concept of needing to own people and things. 

(Non-fat, or at least not-AS-fat) Betty also found herself questioning her place in that Establishment after developing a creepy attachment to one of Sally's friends and journeying into the city to find her after she sold her prized violin and ran away to do the hippie thing. Also, real quick, WTF with the rapey talk, Betty? WTF?!?

Betty—showing, as usual, more interest in and devotion to other peoples' children than she has for her own—went to St. Mark's Place to track down the missing Sandy. She didn't find the girl, but she DID find a band of boys living off the grid in an abandoned building and apparently spent the entire day just hanging around, helping them cook a pot of goulash and asking questions about weed that made her sound like a total narc. She was definitely out of her element, but didn't crash and burn nearly as hard as I thought she would while slumming it with those who proudly declared themselves to be society's throwaways. She was actually, I thought, uncharacteristically kind—you know, for Betty—and even though she was insulted by the leader boy's reading of her driver's license, "Eyes, blue. Hair ...bottled," her sudden decision to ditch her signature blonde 'do in favor of her apparent natural brunette locks was, in its own small way, part of what the counterculture movement was about. 

Mad Men has long been about the journey of Don Draper/Dick Whitman as he struggles to discover and accept exactly who he is, but as the series has progressed, more and more of his peers have gotten in on the self-discovery action as well. Last season, Pete and Roger struggled with feelings of unfulfillment and discontent. We didn't see a lot of Pete (or Joan) in this premiere, but Roger's neurosis appears to be going strong. We saw him meeting with a therapist and expounding on his unhappiness. Life is a series of doors, bridges, and windows and you go through them, experience the things that you experience, and you are, he'd always believed, changed by those experiences. But then he changed his mind and decided that that whole mindset was bullshit. 

Angry over Don barfing during the eulogy and ex-wife Mona bringing her new beau to his mother's funeral, Roger angrily declared the gathering over and argued, "This is MY funeral," when Mona and Margaret tried to intervene. Sure, it was his funeral in the sense that he was most likely paying for the whole affair, but it was still a strange choice of words, and telling, considering what we know about Roger's mindset at the moment. 

Roger has always come off as the "spoiled little rich boy," first of Sterling Cooper and then of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, and in recent seasons, he's come to realize just how little he's actually accomplished in his life. He uncharacteristically checked his privilege in the wake of his mother's death, pointing out that he'd always had an invisible parachute of security while growing up between his mother and his money. Yes, it was his name on the door, but it was there more because of his late father, not because of anything he actually did. He realized that most of the employees at SCDP were only friendly toward him because he was their boss. At Mona's urging to reach out to his daughter, Margaret, Roger gifted her a priceless family possession: baptismal water from the River Jordan. Margaret was clearly disappointed that it wasn't something of physical value, and after learning that grams had left her entire fortune to the zoo, eventually asked Roger to back her husband's business venture—even going as far as to remind Roger that he'd only achieved success because of his own dad. 

The final blow came with another death in Roger's life, one that seemingly should've been less of a blow to him than the death of his mother: When Roger's shoeshine guy failed to show up for a few days, he called the man's family to inquire about him. The family was so touched by the gesture that they sent Roger the dead man's shoeshine kit; the flood of emotion he'd lacked at his own mother's funeral hit Roger full-force as he accepted the humble present. Earlier in the episode, Roger had stated that his mother loved him "in some completely pointless way." She'd adored him simply because he was her son, and while that's actually a very good sentiment for parents to have toward their children, generally speaking, it didn't bring much comfort to Roger in his current sad headspace. The simple inheritance from his lowly shoeshiner was bigger and more important to him than his parents' money, because he'd earned it. It was a small symbol of Roger caring for another individual and that other person reciprocating.


The only character who appears to have entered 1968 unscathed is Peggy. Free from Don's influence, Peggy is killing it in her new position at Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough. Don's influence, however, was apparent in everything that Peggy did in this episode; her demeanor and her dialogue could have easily been lifted from an early Don Draper monologue. When a crass comedy routine on The Tonight Show highlighted some of the more unsavory actions of soldiers in Vietnam, an executive from Koss headphones drew unfavorable parallels between the joke about American soldiers severing the ears of Vietnamese soldiers and the Shakespeare-inspired "Lend me your ears" campaign that Peggy was spearheading. Peggy handled his concerns with all the grace, elegance, and finesse of a vintage Don (who, conversely, fumbled pretty hard when Royal Hawaiian criticized his "jumping-off point" pitch), and pulled a suitable substitute ad from the literal scraps of the original commercial. 

