Mad Men Review: “The Doorway” (Season 6, Episodes 1 & 2)

Aloha from 1968! Break out the brylcream, fill up your lighters, and top off those tumblers: Mad Men is back baby! It’s been so long since we last trod the linoleum of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, you probably can’t even remember the kind of trouble we got into last season while hanging out with this crazy bunch. Remember when the guys made the company equal opportunity just to spite those coupon-peddlers over at Y&R? Or how ‘bout when Lane and Pete threw down in an old-fashioned office donnybrook? Sure the details of Roger’s pithy zingers, and Don’s flashes of brilliance might have drifted off into the smoky ether, but like any good night on the town, who needs to remember the details?

Yup, its gonna be another barnburner year of office shenanigans with the old gang, and what better way to start off the season than a two hour premiere exploring how you and everyone you know is going to die. … These are the sorts of situations where I wish I had John Slattery on call, so he could lighten the mood with a sarcastic rejoinder, but even Roger seems worried that his next big purchase is going to be a farm. Just shy of three people catch the late train out of existence this week, and while you don’t have to fret that your favorite character has been hurriedly thrown down a stairwell, the fallout from those dearly departed has plenty of the folks from SCDP feeling a grave chill.

Of course, this is hardly new territory for the show. For as much fun as it can often be, Mad Men has always been one of the most death-obsessed shows on television. And while death is the essential origination point for all forms of drama, Mad Men chooses to ruminate deeply on slow, undramatic deaths, the kind most of its viewership imagines for themselves, and therefore, probably dreads. I mean, it ain’t pretty, but at least the guys on Breaking Bad get to go out in a blaze of gunfire and gasoline. No, what we, and most everyone else at SCDP have to face, is that our lives share too much in common with Don, or PI Dinkins’ army lighter: they get sparked, they burn bright, but eventually the fuel runs dry, and then it’s lights out. All that’s left to mark your presence on this earth is a little rectangle with your name engraved on it.

Superfuntelevisionamirightguys?! And here I was thinking that The Walking Dead being on break would mean we could make it through a Sunday night without an existential crisis (The Walking Dead often makes viewers ask “why?”… as in, “why isn’t this show better?”). That’s a bit overdramatic, but I challenge you to watch the latest premiere, “The Doorway,” without catching a whiff of acrid fear in the air. As Mad Men begins its penultimate season, everyone seems acutely aware that the salad days are long gone. Winter, to borrow a phrase from HBO, is coming, and the characters can tell. The double-episode sees many struggling to deal with the feeling of being caught between different times, and different climes, all of which amounts to little more than deckchair arranging on the Titanic when only one decision matters: a cold grave, or a fiery cremation.

Take, for example, the chronology twisting opener, a POV shot from a man receiving CPR, while a woman who sounds an awful lot like Meghan cries out in shock. That’s a hell of an introduction, and when we cut to Don and Meghan soaking up the sun in Hawaii, you start to wonder if Matt Weiner has taken a cue from Breaking Bad, and teased a morbid seasonal climax upfront. As we find out from some unusual editing, the guy gone belly-up isn’t Don, but SCDP’s doorman Jonesy, who’s saved by Dr. Rosen, a surgeon that works in the building. Crisis averted, right?

If only things were that simple. Don, who seems halfway checked out from his marriage to Meghan, (AKA Corrine: the dastardly maid on the daytime soap, To Have and to Hold), is struck by the heroic, death-defying Doc. Seems that copy of Inferno didn’t make for such carefree beachside reading after all, as Don finds himself assaulted at every turn by reminders of time passing him by. The ground is shifting all around him -or at least, his office floor plan is- and while SCDP is cutting the ribbon on the new staircase that’s leading the company onward and upward, Don is in the same place he’s always been. Among the sillier joys of any new Mad Men season is seeing the tonsorial changes to the cast (Stan’s beard makes Pete’s sideburns look appropriately pathetic and Pete-ly), but guys like Don and Roger keep the same ‘dos for a reason: they don’t change with the styles of the time, because they are the style of the time.

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