Mad Men Season Premiere Recap: Don, Ho

Mad Men Season 6 recap“Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.”

Got something on your mind, Don?

A few minutes into Mad Men‘s sixth season premiere, we hear a voiceover of Draper reading from Dante’s Inferno, setting up two hours in which the dapper ad man is even more distant and closed-off than normal. Fun!

Fans of the show have seen Don go through crises before; there’s a strong argument to be made that he’s been in an existential freefall since the moment he yanked the dog tags off the real Draper’s neck. And the Don of the season premiere is the same guy we saw idly doodling a noose during a business meeting last season and who had a front-row seat to Lane’s unfortunate exit from the firm: Whether or not he’s conscious of it, he’s got the ultimate escape on his mind.

Elsewhere, Peggy’s navigating her new role as boss (and relying heavily on what she learned at Don’s wingtipped feet), Roger’s realizing he’s old and alone and Betty’s dressing down beatniks who tell her she can’t “grok” their way of life. The ’70s are bearing down on us, so let’s review the major developments of “The Doorway.”

RELATEDMad Men Season 6 Spoilers — The Cast Dresses for (Stunning) Success

PARADISE LOST | Don and Megan’s Christmastime sojourn in Hawaii is neither a dream nor a flashback – as many posited – but a trip to check out Oahu’s Royal Hawaiian hotel to prepare for a pitch to parent company Sheraton. Megan glows the entire time they’re there (I can’t tell you how much I need the sundress she wears to the luau); Don seems to be mildly tolerating everything, including his wife and her enthusiasm about her regular role on To Have and to Hold, a daytime soap. The first time we hear him speak, it’s to a drunken stranger at the hotel bar in the middle of the night. The man, who introduces himself as PFC Dinkins, is a Vietnam War soldier on leave and is getting married in a few hours. “You some kind of astronaut?” he asks Don. (Ha!) After establishing that they’re both military men, Dinkins feels close enough to Draper to ask if he’ll give away the bride at that morning’s oceanside ceremony. Don agrees, and Megan finds him there the next morning during a walk on the beach.

Earlier, the episode opens with a POV shot of someone passing out and having CPR administered to him. Though we’re led to think all those ciggies and booze have finally taken Don out, a flashback reveals that it’s actually his doorman, Jonesy, who’s revived by Don’s neighbor Dr. Rosen. Throughout the episode, Don and Rosen are very friendly – that’ll be important later.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE FIRM | Change is afoot at SCDP. Look, the episode is two hours long and we’ve still got a lot to cover, so let’s just bullet it out:

• There’s some crazy facial hair going on, especially on the part of Stan and Ginsberg, who quickly snuff out a joint as their boss walks in. “I smell creativity!” Don quips. (Heh.)
• Bob Benson (played by Political Animals‘ James Wolk), who’s “in accounts” but desperately wants to be an SCDP player, sucks up to Don rather aggressively. Ken unceremoniously puts him in his place.
• The now-two-level firm is linked by a stairway, which provides the backdrop for some publicity photos that are being shot as Don returns from his trip. Pete’s “Welcome back!” is hilarious, and Joan purrs “I’m jealous just looking at you” to her tanned colleague. (Side note: Now you know how I feel every time you’re on screen, Joanie.) (Another side note: The small smile Joan gives Roger when he says “I wouldn’t wanna follow that act” is perfection. Sadly, that’s about all we get of Ms. Harris this episode.)
• After generally making a spectacle of himself (which we’ll deal with in a minute), Don is relatively unprepared for the big Sheraton meeting. His idea for the hotel’s ad – “Hawaii: The jumping off point,” paired with a desolate beach scene – reads as suicidal to the hotel reps. You don’t say! Anyway, Sheraton’s not sold, the firm will rework, yadda yadda. Roger’s parting shot: “You know, we sold actual death for 25 years with Lucky Strike. You know how we did it? We ignored it.” (Heh.)

‘NIGHT, MOTHER | Roger’s in therapy with a counselor who isn’t letting him joke his way through their sessions. “We’ve discussed this. I can’t laugh at everything you say,” he says. (That’s okay, Rog. I’m happy to fill that role.) It’s probably a good thing Sterling’s got a standing appointment with a shrink, because his mother dies during the episode. (The scene where his secretary breaks the news, slugs back vodka and then collapses in sobs against his chest is pretty funny.)