It seems like Peggy's been living the dream since her departure from SCDP, pushing her underlings just as hard as Don has ridden his creative teams over the years. She thought nothing of keeping staff late on a holiday and didn't hesitate to call them lazy to their faces when the work they brought her wasn't up to snuff. Even her personal life, which has often been in worse shape than professional life, appears to be in a good place. She's still dating Abe (who was totally rocking the Frank Zappa look when he brought Peggy a late dinner at the office), and their relationship feels refreshingly positive compared to so many of those we've seen over the course of Mad Men's run. He picked on her for being a hardass, but I got the impression that she took pride in the jest. It seems like she genuinely enjoys his presence, and despite his own feelings about commercialism and Peggy's career choice, Zappa Abe was respectful and even helpful as Peggy tried to rework the rejected Koss ad. Honestly... I thought they were kind of cute. I was also really excited to see that Peggy remained in contact with at least Stan from SCDP. I like to think that it means her relationship with the firm isn't as fractured by her departure as I feared. Yay Peggy!


What did you think of Mad Men's Season 6 premiere? Based on what we saw, where do you think this season is headed?



NOTES


– The year was never specifically mentioned, but eager-beaver brown-nosing Bob Benson (James Wolk) mentioned having tickets to see the Crimson Tide in the Cotton Bowl—the Alabama Crimson Tide played Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1968.

– Don didn't say a single word out loud for the entire opening scene. 

– Don and the Lighter: Anyone betting that when Dawn tracks down Dinkins' unit, we'll find out that he was killed? Don's eagerness to get rid of the Vietnam-bound soldier's lighter that accidentally wound up in his possession reminded me a lot of his panic when Bobby wore Gene Hofstadt's German soldier helmet from World War I. Don didn't want his son handling a "dead man's hat," and he himself doesn't want to carry around a (probable) dead man's lighter—especially after that man pointed out that they had the same one.

– Dinkins joked that he was getting married because someone told him that married men survived longer while at war because they had something to live for. Then he asked Don if he was married while he was in Korea. Don said he wasn't, but technically Don Draper was. It was Dick Whitman who wasn't married... and on paper, it was Dick Whitman who didn't survive. I don't know if that means anything outside of being an interesting little detail, but eh, it's an interesting little detail. 

– Once again, WTF, Betty and the rapey talk?

– Morbid lines: not just for adults anymore! "I like the case. It looks like a coffin." Thank you, Bobby Draper, you little weirdo you. See also: "I hate it. You're ugly!" regarding his mama's new 'do.

– LOL at Sally calling her mom "Betty" to her face. <3 her. 

– "Sure, you go to college, meet a boy, you drop out, you get married, struggle for a year in New York while he learns how to tie a tie, and then move to the country and just start the whole disaster over." —Sandy

– It wouldn't be a Mad Men season premiere without Megan Draper doing an awkward/provocative dance and making everyone uncomfortable. 

– Do you think Don and Megan are swingers? He seemed to be sneaking around to bang their doctor neighbor's wife... but idk. Megan is kind of a free spirit. Maybe she'd be into it. 

– Speaking of Don and the doctor neighbor's wife, were you surprised by their affair? I mean, we shouldn't've been, but it's at least worth noting that the episode was bookended by him reading "her Dante" and the reveal that they're sleeping together. "What do you want for this year?" "I want to stop doing this." "I know." 

– I was half expecting that heart attack scene in the opener with Megan screaming in the background to be something we'd build up to over the course of the season, Breaking Bad-style. Still, quite the morose start to the season (in a good way).

Comments (35)
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Jun 14, 2013
Roger didn't sob for the loss of his mother when he received the shoe-shine box. He sobbed for himself. The fact that no one in the world noticed the shoe-shiner's death (except Roger himself) made Roger weep for his own essential isolation and profound loneliness.
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Apr 10, 2013
because of the flirting joke and his wife's reaction to the talk about men doing it in the bathroom, i'm getting the feeling the doctor/neighbour is gay.
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Apr 10, 2013
Great to have it back and great review, with good in depth analysis that is missing in some other reviewers work on this website sometimes.

What was going on with Betty and the rape chat? Very bizarre. Although the rest of Betty's scenes were unusually interesting. Good pick-up on Bobby's comments, another child going against her somewhat absentee mother but in a different way to Sally.

Thought the revelation on Don's return to adultery was very well done, considering we left off last time (and what a time ago it is now) with the prospect of him cheating. Also as always a nice tone of Don vs Dick in the background making us question the main man at all times.

