"Mad Men" -- "The Doorway": "In Life, We Often Have to Do Things That Just Are Not Our Bag"

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"Mad Men" -- "The Doorway": “In Life, We Often Have to Do Things That Just Are Not Our Bag"

By Sarah Carlson | TV Reviews | April 9, 2013 | Comments ()


More than half a year has passed from when “Mad Men’s” excellent fifth season left off and Season Six has begun, but you’d think it had been longer given the male character’s impressive facial hair feats. But no — we have only skipped to the end of 1967 (no stopping for the Summer of Love here), and the styles are just a reflection of how quickly everything in life is changing. Everyone is anxious and haunted by the prospect of death, certainly with the Vietnam War escalating and looming large. But if members of the younger generations are taking the opportunity to speak their minds and attempt to rewrite their life courses, their elders are as good as ghosts. Two of our main “Mad Men” especially, Don Draper and Roger Sterling, are floating through their days in a world they don’t recognize, unable to shake the belief that it all amounts to a big pile of nothing — just more doors, as Roger tells his therapist. More doors to go through, not a path to follow with a clear destination at its end. There’s always something standing in the way of contentment, or peace, or whatever one is looking for. The tragic Lane Pryce removed himself from the vicious cycle not even a year ago. Now, Don and Roger are left wishing they were the ones who had escaped. The combined first two episodes, “The Doorway,” present a bleak though not unexpected outlook for the series, still one of the best dramas around. Characters ring in 1968 before the credits finally roll, unaware of the social upheaval still in store for the world. And that’s their problem: the events ahead of them are out of their control.

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has expanded to two floors, and even though this is (partly) the same firm at which a secretary once drove a John Deere tractor over an Englishman’s foot at the office, the uptightness of the earlier part of the decade is long gone. The decor already is tackier, and Stan, replete with mountain-man beard, lights up in the middle of the office to nary a raised eyebrow. Joan, a full partner, makes a comment about smelling “reefer,” but that’s as far as it goes. Even the overeager Bob Benson (James Wolk) from accounts is rebuffed by Don and Ken for trying to get noticed. The old ways of schmoozing just won’t work. Much is the same at CGC, with Peggy calling much of the shots while boss Ted Chaough is out of town. She’s a mini Don Draper, with her innate understanding of the business and inherited management style of firmness met with derision and more firmness. She’s better than Don, actually, being not so jaded with life and past indiscretions and generally more agreeable. She understands the darkness like Don does, but she doesn’t have to dwell in it.

Roger is still very much Roger — chasing women and spending his days reflecting on his favorite subject, himself. An existential breakdown can’t shake this man’s arrogance. The death of his mother (and of his shoe-shine man, Giorgio), however, unnerves him more than he anticipated, although ex-wife Mona (Talia Balsam) doesn’t have patience for his moping. Roger is loved, and always will be loved, no matter what he does. That still doesn’t ease his impression that life is meaningless. “My mother loved me in some completely pointless way and it’s gone,” he tells his therapist. “So there it is. She gave me my last new experience. And now I know that all I’m going to be doing from here on is losing everything.” “You feel loss,” his therapist says. “Damn it, how many times do I have to say this?” Roger replies. “I don’t feel anything. Just acknowledging that life, unlike this analysis, will eventually end, and somebody else will get the bill.”

Sally’s friend Sandy has an equally succinct view on life, as she tells Betty late one night. “You go to college. Meet a boy. You drop out. You get married. Struggle for a year in New York while he learns to tie and tie, and then move to the country and just start the whole disaster over.” “That’s an arrogant exaggeration,” Betty tells the 15-year-old, but Sandy’s summation of suburban life is more dead-on than Betty would like to admit. Sandy doesn’t want her life — neither do the disheveled squatters of the East Village, who mostly shun Betty later on as she searches for Sandy. “Why can’t you leave her be?” one of them asks Betty (in the most heavy-handed nod to the counter culture out of the two episodes). “It kills you to be out of control.” “Well somebody has to control this mess!” Betty says. “Hey, we have to take everything the establishment gives away. That’s all that’s left. … We are your garbage. You don’t want this house. You don’t want us.”

Like Roger, Don is up to his typical Don ways (more on his marriage later), but he has been taken down a few notches. He’s quieter, more distant. The opening sequence if his and Megan’s Hawaiian vacation is filled with his silence. Back in New York, he appears even more out of place — surprised by his surroundings, almost, as if he can’t believe he is able to survive away from “paradise.” Don is preoccupied with death. His doorman, Jonesy’s (Ray Abruzzo), heart attack stays with him, and Don drunkenly asks him what it was like to die — what did he see? “I guess there was a light,” Jonesy says. “Was it like hot, tropical sunshine? Did you hear the ocean?” Arnold Rosen (Brian Markinson), the doctor and Don’s neighbor who saved Jonsey’s life, is of equal fascination. “What’s it like to have somebody’s life in your hands?” Don asks him (soberly). What’s it like to have control, or better yet, to want control? Because to live is to have responsibility, and Don doesn’t want it.