The memorial service is attended by Roger’s family and his (awesome) ex-wife Mona, as well as Pete, Ken, Harry and a very drunk Don. Right in the middle of the eulogy, Draper vomits into an umbrella stand. First: Ha. Second: Gross. Third: Mad Men, how many times must you make me watch Don puke? Is this part of a misguided effort to dull Jon Hamm’s sexiness? It can’t be done. Please stop trying. Roger throws a little fit that ends with him yelling “This is my funeral!” and ordering everyone out. After he’s calmed down, he bonds with daughter Margaret – who only looks truly happy after he agrees to back her hubby’s new business venture – and later breaks down in tears after learning that the shoeshine guy to whom he was friendly has died and left him his kit.

PROCEED TO PAGE 2 FOR THE REST OF THE RECAP AND TO VOTE IN OUR POLL

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59 Comments
  1. FinallyBack says:

    My favorite show — and couldn’t wait for its return — but I was really bored the first hour.
    Picked up in hour #2 though.

    • ado4586 says:

      I love Mad Men too, but found this episode disjointed. The blocking and some of the dialogue was purposing stilted, to a point where I was thinking it was too “mannered” to feel real. I was half expecting it to turn out to be Don’s imagination at some point.

  2. zoso says:

    I thought it was boring until the last 15 minutes. Nothing really happened. It showed what was going on with everyone with no real plot points that pushed the characters or story. And Don being vague about suicide is getting absurd. Where’s his swagger and the rest of the show’s?

  3. T says:

    I really need them to have Betty lose the rest of her weight so she can stop wearing that stupid, distracting prosthetic makeup. It looks ridiculous. Good episode though. John Slattery killed it as usual. The writers give him some awesome dialog. I really loved the line about New Year’s Eve being like an extra birthday and still not knowing what to wish for. Perfection.

    • Bitsy says:

      I could not tell for the longest time if Betty was still chubby or actually pregnant again. It looks horrible!

  4. T says:

    Oh and Kimberly, I bet you a few of your collegues could get in touch with one of their ex-collegues at their ex place of employment and have Megan’s sundress tracked down for Style Hunters or whatever they call it. Just a thought ;

  5. Adam says:

    The four main storylines of Don, Peggy, Betty and Roger were a little too disconnected for me, but I enjoyed each one on their own. It wasn’t the best episode, but as a season premiere served the role of checking in on the characters and explaining where they are now – but didn’t do much else.

  6. cfm says:

    The pace of the season premiere is usually very slow. I thought this one had more meat than past premieres.

    And I’m happy not too much has changed, less confusion and catch-up. All the questions posed at the end of last season were answered (with the exception of Pete I guess)…

    Is Don alone? Yes.
    Does allowing Megan a career change their marriage for Don? Yes.
    Can Peggy make it on her own? Yes.
    Can Joan be taken seriously as a partner? Yes.
    Is Roger still lost looking for meaning to life? Yes, analysis instead of LSD but same thing really.

    I loved Roger’s take on middle age: from here on out, you just lose people and things. I loved his childish funeral tantrum. I loved the sadness in his eyes when his daughter left the jar of water from the river Jordan after she got what she really wanted. I just love Roger.

    The scene with Peggy and Stan on the phone great and kept her tethered.

    I liked the introduction of Rosen. He’s almost the antithesis of Don but thinks they’re the same based on appearances. His comment about people avoiding their anxiety followed by Don in bed with Rosen’s wife…it’s Don’s classic avoidance act, which was missing last season. He was faithful and hallucinated strangling an ex-lover, and his dead brother everywhere.

    I thik the line from The Inferno really set the tone for the season; Don is middle-aged and finds himself alone in a dark wood.

  7. I grade the season debut of Mad Men: B. Hope the rest of the season may have the same effect than last season was.

  8. stevie says:

    i love mad men but this was a snoozefest.

  9. WW says:

    For all the people who though it was slow and a snooze fest – from here on – DVR and save it to watch all at once – the pacing will change as you go from one episode to the next and the connection to the storyline becomes more clear and things will move at a faster pace -

  10. Jan1 says:

    Each and every season starts slowly and builds momentum. Each and every season, people on the internet gripe. Mad Men is great. I love it. It’s not perfect but it’s brilliant and I love it.