Really really pleased to have this well written show back and as good as ever, even if we didn't get any Allison Brie and I will forever miss my fellow Brit Lane.
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Apr 10, 2013
It's so great to have Mad Men back and these reviews are always excellent. I felt like Betty was in much better place this episode, she seems to be feeling better about herself which should do wonders for her character. Peggy's strange in that even though things are going well for her she can still appear irritable and dissatisfied most of the time. What's going on in the recesses of Don's mind will always be fascinating. Can't wait for next week.
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Apr 09, 2013
I agree with this review. Yeah what was up with Betty? Are they going to get into some sort of story line where Sandy reminded her of herself when she was that age and was getting into modeling and somebody did that to her? Maybe that's why she was so intrigued by this girl and said what she said. I mean, I would have NEVER thought of saying that out loud and then called it "kidding." Megan is SO awkward in everything she does. She is a spoiled brat that wants more and more while giving nothing. Am I supposed to like her? I don't and I wished she'd go away. The hairdos of that era were so so so bad. I hope the story lines improve because sitting through 2 hours of this was painful and depressing. It did get my brain going a mile a minute though..perhaps I can help the writers come up with some story lines. :0-)
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Apr 09, 2013
Who is this Sandy girl?
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Apr 14, 2013
Yeah... actually one of the reasons I wanted to read the review was to get more of an understanding of who this Sandy chick was. It was almost like we were supposed to remember her from an old storyline. I guess her mom died and they took her on as a houseguest? And how did they meet - school? But she's older than Sally so not sure I understand the relationship here.
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Apr 09, 2013
boring, boring episode
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Apr 09, 2013
I just found out that I get a cut version of the premiere.. well I'll fix that. But anyway I'm very disappointed.. it was boring and unconclusive stuff.. it seems that we don't know where we get at.. Don barely speaking. Roger still in deep water. Both obsessive over death. Betty acting caring over Sally's friend and then she's jelous and fantasize about see her husband rape her.. really creepy.
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Apr 09, 2013
It's good to see young/old school James Spader's doppelganger (Ted Chaogh) back as Peggy's boss. I figured he would be on the show more often and he has in fact been made a main cast member. Way to go, Steff! Blaine would be proud. Andie disgusted.
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Apr 11, 2013
Of course the current/real James Spader now serves as a doppelganger for Tyne Daly.
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Apr 09, 2013
No mention of the guy from accounting that was stalking Don and hanging out in weird places? What was that? He was adorable, but what was that?
And the doctor listening in on Don' rant about marriage and passion voltage, crazy! Maybe he knows because he wanted to hear Don's thoughts on it!
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Apr 09, 2013
you liked that guy from accounting? really? I found him annoying (then again I hate brown nosers). I think he was there to show how much the agencies grown and now there are ppl who are really trying to gain status there. Also if you listen to what Ken says to him was that he knew what that guy was doing and he didnt like it
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Apr 09, 2013
Yeah, he had a cute guy thing going looks wise, except his look wasn't exactly 60's, anyway, I kept waiting for something to happen with him, and I couldn't understand his deal. you make a great point, I was expecting something more to happen, maybe he'll be back! I thought this article missed a lot of stuff like that, and peggy's boss maybe liking her, and the whole deal with Don asking uber personal life questions to doc while sleeping with his wife!
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Apr 10, 2013
Yeah I agree, he wasn't bad visually but what he was doing throughout the episode was annoying.
I think Peggy prob will have something with her boss, if not her storyline might not be as interesting
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Apr 15, 2013
well since I apparently cant reply to your comment below I just say that maybe he might take over Stan's job if he gets in trouble for telling Peggy all that stuff. (cuz im not quite sure what this new guy does, if hes an accountant I guess not then, but still I like your idea)
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Apr 15, 2013
So what was his deal last night??!! He's all of a sudden the note taker?? Without explanation! He's sucking up to everyone, I bet he's gonna take everyone down when as their personal lives are crashing and they are distracted!!
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Apr 08, 2013
I thought it was an ok premier but it didn't seem like a whole lot happened in the 2 hours. Am I the only one who doesn't care for Peggy or care what she does? As for Psycho Betty, I love Psycho Betty and although Sally usually annoys me her comment about her mom being ugly was spot on hilarity. Also need more Joan, less Pete.
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Apr 09, 2013
I LOVE PEGGY! I'm sorry. I'm a woman, though, and can get with the whole "trying to break the glass ceiling." She is smart. I don't care what happens to Megan and don't care that Don is cheating on her. The son called her ugly. Psycho Betty and Psycho Sally. Both Obnoxious. Boy are we on separate pages LOL. I respect your comment though. I agree more Joan---less Pete.
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Apr 09, 2013
Yeah, I thought more would have changed in between the season finale and premiere other than hairstyles and fashion. Seriously, everyone now has sideburns and awful hair (even Megan's hair suffered).

