The season 6 premiere of AMC’s Mad Men was heavily focused on character perception. The way the world perceives the characters, and how if effects the way they see themselves. The episode starts off with a POV shot of a person getting resuscitated after what seems to be a heart attack, with megan screaming in the background. We are then transported into some sort of 60’s paradise, talk about sensory overload. Don and Megan are spread out on the beach, and Don is reading a passage from the novel “The Inferno” to himself. “Midway from my life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road. And woke to find myself alone in a dark wood”. This is the episode’s first stop on Don’s strange road to self discovery. The audience is left wondering if someone is having a before death daydream, or if this is all actually taking place. Megan is laid out on the beach like a 60’s Bond girl. The beach staff comes over to refresh her blue cocktail that she charges to their room. It was only minutes ago that we saw a person near death, so this all seems too good to be true. Later that night, they end up at a Hawaiian feast with the owner of the resort. It’s apparent that he is the reason Don and Megan are on this trip in the first place. During this scene, it is brought to our attention that Megan has become quite a successful actress. She gets recognized on the beach by a woman who watches the television show she’s on. Unbeknownst to Megan, Don hasn’t spoken a single word the entire day. He seems to be in a strange place mentally, just sort of taking everything in. Ten minutes into the episode Don finally mumbles his first sentence. A drunk vacationer at the hotel bar recognizes Don as an Army vet because of his lighter. He introduces himself as P.F.C. Dinkins. He fills Don in on the fact that he’s getting married the next day, and that he too serves. He asks Don to be a part of his wedding. Megan wakes to find Don giving away the bride on the beach, and takes a picture.
We are then given a bit of insight as to who the mystery man was having the heart attack in the beginning of the episode. In a flashback scene we learn that is was Don and Megan’s doorman, Jonesy. Without realizing it, this event sparked something in Don Draper that will show itself towards the end of the episode. Don and Megan are also introduced to a man living in their building named Dr. Rosen. Luckily, he was there to save the doorman’s life.
We find Betty, Sally, and the evil step-grandmother from the West, Pauline at the nutcracker. We are also introduced to Sally’s new friend, Sandy. They are shown passing a bag of candy to each other. Against her will, Betty passes it along without any indulgence. In many ways, Betty is much stronger now than she was last year. She has settled nicely into full blown adulthood , and her days of emotional whipped cream binges are long gone. After the show, we see Betty in the middle of getting a ticket from a police officer for “reckless driving”. In typical Pauline fashion, she rips the cop apart and then scolds him for doing his job. The funny thing about Pauline is that she knows how miserable she makes everyone around her, and she rolls in it like a pig in mud. She complains about the night being ruined and how there’s no way it could get any more dark than it already has. Sandy follows that statement by making a joke about her mother being dead. That can be noted as the first unintentionally inappropriate joke in the Francis household, with more to come.
They return home to Henry and the boys in the family room. Sally, eager to rat her mother out, tells Henry immediately about the ticket. I find Sally’s bratty teen phase to be fairly amusing. She too has grown a great deal. No longer is she the girl that runs to her pillow crying. She now slams the door in your face and gives you the “one second” finger while using the phone. We finally get a little more information about this Sandy character, who uses her mother’s death as a mood lightener. She is a 15 year old violinist who, according to Sally has been accepted to Juilliard for the Fall semester. Pauline coins her as a “prodigy”, and Betty begs her to stand up and play for the family. Betty tells her that it makes her “feel so much” when she plays. That statement ends up holding more power than Betty had intended. Much like the drunk man in the bar scene with Don, Sandy acts as a reflecting mechanism for Betty. She forces her to deal with some issues she represses, or maybe dosen’t even know she has. Somehow this girl turns Betty’s emotions from simmer to a full on roaring boil. There’s something to be said about the fact that Betty bonds on such an emotional level with Sally’s young friends.
