Spoiler Alert: Do not read if you haven't seen Mad Men Season 5, Ep. 1 - "The Doorway".
“I want to stop doing this.” – Don Draper
Last season the theme of death crept into many interactions, building up to Lane’s suicide. Since that incident death has taken on a much larger role in this season 6 premiere and an even larger presence in Don’s mind.
The episode opened from the point of view of a dying man being resuscitated. We later learned that the man was Jonesy, the Draper’s doorman, but the immediate switch from that point of view to Don’s point of view on the beach in Hawaii suggests that Don might be dying as well.
He certainly is floundering. The season 5 finale hinted at a return to Don’s philandering ways and it took until the final moments of this premiere to confirm that theory. But, this affair, with his neighbor’s wife, isn’t bringing him the same joy his previous affairs have. Lying in bed with Sylvia (Linda Cardellini) Don seemed to be going through the motions more than enjoying his illicit affair. Don is on a constant search to fill the void in his soul. For years he turned to women to fill the void and for short periods of time they did, but eventually their unwavering adoration wore off and Don was left again with the feeling that he could never be loved. So, after the tailspin of season 4, he tried something new. He remarried and for a year was lost in wedded, faithful bliss. But then Megan found herself in something other than Don and those feelings of inadequacy came back. Only now they come with the realization that it’s not a solution. Even as he sleeps with his friend’s wife he knows that it won’t fix what’s broken.
Don needs an escape. The vacation in Hawaii gave him an experience that he can’t seem to shake. Unfortunately he also can’t relate that to a campaign because the experience it gave him was akin to dying and going to paradise. He didn’t see that of course and the clients had to explain to him what it was he was obsessing over: suicide. Don has grown increasingly trapped in his life and his thoughts are now consumed with death as his only escape. Will it be the kind of death that afforded his first escape as Dick Whitman or is Don actually contemplating a more permanent end to his troubles?
“The Doorway” complimented the inner tumult of Don’s mind by underlining the cause and showing us the other side of the coin within our other lost boy: Roger. Roger has taken a step Don never will by going to therapy. Just as Don is desperate for an escape, Roger is desperate for a change, but feels doomed to repeat his same experiences over and over again. But then life handed him a new experience; losing his mother, taking away the unconditional love he always had. He thought that he was feeling nothing, but in reality he was feeling too much to handle.
So Roger was raised with the unconditional love of his mother and he has turned into a cad, bored with his life and Don was raised without a mother or any kind of love and has turned into a cad, so overwhelmed with his life he wants another. Two contrasting paths that have lead to a very similar place. But so much of these two men’s struggles are about the changing culture they find themselves in. Roger is disappointed that the culture shift hasn’t fundamentally changed him and Don is disappointed that it has.
Not surprisingly, the person adapting the best is Peggy. In the (approximately) 8 months since starting her new job she has settled in quite nicely in the role of Don: Part Deux. She’s managing her team with an iron fist, she’s finally learned the art of speaking to clients without alienating them, and she’s as great in a crisis as she’s always been. As the culture begins its dramatic shift of 1968, it’s likely that Peggy will be the only one to come out the other side more successful than she went in.
Its now 1968 and the world is about to change more than anyone could imagine, especially for those who think its already changed too much. 1968 was a pivotal year in the history of our country and it will be interesting to see how these characters change with it. Its never a wise choice to judge a season of Mad Men based on the first episode, but based on history, its going to be a bumpy ride.
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