Bitter Betty, I guess, just always needs some kind of odd outlet in order to express herself. I still just don't know what on earth she was doing in this episode and why so much time had to be spent on an aimless plot. Betty's not ever content, we get it.
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Apr 08, 2013
Very odd that Don's first word was "Army" to the army guy at the bar. Strange. Maybe he's already dead.....dun dun dunnn
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Apr 08, 2013
It was a good season premiere. I liked that we saw a lot of Peggy. I was worried after she left that they would cut back on her like Betty last season, but that was not the case. I felt like Punching Pete in every scene that he was in.
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Apr 09, 2013
Yeah, but when do u NOT feel like punching Pete in the face?
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Apr 08, 2013
the first picture tells me i need to start watching this show.
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Apr 09, 2013
If a picture of Joan, doesn't then a picture of Megan will.
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Apr 08, 2013
I don't think it was just me, but I found the 2-hour opener - filled with almost 1 hour of commercials - banal and boring. To focus so much time on Sally's friend while Joan seems to have disappeared, along with the 'rape' talk was plain weird. Definitely not feeling it, so far. Maybe too much time has lapsed between season 5 and season 6. since it is opposite Revenge and the Good Wife, Mad Men may just be the easy choice to let go...
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Apr 09, 2013
Yes! Showing so much of them being in Hawaii - Bleh. Who cares! I can't wait until they include a story line on Joan. She is a partner (ahem - hard earned) and needs screen time. Less Megan please. I honestly don't care about her career or that Don is cheating on her.
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Apr 09, 2013
Agree, it seemed like it took about an hour to finally show the office.
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Apr 08, 2013
Regarding the year of the episode, Peggy also mentioned during a phone call that the Super Bowl would be between Green Bay and either Oakland or Houston. On December 31, 1967, Green Bay beat Dallas in the NFL championship game, and Oakland beat Houston in the AFL championship game. Later that same evening, Megan regretfully mentioned during the get-together with Don and the Rosens that it's 1 a.m. and that they "missed it" (the midnight year change-over). Taken together with tail end of the Drapers' Hawaiian business vacation at the beginning of the episode, the whole episode probably took place December 29 or 30 through December 31, 1967, which is only about 8 months after the season 5 finale (during which Don and Peggy watch 1967's "Casino Royale" together in a movie theater). Other notes: (1) I suspect we'll see significantly more of Dr. Rosen and wife this season, given the casting, (2) I would like to know who the Tonight Show comedian was (anyone famous?), (3) Sally Draper's voice has changed (sounds like a teenager now), and (4) I don't mind the Betty stuff, as long as it's ultimately going to pay off (which it hasn't yet).
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Apr 09, 2013
the comedian sounded like Rodney Dangerfield to me (at one point the guy mimicking gave a little hint of the Dangerfield sound)
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Apr 08, 2013
On the subject of the Bob Benson's Cotton Bowl tickets, given the date and location of the game (Dallas, January 1, 1968), Bob's offer to Don is a bit odd. It's the day before the game, New Year's Eve, and Bob and Don are both in New York.
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Apr 08, 2013
Took 6 seasons for Betty do/say something I found memorable and that's what came out of her mouth, and on what we're going to pretend is a completely unrelated note i'm like 50 times more attracted to her
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Apr 08, 2013
I thought it was a good episode, I found it interesting how they flip flopped between scenes involving death and scenes involving "paradise" and a perfect lifestyle.
When it comes to Betty I just thinks she is totally nuts (and has been for a while now), That whole scene where shes telling him to go into the next room and rape Sally's friend while she watched was out of no where are extremely weird. Also interesting that we've seen her act most maternally to a character that has only been in this one episode.
Loved all of Peggy's scenes I hope they focus more on her in the next episode. It also took me a while to recognize Stan and Ginsberg (mainly Stan cuz he had that massive beard).
Lastly I thought that Joan would have been featured more seeing that a big chunk of the "previously on Madmen" clips involved her storyline. Oh well. Im just happy its back
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Apr 09, 2013
My thought is that maybe Betty was raped like that at Sandy's age and she's spouted that as some sort of admission/need for therapy. At that age she was headed to New York to be a model. Maybe she was intrigued by this girl because Sandy reminded her of herself and someone held her down and put a rag in her mouth. I wonder if the writers are going in that direction. If not, what a sadistic pathetic phsycotic thing to say.
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Apr 10, 2013
Never considered that. If that was true it would explain alot
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