He doesn’t even want PFC Dinkins’ Zippo lighter, which he must have mistakenly swapped with his own back in Hawaii. Don didn’t want to give away the soldier’s bride at their wedding before Dinkins headed back to Vietnam, but he relents as the two talk about life and war over drinks. Finding the lighter in New York — “In life we often have to do things that just are not our bag,” reads its inscription — he throws it away, only to have it returned by the maid by way of Megan. “I believe in what goes around comes around,” a drunk Dinkins told him on the island, as he faced his wedding and his return to combat. “One day, I’m gonna be a vet in paradise. One day, I’ll be the man who can’t sleep and talks to strangers.” What Don does want is an escape, which he tries to convey to Royal Hawaiian executives eager to see the campaign Don has concocted now that he has spent time at their hotel. But Don is surprised to learn he has created a suicide note: a man’s discarded clothes and briefcase on the sand with footprints leading to the water, along with the phrase “Hawaii: The jumping off point.” The other men see a morbid demise; Don sees a warm embrace.

Don’s interactions with Arnold are the heart of the two episodes. Don respects Arnold. What he does and who he is are one in the same. Arnold is the kind of man who, when during a New Year’s Eve snowstorm learns a patient needs him, straps on skis to trek through the city streets to the hospital. Don is the kind of man who sees Arnold off, goes upstairs and sleeps with Arnold’s wife, Sylvia (Linda Cardellini). Earlier, Don had invited Arnold to his office to give him one of the agency’s many extra cameras from an account. Arnold overheard Don discussing a Dow oven cleaner ad with his team, chastising them for “contributing to the trivialization” of the word “love.” “We’re wearing it out. Let’s leave it where we want it. We want that electric jolt to the body. We want Eros. It’s like a drug; it’s not domestic. What’s the difference between a husband knocking on a door and a sailor getting off a ship? About 10,000 volts.” Arnold is impressed with Don’s insight, which he recalls as he stands in the snow before he heads off toward his patient. They aren’t so different from each other, Arnold says, as Don again admires his neighbor’s talents. “You get paid to think about things they don’t want to think about, and I get paid to not think about them,” Arnold says. “People will do anything to alleviate their anxiety.”

Is it his anxiousness that drives Don from woman to woman? Megan is playing her part, serving as a glamorous young wife now starring in a small role on the soap “To Have and To Hold.” Why has Don turned to a mistress? Or is it Don’s ideas about love that always do him in? He’s not wrong about the overuse of the the word itself, but only finding fulfillment in the thrill of the chase and not the end result leaves him doomed to repeat his bad choices and failed relationships. “I want to stop doing this,” he tells Sylvia as a new year begins. But that would require him to take control. Last season, we had what readers on this site dubbed “Chekhov’s elevator shaft,” two scenes of elevator doors opening at the office to reveal a carless void. That a character would eventually plummet to his death down that shaft seemed a good guess, but that hasn’t yet panned out. Have we now seen Chekhov’s ocean? Don may be destined for a watery grave, but creator Matthew Weiner isn’t done exploring the ennui of his characters. In truth, they may all succumb to that, instead.

Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Last season we got Alexis Bledel and now we get Linda Cardellini, not to mention Megan's stomach. The casting director is a talented person.

  • Guest

    Or a Gilmore Girls fan.

  • Oh, do any of you guys watch AMC's extra content they put on their youtube channel? I love watching it because they always have interviews with Matthew Weiner and he explains major plot points of the episodes. Its nice to get a little more insight into the ep.

  • Tinkerville

    Also, Roger in therapy is my new favorite Mad Men development. Those back and forths and the free flowing "Rogerisms" were fantastic.

  • I loved their new offices and Don's apartment is basically my dream home. They're getting right into mid-century modern and I freaking love it. Don seemed so OFF the entire episode. Some dark shit is going down in his brain right now. Especially if losing his lighter was enough to give him that panicked lost look during the photoshoot. Does anyone else think that Don's secret might come out since that other GI has his lighter?

  • MrsAtaxxia

    I was thinking that too, because now the GI has Lt Draper's lighter and a wedding picture of a guy who is most certainly NOT Lt Draper, at least according to US military records. And if the GI dies in Vietnam with the lighter on him it would be a weird kind of echo to the real Draper dying in Korea and Whitman taking his tags and lighter as means of identity.

  • Yes and even if he doesn't die he might do some digging after he leaves Vietnam if he tries to send the lighter back to Don. Side note, when they showed Don knocking on the neighbor's door I got soooo mad at him! Then at the end he says he wants to stop the affair but he said it with a heavy heart. Like he's resigned to the fact that he's a bum who can't stay faithful to his wife or get his shit together.