Betty and Henry have a discussion in bed about Sandy’s performance earlier that night. Her infatuation with Sandy is beginning to show itself, this time in a negative way. She goes through a full spectrum of feelings when it comes to Sandy, the first being jealousy. She interrogates Henry about the look on his face while watching her play her violin, and how comparable is was to Bobby’s. In other words, she’s alleging that he wants to have sex with her. She scalds him, saying she’s only a year older than Sally. This statement is followed by her making a painfully awkward joke about him going in the next room and raping Sandy. Betty even describes in full detail how he could stick a rag in her mouth and nobody would know. She goes on to tell ask him if it would bother her if she watched. To say that she’s jealous of this girl would be the biggest understatement ever made. She goes downstairs and finds Sandy sitting in the kitchen, smoking a cigarette in the dark. She all of a sudden seems different than she did in the living room. It’s as if she feels so naturally comfortable around Betty that she feels she can drop the good girl act. She’s giving off the vibe of a girl you would find smoking in a high school bathroom. A little less Sandy, and a little more Rizzo. Betty feels comfortable enough with her to share that she lost her mother too, in a way that makes you think she’s been wanted to say it to her since they met. Sandy fill Betty in on what’s really going on behind the “child prodigy” exterior. She spills the beans on the fact that she didn’t actually get into Juilliard. In response, Betty let’s her know that it will be okay. And that many girls don’t get into the most well respected school in New York, but turn out to be just fine. Her response rattles Betty the way Don was rattled by the drunk man at the bar. She makes it clear that she doesn’t want to be the girl who goes to college, drops out and gets married twice. Or the girl who gives up on her dreams to be a wife and tie her husbands ties. Without knowing it, Sandy is telling Betty that she would rather die than have her life mimic the way Betty’s has turned out. She does, however mention that she is infatuated by Betty’s modeling career, and her life in the Village as a 20 something. Betty makes it clear that it was a different time then, and that the life of a model is nothing to work towards. Betty tries to convince her of how talented she is musically.
We are next introduced to the new and improved Peggy Olson of season 6. As always, her only focus is her work. She is trying her best at playing the roll of Don Draper in her daily life. She has literally become every part of Don that used to frustrate her. The new Peggy is the old Don that would force her to storm away from his office everyday, shaking her head.
She gets a call from her co-creative, Burt Peterson in the middle of the night to discuss their ad for Koss Headphones. Apparently the advertisement is deemed unusable because of its relation to the war. A comedian on Johnny Carson made a joke about the soldiers in Vietnam cutting off the ears of the Japanese and wearing them as jewelry. With the slogan for Kross headphones being “lend me your ear”, Peggy is in deep trouble. She is told that she needs to meet with the executives and change it immediately before the next ad runs. Peggy has spent the last 5 years of her life reflecting, so this episode does not involve that for her as much as it does her counterparts. It’s more about growth for her, and settling in to her new roll as evil boss lady. Peggy has a meeting with a Kross executive, and she convinces him that she and her team will be able to pull something together to replace the ad. When he exits the room, she lets go a sigh of relief. It’s tough pretending to be an emotionless man all day long. Peggy’s employees don’t like her very much, and understandably so. They haven’t gotten to watch her grow like her former coworkers at SCDP. Never once have they seen her apply lipstick behind a double sided mirror.
The introduction of Roger Sterling is expected, yet feels completely strange at the same time. He’s laying in a psychiatrist’s chair, complaining about how blondes fade to brunettes. His doctor makes it a point to not laugh at any of his jokes. He recognizes that it’s his defense mechanism, and that in order to get to any real emotion from him he’ll have to break him of it. Beneath all the sarcastic quips is a man looking for a reason to live besides women, work and vodka. While in his office, Roger receives news from his secretary that his mother has passed away. Like clockwork he makes a sarcastic remark, and then pours himself a drink. ironically, he’s the one calming her down. Telling her that it will all be okay, and that she was 91 years old. As if it makes it any easier to loose your mother by repeating her age. This is our first hint of reflection on Rogers part.
I’ve stated in the past that the most bonding experiences in Mad Men happen in the elevators, it must be the music. Don is slowly but surly becoming very close to the Doctor that saved the doorman’s life early in the episode. He invites the Doctor to come by his office later to give him a free camera from a company he does advertisements for.
Upon Don’s return to the office, we get re-introduced to the creatives of SCDP. They’ve thrown another woman into the mix, which seems intentional. As if recreating the male to female ratio will result in the same success they’ve seen in the past. Don walks in on the office’s Christmas photo shoot. He’s shocked to find the photographer has rearranged his office completely. Don steps into his office and stares out the window in a way that makes you feel that he isn’t all there. His body is back to work from vacation, his mind is somewhere entirely different.
The photographers make their way in Don’s office to take his Christmas photo. They tell him to “be natural” and “do what he would do”. He does just that by lighting a cigarette. He then realizes that he still has the lighter belonging to the man he met at the bar in Hawaii, P.F.C. Dinkins. The lighter reads “In life we often have to do things that just are not our bag”. Again, forces Don to reflect on his own life. Somehow a drunken stranger at a tiki bar in Hawaii is resonating with him in his office in New York City.
