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.”

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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.