‘Mad Men’ Season 6 Premiere Review

Published 1 year ago by , Updated April 8th, 2013 at 7:37 pm,

Jon Hamm Mad Men The Doorway Mad Men Season 6 Premiere Review

The shroud of secrecy that series creator Matthew Weiner places over every new installment – and especially the new seasons – of Mad Men has actually become an integral part of the show’s appeal. Audiences head toward the now-standard two-hour season premiere with little more to go on than a perplexing arrangement of clips and sound bites from the previous season, leaving viewers to assume that even though the characters of TV’s best program continue their inexorable march through time, perhaps nothing has really changed.

And that’s what really set this series apart from all the others: Seeing what the future has in store for Don, Megan, Sally, Betty and the entirety of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is kind of difficult. There’s a curiosity, sure, but it isn’t easy to watch as the magnificent Don Draper loses the magic that once made him the toast of Madison Avenue, or as Roger Sterling dabbles in LSD to combat the ennui that’s absorbed him even more than he’s absorbed in himself. And although it’s funny, no one wants to be reminded of getting older by watching as Pete Campbell relinquishes his hairline with less fuss than Harry Crane surrendered his office in season 5.

As we pull back and look upon it all, it seems that Mad Men is leading the audience down a path of death and despair. But after watching the spectacular season 6 premiere, ‘The Doorway, Part I & II,’ it seems that the series which left its audience with the (thankfully) unfulfilled expectation that Pete Campbell was a suicide waiting to happen, isn’t just pointing toward the end; it’s pointing toward the way out.

John Slattery Jon Hamm and Vincent Kartheiser in Mad Men The Doorway Mad Men Season 6 Premiere Review

Last season saw Don on the precipice of becoming the Don Draper of old, after the idyllic fantasy of his marriage to Megan shifted into something that was no longer entirely under his control and therefore, not entirely fulfilling. The audience was left with Don poised to acknowledge a part of himself he’d figuratively kicked under the bed through the permissive lucidity of a fever-dream, while Jon Hamm’s brilliant and subtle performance illustrated how easily the actor playing the character – and then the actual character – could shift between identities. With an understated raise of his brow, Hamm illustrated how easily Dick Whitman became Don Draper, and how Don Draper can leave behind the man who spent much of season 5 on love leave to become the man who, as we see in the season premiere, is sleeping with his neighbor’s wife.

Season 6 offers a handful of pleasures early on. There’s the thrill of finding out Roger Sterling and Pete Campbell have sideburns! Stan Rizzo and Michael Ginsberg have incredible facial hair! Burt Peterson is back! SCDP has an upstairs! Betty Francis is wandering around the Village and has dyed her hair!  But more importantly, it’s still all about Don Draper and his relationship to the unalterable passage of time – which is noted by the realization that his wristwatch has stopped as he’s reading ‘The Inferno’ on a heavenly beach during the “vacation” he and Megan enjoy courtesy of Sheraton.

“Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood,” Don reads in voiceover after the season begins from the POV of a man watching while a doctor performs life-saving chest compressions on him.

Jessica Pare and Jon Hamm in Mad Men The Doorway Mad Men Season 6 Premiere Review

Naturally, that points to death, but even as Don and everyone else is seemingly stuck contemplating their own future – Weiner seems to be taking issue with the assessment that season 5 (and to an extent, the show’s future) was obsessed with death – ‘The Doorway, Part I & II’ manages to be both completely obsessed with death (e.g., Bobby Draper wants to check out a violin case because it reminds him of a coffin) and able to joke about the audience’s preconceptions about the series’ so-called obsession all at the same time.

The premiere feels like the antithesis to ‘Just a Little Kiss‘ from the get-go, as Don chats with the clearly troubled PFC Dinkins and agrees to give his bride-to-be away, despite having just met him. From then on, Don is rapt with the notion that his time in Hawaii wasn’t just a vacation; it was an experience that even he struggles to put into words. This puts the character in a sort of malaise that acts as the connective tissue throughout the rest of the episode. Even then, Don is met with a multitude of signals that either reminds him of death’s looming presence, or the past he’s tried so hard to conceal.

The two points come to a head at the funeral of Roger Sterling’s mother, as Don, experiencing someone’s death yet again, is forced to listen while an elderly woman eulogizes Roger’s mother and explains how she adored her son, and how life was full because of him. All of this (and his uncanny ability to find a libation at any social event) causes Don’s emotions – presumably about his absent maternal figure – to literally explode from within, forcing him to vomit into a handsome umbrella stand.

