Death was the order of the day on last night's premiere of "Mad Men". Already into it's sixth season, Matthew Weiner's original and innovative series has become a staple in American culture since it's 2007 debut. Since then, we've seen the characters evolve and old social norms fall away. Weiner's storytelling--which mixes dream sequences seamlessly and manages to the toe the line between impressive character studies and a unique epoch in history--is well loved by almost everyone, however, has it become too played out?
At the end of season five, we watched as Megan prepared for her first commercial. Nancy Sinatra's enchanting "You Only Live Twice" played over a montage where we see all the characters settling into their new stations in life, all seemingly content--except for Don. The camera pans over Don alone at a midtown bar, ordering his signature Old Fashioned. In one of the most talked about scenes of last season, Don is propositioned by a woman not his wife, and for a year we were left to wonder if he'd return to his roots as a callous lothario.
It is revealed that Don and Megan spent Christmas in Hawaii, presumably on a business trip. There is a scene that seems to speak volumes of their marriage. As Megan lies on the beach, sipping tall, blue cocktails with all manner of garnishes, Don sits sullenly beside her on a lounge chair reading Dante's Inferno.
A few moments later, we watch as Megan hands him a joint. She tells him, "You haven't had sex high. Makes it more intense." The weed does not do the trick, and while Megan falls asleep post-coitus, Don sits alone at the bar, bourbon beside him, his mind ill at ease. There he meets PFC Dinkins, a GI set to go to Vietnam who asks him to give away his bride at their wedding the next day and Don agrees.
Megan awakes the next morning, and not seeing Don beside her, wanders out to the beach where she snaps a picture of him standing with the young couple at the ceremony. We see in her expression that life could not be more perfect for her.
They return to New York City in the throes of winter, and in a flashback, we watch as the doorman--Jonesy-- collapses suddenly. The Draper's neighbor, Dr. Arthur Rosen, rushes upon him and administers CPR.
Later, Don asks Jonesy: "What did you see when you died?" to which he replies, "I guess there was a light." Don presses him on. "Was it like hot, tropical sunshine? Did you hear the ocean?"
In the office, when making a pitch to the Sheraton associates about their Hawaiian hotel, Don makes an allusion to "A Star is Born" when James Mason's character, Norman Maine, commits suicide by drowning in the ocean.
"Hawaii," he says, "the jumping off point." Everyone in the conference room looks around uncomfortably.
Don further shows his instability by vomiting in an umbrella case at Roger's mother's funeral, and in turn, an angry Roger throws everyone out.
New Year's Eve arrives, and the Drapers celebrate with their downstairs neighbors Arthur and Sylvia Rosen by watching slides of their recent trip to Hawaii. Arthur is called into work, and Don escorts him out, claiming he needs more cigarettes before proceeding to have sex with Sylvia while Megan sleeps peacefully (albeit, drunkenly) upstairs.
"What do you want for this year?" Sylvia asks, resting on top of him. "I want to stop doing this." Don says, alluding to their affair.
We see that Don has returned to his old ways after vowing he would not stray again, and we're left to wonder, why? Alternately, has this story arc become too familiar? Has Don Draper, once a very sympathetic and intriguing character, transformed into a callous archetype?
One must consider that the best stories happen when there are constant obstacles. If Don was content, there'd be no reason to follow him, and the world loves following Don Draper. Don Draper is the essence of cool: he is mysterious, he has power and he seems to have it all, yet within him we see this constant appetite for destruction and a little boy lost. His mother was a 16-year-old prostitute in the Dust Bowl who died while giving birth to him and his father treated him like shit. He is forever haunted by his former self--Dick Whitman--and is constantly trying to run away from his past.
In an interview with The Daily Beast's Jace Lacob, "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner spoke in depth about Don's Hawaii pitch:
You can see from the pitch that Don has a complicated relationship with what’s heaven and what’s hell and what paradise means. He’s caught off guard by the idea that dying will somehow take you to heaven, and that’s what he’s saying, that there’s something positive about it. Because he felt that, when he was in paradise, he had no needs, he didn’t want anything, and “aloha” means hello and goodbye, and it’s very complicated. Everything he says in that pitch is true. You’ve got to die to go to heaven.
Don is a mysterious character, we can't always decipher what he wants, and that's makes him so intriguing. Everyone has their own ideas about him, and he is as tantalizing a character as Jay Gatsby. In the end, "Mad Men" can never be too played out because people love Don Draper. He is an elusive phantom everyone wants to catch. He is an avatar of discontent, the spokesman of "saudade", and no matter how much he breaks our heart, we want the little boy lost to be found.
Here's to another season!