Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Review: Mad Men "The Doorway"

Non Spoiler Review:
For some reason it always seems like an unbearable stretch between Mad Men seasons when compared with other series. But springtime Sunday nights are back to normal with its return and Walking Dead fading away until fall. When last we saw Don he was getting propositioned in a bar as Megan's career looked to be taking off, and we were left wondering if he would revert to his old ways.

It's Christmas, but Don and Megan are spending a holiday in Hawaii. She's become a recognized face on television, but Don remains oddly pensive. Roger is in therapy searching for the meaning of his life when he receives tragic news. Don Peggy has to deal with a client emergency but Ted is nowhere to be found. Sally's new BFF endears herself to Betty.

New offices, new hair, new characters. The Doorway wasn't just great to watch, it was stunning to look at with vibrant colours and fashions, and as usual, the long catch up of where each character is after a stretch of many months since last we saw them.

The episode employs another Mad Men trope—the out of order ambiguous scene—forcing the viewer to wonder what exactly is going on and when it's going to happen. I don't know if this was entirely effective as it passed by more as an afterthought instead of the revelation I was expecting. The two hours tends to be a bit long given the premiere dealt with a lot of dark stuff. The ending brings it all together with a jolt, leaving the viewer plenty to reflect upon. 

Spoilers Now!
A pensive Don is reading The Inferno in Hawaii as he holidays with his wife. Megan is now recognized as Corinne from her role on television and is asked for autographs. After a romantic night Don wakes up and goes down to the bar where a soldier, PFC Dinkins on leave from Viet Nam, chats him up asking if he was in the army. He's there for his bachelor party. He suggests they get into some trouble and Don give away the bride in the morning. Don thinks he might regret it, but Dinkins muses what goes around comes around and one day he'll be the veteran in paradise. Megan wakes up in the morning absent Don, and walks down to the beach to find the wedding, with Don giving away the bride. She snaps a photo.

Sally, her new friend Sandy, Betty and grandma Pauline attend The Nutcracker. Betty is stopped on the drive home by the police for driving too fast on the ice. Pauline tries to use her pull to get her off, which doesn't help matters and she gets a ticket for reckless driving. They return home to Francis and the boys and Sally spills the beans. Sally's new friend impresses everyone with her violin skills and she's leaving for a new school in the new year. Betty chides Francis for being attracted to the teenager and is pleased she embarrasses him.

That night Betty finds Sandy in the kitchen while everyone is asleep and the two of them have something to eat, despite Betty commenting she needs to lose weight. Sandy's mother is dead and she commiserates with Betty over that, then confesses she didn't get into the school she wanted either, and she's old for a violinist. Despite Betty assuring her she can go in a few years, Sandy feels if she doesn't go now she'll end up married and living in the country—like Betty. Sandy challenges Betty to break out of her mundane life, be the care-free model she used to be in her youth. Offended at the personal jabs, Betty points out it was different when she was girl and you can't just run off to the city anymore. Betty is certain her talent will take her far. 

Returning to Manhattan, Megan and Don chat with the doorman, who delivers Megan's latest script. Megan plays a maid in her soap opera and is annoyed with her limited scenes, questioning whether she should have taken the time off.

Don runs into his downstairs neighbour, Dr. Arnie Rosen, who previously saved the doorman, Jonesy, from a heart attack that nearly killed him while Don and Megan were present. Don offers him an extra camera from an ad campaign and invites him to pick it up at the office.

Peggy and Abe are still together. She gets a call from Bert Peterson to tell her they're in trouble given a comedian on Carson is dissing the war, and a sponsor wants to pull their spot. He wants her to inform Ted who is already on holidays. She goes into the office the next day to meet with Bert and the client. The comedian in question made references to soldiers cutting off ears that directly impact their ad campaign. With Ted still incommunicado, Peggy urges the client to keep the campaign, suggesting few are making the association between the comedian and the ad. The client suggests they cut the tag line to solve the problem, which makes the concept redundant. Peggy is resistant and suggests they need a great ad, not a problem solver. Peggy asks he give her a couple of days to wow him. 

SCDP is shooting publicity shots of the partners and everyone asks Don about his trip. Don meets an enthusiastic Bob Bensen from accounts who offers him tickets to the Cotton Bowl. Bob wanted to get to know him better. There are a couple of new faces in creative along with Stan and Michael, who are working on the Royal Hawaiian account but Don doesn't have anything enlightening to share, though he remains gripped by his experience in Hawaii.

Dr. Rosen shows up for his free camera. Dawn alerts Don that the photographer is ready for him. Rosen promises their wives are cooking up something for New Year's and departs. During the shoot Don realizes he has Dinkin's lighter which is inscribed with Sometimes we have to do things that just aren't our bag.

Roger is seeing a psychiatrist. He doesn't see his life going anywhere, especially with New Year's Eve looming. It's all about going through doorways that don't go anywhere, he says. Roger is later interrupted by his sobbing secretary Caroline who has to break the news that his mother passed away. Roger takes it much better than her. He suggests she talk to Joan to make arrangements.

The day of the funeral Megan tells Don she's been called into work for the rest of the week. Don leaves for the ceremony and tosses the lighter in the garbage. Don shows up drunk. Extra food has been sent courtesy of Bob, something Roger never asked for. Roger's aunt insists on speaking first but Don throws up in the corner. Ken, Harry and Pete escort him out. Roger then confronts Mona for bringing her new husband, ends the ceremony and abruptly and leaves.