  11. Ram510 says:

    I really liked the premiere! Mad Men premieres are typically slow and more of a “where are they now” kind of episode but this had a little more. The first 45 minutes were kind of off but by the end I realized it was more connected than I thought. Very smart well done episode. Reminds me how a drama is supposed to be done. Looks like I’m in for another excellent season!

  12. anna says:

    I hate that stupid fake fat suit JJ is still forced to wear! Doesn’t Weiner know how fake it looks? Despite that, I hope this is a big season for betty. I hope she becomes involved in the counterculture.

    I don’t care about Don cheating on Megan because Weiner has never made me care about her character. I hope that doctor punches Don in the face, though.

    • Cheryl McBee says:

      Megan is a hard character to care for. Not much depth. It’s almost as if she didn’t realize why he married her at all. Which may have been the point.

      • sophie says:

        THIS! There is really nothing to love or hate about Megan, she is just..there.
        At least with Betty you know why you can despise her or what you can love about her, Megan is just.. nah

        • Britta Unfiltered says:

          For me, there is a line from last season that sums up my feelings about Megan that’s spoken by Peggy. She says, “I think she’s good at everything. I think she’s just one of those girls.” I hate those kinds of girls, where they act all perfect and they never show cracks, and everything just seems to work out for them, and they chalk all their success up to a great positive attitude! But I’m probably just old and bitter.

    • Krissy says:

      How sad is it that after just one episode, I have more sympathy for that doctor than for Megan?

  13. Nicole says:

    I’m actually sick of philandering, mid-life-crisis Don. He’s been in crisis ever since his divorce, and sleeping with the neighbor…really? He’s the only character that shows no personal growth ever. He’s just such a mess that it’s becoming pathetic.

    • Alex says:

      I think that’s kind of the point though- Don’s still going to be the same person no matter what, and that he doesn’t even really want to change.

      • Nicole says:

        Oh, I absolutely agree with you. While I was watching, I started questioning how entertaining it is to watch this could-be-amazing man self-sabotage time after time after time. It’s probably realistic and more ‘artistic’ than the rest of the schlock I watch, but at the end of the day, television should entertain, and last night Don just made me feel sad in a pitying way, rather than in a cathartic way.

    • dmac says:

      Thank you! I was thinking the same thing myself and you worded it so much better than I could. I am sick of Don being Don, he needs to grow up. It seems like the writers have hit a brick wall with his character so they recycle storylines for him. Pathetic!

    • Kay says:

      Here here!! And what is more I find I no longer care about these characters. I am no longer going to watch this show that has just gone on too too too long>…………

  14. Arm Chair Shrink says:

    I think Don’s remark about wanting to “stop doing this,” had very little to do with his affair. I think it was a comment on his dissatisfaction with his life in general.

  15. Mary says:

    I love Mad Men but I agree with most of you that it was mediocre at best. I fell asleep which I never do during Mad Men!

  16. gailer says:

    the first episode is always slow, still my favorite must watch drama and thank god, Don is cheating on Megan, she is not the one for him. I find her so annoying!

  17. Karen says:

    So glad that Mad Men is finally back, even though this episode was slightly confusing (it was for me at least). Loved seeing Peggy back in action, and remaining a big part of the show. I was worried they might’ve slimmed down her role. And I just love the fact that Peggy and Stan still seem to have a great friendship (I wouldn’t be completely opposed to seeing these two end up together). I really hope they’ll get Don and Peggy in some more scenes together, cause Elisabeth Moss and Jon Hamm just have the best chemistry.
    Roger is as amazingly hilarious in his depressive state as ever.

  18. Whatever says:

    I don’t know if the show was just boring or I’m just over Mad Men completely.
    I’ve enjoyed every season except last year ( too much Megan,Ugh !) and this season didn’t get off to a great start ,IMHO.
    I’ll tune in but it was just so so for me.
    And Don f*cking the Dr’s wife after the camera and spending the evening with them is a new low for Don, disgusting.