But it is Roger’s monologues in therapy that paint the fullest picture of Mad Men season 6 and just what’s going on with him and Don. Like Sandy, the formerly Julliard-bound violinist who regales the Francis family with Chopin’s ‘Nocturne in E Flat Major, Op. 9 No. 2,’ these characters are just running away from their dissatisfying lives. They aren’t looking toward the end; they’re just looking for the doorway out.

———

Mad Men continues next Sunday with ‘The Collaborators’ @9pm on AMC. Check out a preview of the episode below:

Photo: Michael Yarish/AMC

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  1. What I really enjoy about this show is its unpredictability. Mad Men is the most non-episodic, nuanced show I’ve every watched. You know that Don is a train wreck, but we never know when he’s going to finally, fatally wreck. Gonna be another great season, I think.

  2. I was disappointed with the series opener, but wonder if it’s due to the show’s long pause between seasons more so than less-than-fresh writing. Time will tell. I definitely admit loathing the almost gloating Pete Campbell over Don’s not-quite-on-his-game advertising executive let alone usual debonair, suave man. I’m ready for next Sunday.

    I watched ‘Lawrence Of Arabia’ on Friday and, while watching ‘Mad Men’ on Sunday, was suddenly struck by a similarity between T.E. Lawrence and Don Draper – anonymity despite notoriety. That opening sequence when Lawrence dies, various acquaintances are asked what kind of man Lawrence was, and each one – after vomiting some predictable yet eloquent descriptions of Lawrence’s character – admits he didn’t “know” Lawrence, only “of” him. After five seasons (and commencement of the sixth) of exposure to Don Draper, the same will be said about him – The man many knew, but didn’t know at all.

  3. One of the best shows on tv period, now all i need is breaking bad to come back on.

  4. There have been a few times when I say to myself and others that I don’t think Mad Men is a great show. I always think it’s really good but but I’d think it was a bit over-hyped.
    Then I see an episode like this and I realize how great Mad Men truly is.
    I loved the way almost every scene felt like a dream, or that we are seeing things through somebody else’s eyes.
    When the episode started and we didn’t see Don speak for the first few scenes I thought for sure that he was dreaming and we’d see him wake up. Even the way scenes were framed and the way some people talked felt strange at times.
    What does it all mean and where are we headed? Like a dream who really knows but I’m on board and excited to find out.
    Great episode.

  5. An insightful review, highlighting the power of this series to return to themes that few of us can dispense with entirely. (Don’t we all fight recurring battles with our demons, rather than vanquishing them forever in a one-two punch?)

    As you say – stark contrast to the blissful and flirty Season 5 premiere.

    As much as I adore this series, I found the multitude of death mentions to be slightly overdone. (It’s quite an extensive list.) On the other hand, the visual cues accomplish a great deal, which is part of the brilliance of this show.

    Aware of Weiner’s talent for intermixing dream and reality, I spent much of this two-parter convinced someone was dying, and possibly Don. (It’s not far-fetched, the way he’s back to his unhealthy habits.)

    It looks to be a fascinating season ahead. Not only is Don struggling, but Betty may be in need of more than a dye job on her hair. She just may need the number for Roger’s psychiatrist.

    http://dailyplateofcrazy.com/2013/04/08/mad-men-season-6-premiere-the-doorway-to-hell-or-stairway-to-heaven/

  6. I wish the would just cancel this show and give all the money to The Walking Dead or Breaking Bad. This show is so boring.

    • I hope this was a joke haha

  7. I never watched an episode of this show, so I said I’ll watch this premiere to see what the hype is about. With that being said, I only got through one hour. I thought it was incredibly boring.

    • I recommend watching from the beginning. Hopping in this late, you can’t fully appreciate the characters and how each on has developed over the years, nor can you fully appreciate the (sometimes heavy) symbolism. To me, the show lives up to the hype. Loved the episode last night.

      • Each one*

  8. I didn’t think Don was sleeping with the neighbors wife, I felt like she was just flirting excessively because she was attracted to him. Don is too smart to sleep with someone who is in such close proximity and seen often by Megan. But, I could be totally wrong.

    • They showed him bed with the Drs. wife at the end of the show, so yeah he is sleeping with the neighbor.

  9. Did anyone else get the impression they were trying to establish the theme of “Shattering the illusion”?

    First on vacation that woman asked for Megan’s autograph like she was a big star but when she got home and got her script she only had a few lines and a small part. Then they built Sandy up to be a violin prodigy but later we find out she considers herself average for her age and DIDN’T get into Juilliard.