Don shows up to the Funeral for Roger’s mother drunk. He walks in on a conversation between the men of SCDP about whether or not their mothers are still living. These guys are like a group of social misfits. Not meant to be their true selves around anyone other than each other. Ken goes around the group, asking each one if their mothers are dead or alive. I couldn’t think of a better conversation at the funeral of a friends dead mother. When Don is asked the question of whether or not his mother is alive he slowly backs away and watches from afar. A friend of Rogers mother interrupts him and demands she read her speech first. Roger takes his displaced anger out on his ex-wife’s new husband. we can all see that it’s only a matter of time before he explodes.
The woman explains in her speech that she and her friends would beg his mother to not cling to him as much as she did. And that she did it because she loved him so much. All this talk of mothers and death ends up being a little too much for Don to bear. He pukes in a corner in front of the entire funeral. It appears to the crowd that he’s vomiting because of alcohol, which is not entirely the case. Pete and Ken carry him home, and when he arrives he is met by the doorman who sparked this path of self discovery. He drunkenly asks him what he saw when he died. The man makes it clear that he dosen’t want to talk about it, but Don continues.
Betty returns from the grocery store to find her daughter eating alone in the kitchen. When Betty mentions Sandy, Sally informs her that she’s left early for Juilliard. This alarms Betty, giviin the fact that she’s the only one who knows her secret about not getting in. She feels it’s her responsibility to find her. She ends up at what looks like the set of the Thriller video. I was just waiting for Michael Jackson to put his arm around Betty and look tawards the camera with yellow eyes. She meets a group of homeless teenagers, and one of them informs her that Sandy ran off to California. Sandy sold him her violin to pay for her trip. She gets into a minor altercation with one of the boys, and he insults her on a very personal lever. Calling her a bottle blonde, and telling her that the only thing she cares about is money. This, again, forces Betty to reflect on herself. She feels even more unaware of who she is. The one thing Betty is sure of this season is that she’s comfortable telling a bratty kid that he’s rude and has bad manors, as she clinches her pocketbook and wishes for him to catch a disease. This kid obviously has no idea how good she can be with a shotgun.
Things finally come to a head for each characture towards the end of the episode. With all this reflecting going on, someone is bound to finally see something.
It’s time for Don to pitch his idea to the owners and executives of the Hawaiian resort. He seems very sure that they’ll love his idea.The entire episode is set up to lead us to this moment. Don’s illustration shows a man’s clothing laying on the beach, and his footprints walkng towards the ocean. Underneath it reads; “Hawaii. The jumping off point”. The executives take a look at the advertisement and immediately get the idea that the man in the ad has killed himself. Without knowing it Don has created a campaign revolving around a man in a suit committing suicide. He realizes that he’s been obsessing over death for the past few weeks because of what happened with his doorman, and Roger’s mother dying was his final straw.
Roger recieves a briefcase from his secratary when he arrives to work. She informs him that the boy he hired to shine his shoes has died as well. The family sent his brifcase to Roger because he was the only person to call and ask about him. Roger slowly walks into his office, shuts the door, sits down and cries. He is crying for the first time since his mothers death. This is what it took for Roger to finally break down.
Peggy finally comes up with a solution for the headphone debacle. After watching her boyfriend bob his head while trying them out, she remembers some B-roll of the original actor doing the same thing. She decides to ditch the music and just show the actor bobbing his head and singing silently. After the excitement of coming up with a final concept, she is reminded by a coworker that it’s New Years Eve. She has her employees working in the middle of the night on a holiday, and dosen’t even remember. This is Peggy’s first realization that she is becoming a female replica of Don Draper
Betty shows up in her kitchen with a look more shocking than her fat suit last year. She’s died her hair completely jet black, and her family hates it. She’s clearly doing this to regain some sort of control over her image. The fact that the homeless stranger was able to read her on such a personal level without knowing anything about her had to scare her.
Don and Megan throw a New Years Eve fondu party with the neighbors, the doctor and his wife included. megan forces Don to bring out the slideshow of photos from Hawaii, and he looks at them as if he wasn’t there. The doctor gets a call that he must get to the hospital. and leave the party early. Just before he straps on his skis to glide down the empty street, he leaves Don by telling him “people will do anything to leave you with their anxiety”. This is followed by Don knocking on the doctors door and being led in by his wife. It’s made clear that they’ve been sleeping with eachother for quite some time now. When she asks him what his resolution will be for the year, he repsonds by telling her he wants to stop cheating on his wife.
Photos Courtesy of AMC.com