  19. Laurel says:

    Don is a Ho…

  20. Lyn says:

    Loved seeing Peggy confident, assertive and appreciated … but she’d better treat people a little better than her mentor did, or she’ll end up in a similarly dark place! Found Betty’s little foray completely ridiculous, and am dreading all the wigs we’re evidently going to see this season. John Slattery is great, but his self-obsessed, purposeless character is getting annoying. Finally … I miss Lane.

  21. Rob says:

    I have thought for some time that it will be revealed that Betty was abused as a child. That painfully awkward scene with her failing father is one clue. Her odd relationaship with the pre-teen neighbor boy is another. And now this wierd rape scenerio she puts forth to Henry involving their 15 year old houseguest. She has something very deeply bottled up inside her.

    And seperately, she now looks like her mother-in-law.

    • sophie says:

      I never thought of that but it could be an explanation why she made that morbid comment. But I don’t think it was her dad, since she named her son after him and there were no real signs that he was an abuser.
      Or maybe Betty never really had to grow up cause others would always take care of her so she stayed a child for the longest time.
      Although she disgusted me with the rape scenario I still think there is hope for her and she is growing as a person. She cared for the girl and she wanted to help her even though it meant an unpleasant trip. I like how she stayed so cool with those boys,
      I think she’s a fascinating character, there is so much more behind that mask, good or bad but it’s interesting. Not to compare to boring Megan.

      • Holly says:

        Interesting thoughts, both you and Rob. I’d wondered about Betty’s comment to Henry and don’t recall that she was abused. She’s an interesting character to me as are all of the lead women on the show. But I also like Megan. Don’t get the hate for her. Whatever…

        • sophie says:

          It’s not that I hate her, it’s that I don’t care for her.. But I do hate what Don has become in that marriage, it’s not that he was awesome in the first one but at least he was authentic.

    • anna says:

      I hate that Betty now looks like Henry’s awful mother.

    • I recall how the m-i-l(Pauline) seemed to take some twisted, sick delight in the way she told Sally about the nurses that had been assaulted & murdered. Then Betty makes those disgusting comments and later comes home looking quite like Pauline. Maybe some foreshadowing of a dark path Betty is going to go down? I don’t know. But I do believe Betty went to the city for herself, not for Sandy. I really wish they would lose the prosthetics and stuffing for Betty. It is so obviously fake.

      • sophie says:

        Yes, please, Betty would never allow herself to get so big in the first place, she is always so proud of her career as a model, it just doesn’t make any sense. They could have handled January’s pregnancy better then this stupid storyline.
        But why do you think she went for herself in the city? Just to feel better about her own life? I didn’t get that impression, it seemed to me like she cared for the girl, in her own weird way.. She even made dinner for these kids, I really don’t think she did that for herself.
        I also don’t get the connection to Pauline, just because she dyed her hair? Maybe she just was hit by the comments the boys made about her and she wanted to look a bit more mature so that she can be taken more seriously by the people around her.

  22. Jason says:

    I know Don’s mistress is Sam from ER to most, but she’ll always be Lindsay from Freaks and Geeks to me.

  23. Nero theTVFiddler says:

    Dante’s Inferno indeed. To Hell [and it’s nine circles – Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, Treachery] and back – that’s Don’s (Dick’s) journey. And who better to give him that book to read in paradise [Hawaii], than thy neighbor’s wife (thou shall not covet).

    Compared to last season’s two hour premiere, this S6 premiere was more subdued and slow paced, but by design. Matt’s moving the story in a different pre-planned direction. The mid-60’s phase of the series (S3,4,5) have competed – this S6 and eventually S7, is ‘part 3′, the final segment of the decade and the Mad Men ‘three-act play’.

    “There is no man – just footprints.” But that is plenty – follow those footprints, and you’ll discover who that man really is and what impact his existential crisis is having on himself, those around him, and on his job as advertising man to the American masses.