    Finally, we have Don becoming humble as he ages and in addition the loss of the real Don Drapers lighter, could this be symbolic of “loss of identity” which will lead to “shattering the illusion” of Don Draper – coming clean about who he is or something?
    It would make sense since were gonna start wrapping up for good pretty soon. Maybe they’re establishing these themes for their endgame

  10. I feel like this season is going to be about Dons past catching up to him. Either from Megans emerging success, the lighter which was missplaced, and Scornful ex wife. He will also be fighting to find purpose in living again. He was always surrounded by death and is kind of fascinated by it, I remember him in the meeting doodling a hanging noose, and visions of his hung brother during the end of season 5 even before Lane Killed himself.
    This is all an assumption but judging from the all the seasons, the season 6 premier, and the official art of season 6 (http://media.heavy.com/media/2013/04/o-MAD-MEN-SEASON-6-POSTER-570.jpg).
    what do you think?

  11. Every time I try to watch the show, I really don’t like it, too much drama, I tell the people around me that ask about it, like how it is, if it’s good. Well, EVERY TIME I see a preview I say to myself, ‘Oh, looks good, should I retry?’ I’ve watched Season 1 episode 1 TWICE now and I feel BOTH times it is way too dramatic, please tell me, is it good, and if so, when is the episode it takes a turning point and makes me admire it like Breaking Bad?

  12. To abswer you badger, it lives up to the hype but i think people hoping in will have some trouble to understand why. Althought sometimes heavy on the visual metaphors, it still manages to offer a real thematic deepness while never losing sight of character development and historical accuracy. I think the uniqueness of the show lies in how the characters are extremely slowly but safely dissolving in very subtle ways: you know don draper apparently rising the social ladder is in fact a train wreck waiting to happen but you can’t help watching. The once genious adman, alpha guy, good father, admired by men lusted after by women, at the heart of the corporate machine but living through a hobo code, free of contract and morals, who built his success on selling illusion apparently rose to the top and overcome ordeals but he actually did it at the expense of his very identity and while nobody noticed he’s losing grip with everything. He doesn’t see the future anymore , his wife is beyond his control, he’s frequently challenged by clients, his brother is dead, Anna is dead, Peggy is gone, his family is gone, he has directly caused the death of two men by his unability to relate, his current affair seems already desperate, every single person and occasion reminds him indirectly how much he’s alone and lives an illusional existence. While he seems at the top to his peers, family, suburdinates, He can’t relate to anyone or anything anymore. His life has become a prison because Don draper had lost his magic and he has now so much luggage that dick Whitman cannot flee and start anew anymore.
    I don’t know of any story that builds this kind of situation with this much craft over the years. That’s what make mad men unique in my sense.

  13. Does anyone understand that what they are seeing is four terrific portrayals of different versions of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, plus one of the confused opposite thereof? Don, Roger and Pete — played =so= well by the under-appreciated Vince Kartheiser — are the sons of (respectively) alcoholic and abandoning, smugly prideful and over-controlling, and barely conscious but achievement-obsessed parents.

    Joan is likewise the daughter of an obsessively controlling mother, and Joan =needs= to be in =control=. Peggy is the daughter of working class fools who sabotaged her at every turn, leaving her without a sense of identity, as well as much self-awareness. (Does it take a Scientologist to nail a role like that one? Could be.)

    All five are simply trying to live up to the expectations either programmed into them by their domineering parents… or struggling to find some “rules to live by” in a world where (only) money talks… and =matters=. (Listen carefully when old Burt speaks.) All five are half-conscious “false selves” trying their best with what limited awareness they have to play a game that is way over their heads. Thus far, Roger has it more figured out than the others, but he’s as often caught in his own blind spots as the almost-as-perceptive Joan and Don.

    Don and Joan will make up. They =have= to. Because they need need each other’s awareness to stay in The Game. As good a “player” (rather than a “piece” like Peggy) as she is, Joan is not going jeopardize her standing as the office manager in a shooting war with New York’s most charismatic creative director… unless she forms an alliance with the CD at Peggy’s old agency. Just like the rest of them (save possibly for Pete, who’s too immature, rule-bound and self-righteous to understand the realpolitik), the other principles will continue to rescue Don from his alcoholism. Not because they “understand” why he drinks, but because as long as he keeps hitting homers, he’s their “franchise player.”