Many people have told me that they do not like “Mad Men” because nothing ever happens. For those of you who have caught any episode and quickly dismissed the show, I urge you to give the series another shot. To the ones who told me that “nothing ever happens,” all I can say is that they are ignoring the symbolic significance of “Mad Men,” or are too lazy to read between the lines.
Last Sunday, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and the gang came back to TV sets everywhere in a two-hour season premiere. The first episode of the rumored second-to-last season opens with Don and his appealing wife, Megan (Jessica Paré), lying on a beautiful beach in Hawaii. Of course, this would not be the typical four-time best-drama Emmy winning show if Mr. Draper wasn’t reading something as dark as Dante’s “The Inferno,” which introduces the episode’s heavy-handed theme right on queue. Thank you, creator and writer Matthew Weiner, for hammering down the nail in the coffin that is mortality.
As if the unexpected suicide of last season wasn’t enough, Roger Sterling’s (John Slattery) mother has unfortunately passed away, as well as another lesser known character. This merely sets the stage for various members of the cast to take their roles to the inevitable level of discontent and deep rumination, especially Don, who may forever be cursed with a lifelong mid-life crisis.
Unlike Don, who remains a man of few words and a wide array of incredulous looks, Sterling is still the same sarcastic and derisive man-child who clings to his vodka on the rocks. But Sterling is finally undergoing psychoanalysis and, for the audiences’ philosophical benefit, gives a wonderfully long-winded monologue about life being a series of doorways that merely close behind you and nothing more. This is only one of many grim spectacles that Weiner surely enjoys presenting to viewers, and connects back to the episode’s clever metaphorical title: “The Doorway.”
Don, on the other hand, does not have a rant to bestow upon compelled fans because his look is what matters most. In this installment, Don makes his wife, Megan, seem like a phony individual as she rambles on about unimportant topics like her not-quite-thriving acting career. They may be married, but they are worlds apart––much like Don and his former Barbie Doll wife, Betty (January Jones).
Betty grows more interesting as the seasons pass. The wife that once lived gleefully under the glass ceiling is now curious about too much, and she pursues a gripping hunt for her daughter’s teenage friend, who recently lost her mother. This leads her to the drug- and hippie-infested streets of late 1960’s Manhattan, where she encounters an abandoned building full of “stick it to the man” types who “hate [her] life more than she does.” Jones does wonders with the odd subplot, which was a bit over-the-top but allowed Weiner to get another swing of the hammer into mortality’s coffin.
Another mentionable female lead is Elizabeth Moth, who magnetically portrays the ever-evolving Peggy Olson. Olson is now in command of a roaring ad company that is just competition for Don’s business, Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce (R.I.P., Lane Pryce). Moss is fantastic as the former protégé of the ferocious Don Draper, and there is no doubting the attitude that is seeping through the seams of her unpleasant 60’s workplace wear.
I admit there have been better episodes of “Mad Men” and maybe this last week could have profited from a more subtle take on death. However, there is too much high-par acting, writing and directing for me to ever hate the show. Perhaps next time Weiner and the other writers will decide to include some more of the bodacious Joan Harris (Christina Harris), incessant Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and many other notable cast members in order to balance out the rare overbearing symbolism. But with an ending that leaves Don Draper giving one of his infamous speeches to a client, in which he says that even “heaven is a little morbid,” I am going to side with the approach that Weiner has decided to take and continue to figure out what is going on inside of the mysterious Don Draper’s head.
Rating: 4 stars