    • Ram510 says:

      I like how you explained the “3 part play” that is Mad Men. However I think season 6 premiere had more going on than season 5. S5 felt more like a “catch-up” episode and not much happened. Which is understandable since they had been off the air for more than a year. S6 after the Hawaii scenes I felt the episode really picked up and was at a quicker pace than S5. Can’t wait for more

  24. Britta Unfiltered says:

    Bob Benson = Pete Campbell 2.0. When the episode started, I actually thought one of Megan’s actress friends had O.D’d, so I was kind of surprised to see it was the doorman. Was Betty really slimmed down? She looked very much the same to me, and I was kind of disappointed to see her still so puffy, because she seemed so rigid with her Weight Watchers. Also, what the crap was up with that “You should rape her” scene? That really jarred me. And speaking of jarring, Ginsberg and Stan’s new fashions? No. Just no. It was too much too fast. I need to be eased into seeing that much facial hair. And that mop on Ginsberg’s head was out of control. So was Harry’s hair for that matter. I don’t think I can take Ginsberg seriously anymore with that hair.
    .
    Overall, I guess I give the episode a B-. I had very mixed feelings about it. It felt kind of experimental in nature and like Weiner was trying too hard to make it all mean something cohesive. I’m not crazy about Peggy being off in another office. I haven’t liked that idea since the beginning though. I don’t need to watch stories about two ad agencies, as we already have so much else going on. It was nice though that the whole thing wasn’t about Megan. And I was so thrilled about the ending I made a Grumpy Cat meme for it. “Don is cheating on Megan? Good!” But I have a question here. Why didn’t Megan question why Don was gone so long after the party? Wasn’t he just supposed to walk the doctor out? And how the crap can she kiss Don goodnight and be so close to him and not realize he just had sex with someone else? I’m not trying to be gross, but it seems like you would be able to smell it, especially if it just wrapped up 5 or 10 minutes before. How does she not know?
    .
    Glad to have your Mad Men reviews back, Kimberly. I’ve always loved them.

  25. BrianR says:

    I’d give it a D for depression. Don has a smokin hot wife and big money job and mopes around like he’s living on his stepdads work farm. Jeez Don just walk away and move to Frisco and hit the drug scene and be dome with it.

  26. Star Foreman says:

    Nice callback to theory Night Mother, right after talking about suicide. You know the one, it ends with a gunshot on the other side of a locked door.

  27. John says:

    Maybe Betty’s weird comments about rape are directed at her husband because he has done something and she knows about it. He seems so level headed that no one would suspect he has a dark side. That would be a shocker. Probably not though. It was such a strange comment that you wonder what’s behind it.

  28. Danielle H. says:

    It’s like I watched 2 hrs of nothing. Rather boring and uneventful. I hope that this was just the jumping off point and that the rest of the season picks up. Unfortunately, I can see that the show is starting to slow down; we are in the 2nd to last I believe has been said. It feels just like more of the same from Don, Roger, Pete, Betty.
    The only one who’s really growing and even so not that much is Peggy. I have a feeling the final season will really focus on her story and final growth as much as Don’s. And I have a feeling Roger will die sometime before the end.

  29. Liz Joyce says:

    I loved the episode; I didn’t find it boring at all. So glad to have Don cheating again!

  30. Elaine says:

    First, I’m very impressed with how polite everyone has been with their comments. Some sites, the commentors get nasty with each other. Now Mad Men. I was disappointed. I thought it was slow and Don back to cheating was a let down. Of course I will continue to watch. Thought the comment above that we may find out Betty was abused was interesting. Never thought that before, but it would explain a lot.

  31. Mayor ( UK) says:

    completely different feel to the whole double episode. NAFF.!… completely detached from it all and was left with nothing to look forward to. Quite confusing at moments. Did i miss something ( or blink) when the porter in the building collapsed and then appeared all OK??? Was that a dream?… overall i was very disappointed.

  32. It was not MY 1968! But I never lived in that world. I want to say here as I and others have said elsewhere that St Marks Pl never looked like that in that year or any other that I ever knew.
    Betty has always seemed to me to be sick and to be cruel to her kids. Probably she was abused as a child. I wish we had known this sooner, if this is her story.
    I think Paré does a good job. Why is everyone so down on her?

  33. Rose says:

    What is wrong with Mad Men season 6? It is stupid, absurd and mediocre. I will not waste another hour watching that crap. It was one of my favorite programs.

  34. You make some good points. I guess it depends on your standpoint. Here I am paying big money to you writers and what for? All you do is change the words. Samuel Goldwyn 1882 1974