  • katy

    I hate saying this, because it's a very superficial and shallow point compared with the other thoughtful plot lines in this episode, but I can't stand fake-fat Betty Draper. January Jones doesn't have an ounce extra on her in real life, and whatever they're doing to make her look "fat" only makes her look weird and doughy. I get what they're going for, but they can tell the story of the fall of Betty just as well by portraying her as an aging, skinny shrew. It's distracting.

  • BWeaves

    Well, last season, I think they were trying to cover her real life pregnancy, and it wouldn't be right to just suddenly put her back to being model thin Betty. It makes sense to fatten her up and age her. It as least helps give her a plot line. Let's face it. She's only there so we can have access to more Sally Draper.

  • The baby was born and the weight was off by the time filming began on season 5. I think Weiner just hates Ms. Jones.

  • Its the worst fake fat I've ever seen.

  • MrsAtaxxia

    Speaking of doors and doorways, I am reminded of Ebert's great quote that "whenever you hear The Doors, we go to Vietnam" I wonder if that will be this year's big music buy? Too cliche? Or will they figure out a way to do it that plays off the cliche in a way that actually enhances the cultural association?

  • I loved how they used The Beatles "Tomorrow Never Knows" last season. It was the perfect song for that episode and showing just how out of touch Don is with the new generation and his wife.

  • MrsAtaxxia

    Exactly. And I read somewhere else that '67 was when The Doors blew up so maybe they already nodded to it with the GI shipping out story.

  • Irina

    1. I hated Abe when he was first introduced, but the relationship he now has with Peggy is great. I'm calling it: in 5 years Peggy will be a partner, Abe will leave her at the altar and Stan will be there to pick up the pieces. You saw it here first!
    2. Betty's rape comment: I'd ask "What the hell is wrong with you, woman?" but I think the list would be way too long.
    3. Are they really trying to tell us that Don is suicidal? In a dark place, yes, but he's always a fighter, always a survivor. Maybe he'll leave Don Draper behind and reinvent himself yet again, but never commit suicide.
    4. "All right, enough with the flirting, where's my camera?". The good doc is pretty awesome, isn't he? I feel bad for him.

  • junierizzle

    I've read a couple of reviews that suggest Don might kill himself but didn't Matt Weiner say the show will end with Don old and alone...

  • I hope it does because he's lived his life as a cad and there's no way Matt Weiner wouldn't show the repercussions of a life spent that way.

  • MrsAtaxxia

    There were so many really make noise moments in this premiere By that I mean I mean I gasped or laughed or shrieked. Mad Men still has a pretty awesome ability to make me really sit up and pay attention. Betty lead the pack with her Mother Dearest dye job and kiddie porn rape fantasies, but just looking at Harry had me in stitches. He is going to be hilarious this season. Plus I think I love Stan for his line reading of "that's what makes it so great!" at Don's suicide hotel pitch. And lastly, I adore this show cause I grew up in Hawaii and that opening shot made me miss home like crazy. I'm sure you can still get Blue Hawaii at the Royal Hawaiian, but the real fun is getting Royal Mai Tai cause it comes in a carved out Pineapple (if memory serves correctly).

  • BWeaves

    1. I'm not sure where they are going with New Brown Nose Guy.

    2. It was nice to see Dawn actually get some lines. I hope they give her a storyline that doesn't involve hanging up someone's coat.

    3. Betty was WEIRD this episode. WTF was up with the rape jokes? I thought she did the brunette to look more like Megan, but yeah, she ended up looking more like Henry's mother. Henry was very diplomatic about the change.

    4. It's nice to see Peggy in charge. It was fun to see that she and Stan are still tight. I think they bonded back on Nude Work Night a few seasons back. Do you think Peggy and Ted are going to have an affair? He's obviously having marriage problems.

    5. Needs more Joan.

    6. Sally's really growing up.

    7. It's not the same company where the lawnmower accident happened. That was Sterling Cooper. I assume Sterling Cooper is still around, owned by that British firm. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was started by the guys who sold Sterling Cooper. Actually, I'm surprised SCDP hasn't been sued by SC.

    8. It's nice to see Don cheating on Megan. Don't ask me why.

    9. I think that lighter is going to keep coming back like a bad penny. I wonder if Don's lighter had "Dick Whitman" inscribed on it or "Don Draper." Remember back a few seasons when they had to drop a government contract because they didn't want the government finding about the Dick/Don swap.

    10. They promised two deaths and killed off two people we don't even care about. It was interesting to see Roger finally lose it when the shoe shine guy died. It's like the other shoe finally dropped, pun intended.