Mona goes to speak to Roger in his room, admitting he was right that she shouldn't have brought him. She reminds him he has a living family he could spend time with. Roger later goes down and has a chat with Margaret, giving her a jar of water from the River Jordan that belonged to her grandmother. She wonders if she was left anything in the will given her son didn't start out with Roger's opportunities. Margaret tries to sell him on refrigeration, the wave of the future. She needs money for her husband Brooks to invest in it. He tells her he'll look into it. She's pleased at that, leaving him alone, and the jar of water behind.

Drunk Don is brought home and he asks Jonesy the doorman what he saw when he died, but Jonesy claims the doctor said he wasn't really dead and doesn't want to talk about it. Megan comes home later to find him in bed. She just filmed a murder scene and wonders if people will want her autograph anymore. She brings out the lighter that the maid found in the garbage and leaves it with him. 

Sally informs her mother that Sandy went to her college early, which alarms Betty given her chat with her. Sally is happy to be done with her stuck up friend. Betty wonders if she gave an address. Betty heads off into the city to search for her and ends up in a rundown apartment and finds Sandy's violin. While the other residents aren't that cooperative she helps them make goulash. She later finds out the violin belongs to another man but she shows him the picture and he explains Sandy sold it to him to get money to go to California. He challenges her for being the establishment and she should let her go. She tells him he has bad manners and deserves to live on the street. She takes off with the violin but then opts to leave it there. Betty returns home, explaining to Francis she had some errands to run. Later, Betty dyes her hair black, much to her family's surprise.

Don comes into work and gives Dawn the task of returning the lighter to Dinkins. They have a meeting with the Sheraton people. Don confesses to a feeling that's stayed with him since returning. He wasn't homesick when he was away and sells them on a campaign about Hawaii being the jumping off point. One of the men comments it sounds like suicide. They find it all very poetic but don't see their hotel in it anywhere. Don doesn't like that they're turning his concept into a suicide idea and suggests this campaign won't be easy to ignore. After they leave Don realizes the ad does make one think of suicide.

Roger confesses to his psychiatrist his mother gave him his last new experience, and from here on he will be losing everything. Roger later finds out from Caroline that his shoe shiner died, and that is what finally breaks him down.

Ken finds Bob on their floor sitting in reception. He says he came up to enjoy the light. Ken confronts him about sending the food to the Sterling funeral. It was too much, he says. Bob takes the hint and returns to accounts.

Peggy is struggling with the earphone campaign and pulls a Don Draper on her creative staff by forcing them to work over the holidays. She finds an epiphany in watching Abe use them. Later Stan still gossips with Peggy on the phone about events at SCDP and the two are both working New Year's Eve. Ted finally shows up. Peggy has grown excited for a new idea she has and Ted compliments her for managing the crisis, but tells her she should have let her creative staff go home for the holiday. Stan has been on the phone the whole time.

Megan hosts a snowy News Year's Eve party for their neighbours, including Rosen and wife Sylvia. Megan shows slides of the trip, which includes the wedding shot. Arnie gets a call to go into work. Don walks him down and helps him retrieve some cross country skis for the snowstorm.

Don wants to know what's it's like to have someone's life in his hands. It's a trusted responsibility and an honor, he says. The life and death thing doesn't bother him, he admits. Not for guys like us. He gets paid not to think about it. Don gets paid to think about it. People will do anything to alleviate their anxiety.

Don returns upstairs and knocks on a door. It's Sylvia's apartment. They've been sleeping together. She gave him the Dante to read. As they lay together she asks what he wants for this year. He wants to stop doing this, he says. She knows. Don returns upstairs to his apartment and joins Megan in bed. She wishes him a happy New Year.

The Verdict:
Starting things off in the Hawaiian paradise was an effective choice. But every detail, from SCDP's funky offices, the grungy Manhattan dive to Francis' outrageously horrible sweater contributed to the visual experience. The Doorway served as a satisfying welcome back for everyone and a good-bye to 1967.

I really enjoyed Roger's storyline, which is a change, given he is one of my least favorite characters. But his LSD experiences seem to have brought him plenty of enlightenment as he certainly had some great observations to offer about his life. 

Peggy has become full blown Don as well, forgetting all the bad it can entail when it comes to her subordinates. Yet they both struggle with difficult clients in getting their message across. I'm quite happy she had such a prominent roll here, as I was afraid she might be shuffled to the background like Betty.

Betty is a bit slimmer these days, and her story was actually interesting. I wonder if Sandy will be turning up again or if that was her swan song. It's interesting how offended Betty was getting from her comments, yet Sandy is virtually identical to her personality in the way they both take pleasure in firing insults when they feel challenged. 

We got a couple of glimpses of Joan and Pete, the latter who seems much more friendly and emboldened when dealing with Don. Who is Bob and what role will he play this year? He was very (unnervingly) visible throughout the whole episode I was getting a crazy vibe, but that's not really Mad Men's style.

The shocker of Don sleeping with Sylvia recalls the very first episode when we realize Don was cheating on Betty. Just as Roger fears that his mother's death was the last original thing that would happen to him, Don is repeating the same cycle and going through the same doors. Does Rosen suspect the affair? In hindsight it appears that Don's guilt prompts him to offer the man the camera to appease his conscience in some way. The added friendship he's struck up makes the whole thing even more despicable. And it's obviously weighing on Don, from the effect the vacation had on him, to his drinking during the funeral (Mad Men can't have an event that goes smoothly). Is the affair Don's way of alleviating his anxiety?

I wonder if Dinkin's lighter will play out over the season and if the soldier will actually survive? Or will news of his death impact Don in some way? There was so much death imagery it will fuel a lot of debate about Don's future. I don't have any fear that he's going to die anytime soon, but does he want death? Last season made it appear that the whole Dick Whitman/Don Draper conflict was put to rest. Or does he just want to kill the aspect of himself that makes him cheat on Megan?

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