Hello Popcorn & Prejudice readers. Moira is still out of the office, but she sent me (her editor) her take on the “Mad Men” season opener to post on her behalf today. Spoiler alert: If you haven’t yet watched last night’s episode, you’ll want to wait to read this until later.
“I’m sorry, but this is very poetic,” says the recipient of a Don Draper ad pitch. “Thank you,” says Don, not grasping (or choosing not to grasp) that it isn’t a compliment. Freshly tanned from a trip to Hawaii to investigate a client’s new hotel, Don’s come up with what he thinks is a great ad: a picture of a business suit, shoes, and briefcase left on the beach, with their owner seemingly disappeared. “Hawaii: The jumping off point,” says the ad, made by a chameleon who perhaps doesn’t realize that not everyone is constantly yearning to shed their skin and disappear. We’re reminded of the beautifully poetic Kodak Carousel ad pitch in Season 1 (even the Carousel turns up this episode), which makes this one look even more misguided. Is Don losing his touch? Again?
“Mad Men” is back, and for this thoughtful season opener, Matthew Weiner’s reminding us of doors that close behind us. (The episode is called “The Doorway,” and its theme is voiced, rather on-the-nosedly, by Roger, the Dowager Countess of “Mad Men,” in analysis.) About eight months have passed since we last saw these characters, and the times they are a-changing’. Don seems to have at least begun to close the door on his marriage – we don’t fully grasp this until the episode’s final moments, but he’s back to his old ways. Betty, realizing that she’s no longer able to charm her way out of traffic tickets, focuses on motherhood as her next stage – but it’s not her own daughter she’s mothering. (Betty and Sally, nonetheless, seem to have reached a sort of truce; adolescent Sally is amusingly cranky, but less angry than we’ve seen her. She does, though, echo the episode’s theme by shutting a door in her mother’s face.) Roger sees the death of his mother, and of the man who shined his shoes, as a step in his own journey. Peggy, not quite realizing it, has become a younger, female version of Don – at work, at least. Megan, one of the show’s least introspective characters, seems to have painlessly given up her dream of “serious” acting and is thrilled to have a small role on the soap, “To Have and To Hold.” (Love that title.) None of them can step backwards again; those doors only work in one direction.
Though it’s a low-key beginning to the season (which tends to be Weiner’s pattern), “The Doorway” feels happily populated: Sterling Cooper, newly expanded, is bustling with new employees (including a woman who’s clearly filling Peggy’s slot); Don and Megan socialize with their neighbors and chat with their doorman; even Betty, in her sensible coat and headscarf, ventures downtown, into a world that’s barely recognizable. As usual, a few characters get short shrift: we barely see Joan, and Pete’s sole purpose in this episode is to remind us that whenever he says “I can say with all honesty .. .” that he’s about to tell a big fat lie. But they’ll have their moments later. This episode, with its planted puzzles to be solved later (the panicky first moment; the sight of Don reading Dante’s “Inferno”), felt like the setting of a stage; I can’t wait to see more.
Questions: Why are Don’s mistresses so consistently more intelligent and more interesting than his wives? Did Kiernan Shipka spend her entire break practicing, and mastering, that perfect teenage eye-roll? Will Dawn the secretary get her own plotline this season? How many other people have looked at Don and asked, “You some kind of an astronaut?” What the hell was that rape conversation between Betty and Henry supposed to mean? When Don says “I want to stop doing this,” do you think he means it? And, most importantly – what did you think of this episode?