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Monday, April 8, 2013

Mad Men: "The Doorway"

I find myself without much to say about last night's Season 6 premiere, which of course makes writing a full review of it rather difficult. If it is possible for something to be both heavy-handed and cryptic simultaneously, "The Doorway" is that. For two hours and change we were pummeled with images of death, of heaven and hell, hot and cold, and always doors, doors, doors. And yet it is still possible to feel that so much of the episode was indecipherable. Clearly seasons of Mad Men are best judged retrospectively, and I have no doubt that this new season will include many wonderful surprises and great character moments. It's not like the entire staff could forget how to make good tv.

The thing that gives me the most pause though is that decidedly unsubtle hair. The creatives, who used to all wear suits and ties like Don, are just a paycheck removed from those Greenwich Village bohemian hobos. Harry Crane looks even more ridiculous than usual, and even Pete and Roger are sporting sideburns. The "Sixties", at least the time of our imagining, have finally arrived at SCDP.

Also tremendously unsubtle? James Wolk's new character Bob Benson, the least apologetic brown-noser in history. This guy is a more caffeinated Pete Campbell, ironic since its Benson who supplies both Pete and Don with the good coffee from next door. It wasn't the smoothest character introduction, but Benson's motivations might make for an interesting new dynamic, especially if it continues to ruffle the feathers of Ken. Cosgrove. Accounts.

Also new to the repertoire are Dr. Rosen and his wife Sylvia. The doctor's face is actually the first we see in the episode, saving the life of his and the Draper's doorman Jonesy, whose near-death experience is lingering uncomfortably in Don's memory. Don and the doctor seem quite close, with Rosen stopping by to pick up a Leica camera from the SCDP offices. (If there is supposed to be some awkwardness around giving a Jewish doctor a German camera, it is not apparent on screen.)

The big "surprise" in "The Doorway" is not that Don is unfaithful to Megan, it's who he's sleeping with: Sylvia Rosen, played by a hard-to-recognize Linda Cardellini. Sleeping with a friend's wife, in the same building you live in, seems too brazen, even for Don, so part of me wonders if this isn't some kind of arrangement between all parties. (I doubt Megan and Dr. Rosen are sleeping together, but she might be letting Don sow his wild oats for other reasons.)

And this is where I realize I haven't mentioned Peggy at all, or Roger's therapy and his mom dying, or Don causing a scene at the memorial, or the pitch to Sheraton, or the lighter, or Sally, or her wayward friend. There's just way too much going on in "The Doorway", and I'm not sure it all hangs together or belongs in the same episode, even a double like this one. Let's wrap this up with some quick thoughts:

-Sally's wayard friend seems largely intended to show us how much worse things could really be for Sally. Stuff seems so rough in this fictional world because she's the youngest person who can understand some of what's happening, but really, she's not even that rebellious. Shutting the door on her mother, and calling her "Betty" are nothing compared to forsaking the violin for an unpromising life as a drifter. I don't like that girl's odds of reaching California

-Are we meant to be cheering Peggy on, or fearing thats she's too much like Don? Maybe a little of both, but it was great to see her succeed at salvaging a possible disaster, while Don was potentially turning a sure thing campaign into a disaster by sticking to his guns on his Freudian-ly suicidal Sheraton pitch.

-Twice in this episode Don is photographed without his consent. By Megan at the wedding on the beach, and by the promotional photographer in a moment of confusion after noticing that he has the wrong lighter.

-Roger Sterling's therapy monologue about how life is a straight line masquerading as a series of doorways is one of the more insightful expressions of depression I've ever heard. Slattery did a great job of playing the character in that office, and I hope we see more of him in therapy.

-All Bobby Draper got to do was moon over his sister's friend and tell his mother he hated her hair, but it was still probably the most he's done in several seasons.

-I'd really like to know what comedian it was that did the ear bit. I'm assuming it's a real life thing because they were so specific about Phyllis Diller being the guest host on The Tonight Show. In any case, it was fun to see Peggy's subordinate try and fail to recreate the routine in the office.

-You never know which bits are going to come back and which won't, but I'd be interested to see more of Roger's daughter and her ambitious husband. That was a great moment when she left without the jar of water from the Jordan River.

-Betty's "let's rape the 15-year-old in the next room" routine was the oddest, most disturbing thing I've heard on TV in a while. And yet Henry Francis continues to treat her spectacularly well, complimenting her new hair color and insisting she's still beautiful. He even puts up with that horrendous nightgown. I guess any woman would look good compared with that harridan of a mother he's got. Still I'm wondering if there's a dark secret he's hiding.

-Hopefully the body count doesn't keep going at this rate, otherwise there will be no one left by the end of the season. Boardwalk Empire this isn't.

I have a feeling this will wind up as one of the weaker episodes of Season 6, which considering how entertaining it was despite some obvious flaws mean we are in for some real excitement. Stay tuned.

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