    11. Roger and Mona have FANTASTIC CHEMISTRY together. I know they're married in real life, and it shows. Godtopus, it shows.

  • I do not like the new brown nose guy! He seems like trouble and feels like a bad omen. I really like Dawn and she seems like a terrific secretary and I think Don likes her too. I don't want to see Peggy having an affair with anyone, ever. We DEFINITELY need more Joan! And I'm assuming that the lighter would say DIck Whitman because he received during his service and wasn't he and his lighter the ones who accidentally killed Don Draper?

  • Lemon

    I might be wrong but didn't PFC Dinkins refer to Don as "Lieutenant" when they met at the bar? I'm assuming that would be Lieutenant Draper as Dick Whitman was a Private.

  • Hmmmmm...good point.

  • L.O.V.E.

    Random thoughts about Doors:
    Dante's Inferno
    Images of Hawaii borrowed from Lost -- Paradise Lost
    Late 60's and The Doors, "Break on Through"
    Different representations of marriage
    William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and the Doors of Perception

  • aroorda

    I TOLD ALL OF YOU!! After the season finale a bunch of you were all "no way did Don't say he's alone, he loves Megan he turned over a new leaf!" And I said "no way, Megan is Betty 2.0 and he's back to his old ways." Don is a scumbag, and a leopard can't change his spots.

  • Tinkerville

    I was scraping my jaw off the floor after Betty "joked" about raping Sandy. That was only mildly disturbing... What the hell, Betty, indeed.

  • lowercase_ryan

    The rape talk was disturbing to say the least. Someone says something like that and you're just going to sleep next to them? Hell no.

    Good review.

  • So it was weird and totally disturbing for Betty of all people to have said it. But is anyone else liking how they're trying to make Betty less uptight and showing how she's changing for the better? It's kind of amazing that she would feel confident enough to make sexual jokes to Henry at all considering she couldn't even say the word sex to Don. It's kind of nice to see her confident and loved in a marriage that's actually good for her. Henry really loves her warts and all and I think she's going to flourish because of it. It's especially funny(to me) because I thought that their marriage was going to be a failure and that she had just rushed into it to get away from Don.

  • alwaysanswerb

    I totally agree. As disturbing as the scene was, it reveals about Betty that she's finally becoming comfortable letting some of the darkness out. And, in turn, weirdly, at least based on this episode, letting go of some of those demons is making her a better mother. Not only was she pretty good with Sally, but she went above and beyond to try to help Sandy. I'm not sure what was up with the brunette at the end, but they've succeeded in getting me interested in Betty again.

  • toblerone

    Random Thoughts:

    Don has a friend (who's wife he's cheating on Megan with, Classy Don!).

    I've missed Peggy so much!

    It was great to see Kenny drop the hammer on the new guy, more please.

    Rape talk to spice up the bedroom is a non-starter.

    Fat, Brunette Betty = Henry's Mother.

    Rosen's and Don's exchange when he (Rosen) showed up earlier at Don's office was the best exchange since:

    Watson "I killed people"
    Sherlock: "You are a doctor"
    Watson: "I had bad days"

    Linda Cardellini!
    Linda Cardellini!
    Linda Cardellini!

    *Some will say Don's "Hawaii: The jumping off point" shows he's off his game but I think it was a one off reflecting his state of mind.

    I'm so happy to have Mad Men back, but I hope it doesn't go all Season 2 (with Don's affair). Thanks for the review Sarah.

  • How sad is it that Don finally has someone that he called a "friend" and he's freaking sleeping with his wife!! What a bummer because both couples got along so well and he seems to genuinely like the doctor.

  • MrsAtaxxia

    I gasped when she walked in with the dark hair especially because she was also in a dark outfit when she has almost exclusively favored paler, icier tones. She not only went for the darker hair, she is bleeding into Henry's mothers color palate as well.

  • MissAmynae

    And its just about as opposite as she could get from the "Ice Queen" Grace Kelly/Donna Reed perfect housewife princess image she had to maintain with Don. I'm loving where this is going.

  • Ruthie O

    "Fat, Brunette Betty = Henry's Mother."

    Whoa. Great observation! I didn't see it at the time, but now the comparison is staring me in the face. It goes with what I imagine will be the theme of this season: older characters (Don, Roger, Betty) trying to figure out their place in the changing times, but their effort only reveals just how stuck they really are.

  • I actually think that Betty is going to be get out of her shell and find herself. Her whole life she's merely been what others wanted her to be but now she finally seems content with what she has. Not to mention that Henry really loves her and all her flaws so I think that she's going to flourish and find her passion and that Henry will accept it.

  • toblerone

    +1 for the bright side but I totally disagree about Betty.

  • I hope you're right. She is one of the most unhappy TV character I've seen. I love to hate her, but maybe if she wasn't so miserable I could like her, just a little bit.

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