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

We’ve skipped over the entire Summer of Love during the break, but its aftershocks are still being felt, and getting worse. Don is complacently accepting of pot smoking in the creative common space, and Peggy has to watch her whole campaign for the Superbowl go out the window when a comic on Carson starts taking the piss out of American GI’s collecting Vietcong ears. Peggy probably doesn’t see much artistry in a spot that features a toga-wearing proto-Belushi jamming to his new headgear (“My job is to introduce your headphones to a huge, drunk, male audience”), but she’s still agile enough to change with the cultural winds.

Don, on the other hand, might be too set in his ways to adapt, professionally, or personally. Love, the thing Don so famously claimed was a marketing tactic, isn’t getting his creative juices flowing anymore. During his pitch with the resort guys who sent him and Meghan to Hawaii, Don looks like he’s busting out another speech for the SCDP record books, but when he gets shot down, he starts spinning and improv-ing to no effect. The noose-like necktie he stares at in the copy image for the campaign is a big red flag letting him know that once your days wearing a business suit are over, the next time you’ll dress that good is at your funeral. At home, and at work, Don’s slipping. He’s not selling the carousel anymore: he’s bought one, and will soon be using it to revisit fondly remembered, and long-distant memories.

The recurrent themes of obsolescence, and replacement (replacement products, replacement desires, replacement marriages), are becoming more dominant as we march towards the show’s endgame, and the younger generation is becoming less distinguishable from the old. Peggy is flourishing at CGC, as she practically channels Don’s spirit when getting a client to back off, or kicking her subordinates into line with an excoriating dressing down that’s half composed of things Don has said to her, and half things she always feared Don would say to her. When she sees Abe bopping along while wearing the client’s headphones, there’s that same look of heaven-struck inspiration that we’ve seen a dozen times before on Don’s face, and you can’t help but feel proud for Mrs. Olsen.

Don might take comfort in knowing his replacement is his mentee, but others would be less thrilled knowing there’s a younger version of themselves waiting in the wings. A new hire on the top floor, Bob, wields the same plastic smile and ingratiating business tactics that you’d expect of a young Pete Campbell, and Meghan, though she doesn’t know it, has much more in common with Betty now than she used to. Roger, in his desperation to stay relevant, doesn’t have an obvious replacement; he’s clawing tooth and nail to get as much mileage out of his Madison Avenue glory days as he can, but the tank is running on empty. His mother passing away was a given, but there was always a part of him that thought Roger Sterling, slinger of zingers, and king of accounts, would never truly die. As he breaks down at the sight of the deceased shoeshine boy’s gear, Roger seems plenty aware that the prediction he gave his shrink is coming true: he’s losing everything that he thinks defines Roger Sterling.

Roger and Don wishing they could stop time is about as useless as everyone bitching about the cold. You either accept things the way they are, or make a drastic change, and try moving to warmer weather, even if that might mean fighting your way through a snowstorm first. Roger, if he’s smart, will take Mona’s advice, and find fulfillment as a father, a role he’s rejected his whole life, but might actually be pretty good at. Don, meanwhile, can’t help but fall back into bad habits. The Season 5 cliffhanger question of “are you alone,” gets answered in the final minutes, as Don proves to be just as intrigued by Dr. Rosen’s wife as the doctor himself. He knows this is wrong, and not just because of what he’s doing to Meghan: he was in this exact same place eight years ago, searching for peace in the bed of another woman, and look where that got him. Now he’s eight years closer to the finish line, and still unsure of which way, if any, can take him in the other direction.

As is often the case with Mad Men, “The Doorway” doesn’t do much on a plot level, but I’m left wishing I had more time to talk about it. I’ve been going on for 1,500 words, and still haven’t even mentioned Betty’s adventure in the village, or dissected the farce of a sendoff Mimzy Sterling got. What I can say, is that based on “The Doorway,” this newest season will be continuing season 5’s emphasis on bringing the shows underlying themes and motifs to the forefront (just look at that title). The subtext is becoming THE text, and while that irked me a little bit last year, we’re shifting into a decidedly different period in Mad Men’s life cycle. Many of the characters on this show have left the comfort of their time for a new, unfamiliar one. They’ve been left adrift on an iceberg, watching as the grand old ship of their era sinks beneath the waves. And ever so slowly, the ice keeping them afloat is melting beneath their feet. Expect everyone to say hello to fresh quick fixes and desperate solutions…just don’t be surprised if the alohas start sounding less like introductions, and more like goodbyes.