It’s Mad Men season again, and with the return of Don Draper and his philandering comes the influx of thousands of critics and Internet commenters ready to pick apart showrunner Matthew Weiner’s every move. With dozens of recaps and even more comment forums providing near-unlimited possibilities for professionals and amateurs alike to voice their opinions, the responses to last night’s premiere did not disappoint. From highly specific motifs to theories about Mad Men‘s position on 1960s television filming practices, here are the most intense interpretations of the goings-on at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce during the dawn of 1968.
“What did you see when you died,” a drunk Don pestered Jonesy later in the episode. “Was it like a hot, tropical sunshine?” I was struck by all the references to temperature tonight. The Sheraton exec mentions the shock of returning from Hawaii in frosty wintertime. The talisman trailing Don through the episode is a lighter, while Roger’s daughter asks him to invest in refrigeration technology. There are references to food and coffee going cold. And then the clincher: ‘I’d so rather be hot than cold,’ says one of those drifter kids to Betty as they stand in a squalid kitchen on St. Marks Place.
Inferno readers will recall that Dante’s innermost circle of hell is not flames, but ice.
“It seems weird that the episode would give us a point-of-view shot belonging to a doorman who’s not a major character. At first I wondered if that shot was actually from Don’s point-of-view, and that part or all of this season would prove to be an extended near-death flashback; then I put the thought aside, because having Don collapse in the same lobby and be saved by the same guy who rescued the doorman is way too cutesy for Mad Men. Thoughts?” — Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture
“I believe the Hawaii thing could be a meta joke at the expense of television itself. Hawaii becoming a state in the 60s set off a gold rush of tv shows of the 60s and 70s rushing out there to film Very Special Vacation episodes. Bobby’s tiki idol, Fonzi jumping the shark, etc.” — Commenter “Grim Fandango,” AV Club
“I’m afraid Don is Caesar, Peggy’s new boss is Brutus, and she’s Marc Antony in the show creator Matt Weiner’s mind. Or that I’m as high as Stan…I think the show’s saying something about the weird ways that legacies hold all kinds of surprises, whether family or work: That Leica M2 Don gave the doctor? The photographer Nick Ut used that model to take the Pulitzer-winning ‘Napalm Girl‘ photograph in 1972. Since Dow Chemical’s napalm is also handled by Don’s ad agency, it’s horrifically ironic. And when Roger’s daughter — after declining his sketchy-looking jar of River Jordan water — says, ‘Refrigeration. It’s the wave of the future.’ I couldn’t help but think of The Graduate. It opened, Dec., 22, 1967, just a few days before this episode, with the line: ‘Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics.'” — Logan Hill, New York Times Blog
Last season ended with the question “my friend wants to know if you’re alone?” This season opened with the answer – “Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.” The way it was read, there was a clear dramatic pause on the word “alone.” Tie that back to the very first Mad Men episode when Don remarks, “You’re born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts.” Roger isn’t Virgil, but he is a bit of a chorus. He puts into words what Don’s behavior exhibits – you can’t change.
This show seems profoundly depressing, just like The Sopranos. Both are more fascinated with men watching their eventual, dramatic deaths, rather than what they might be able to do while they’re still alive. And they both seem like a reflection of our national deathwatch. They represent a nation that doesn’t make anything by or for itself, has ideologues arguing over gay marriage and austerity while people are starving and dying, and a public that has lost all hope for a better future. We don’t need to watch Mad Men. We’re living it…or, as you say, dying it. It’s undoubtedly a finely crafted series, as your attention to it shows, but it’s also reinforcing the desire of America to lie down and die. You are what you think, and also what you watch on television.
With Seth admirably establishing the larger context, I will proceed immediately to the hair… It built slowly. It’s not as if this is Friends and the title of the show was “The Premiere with the Hair.” Consider the open: After a few seconds of CPR, we cut to Megan’s bald and glistening navel, and we see the couple on vacation in Hawaii (as noted, Don [VO] recites Dante)…
Then, later, at dinner, a woman in an old-fashioned (even for 1968) beehive praises Megan’s soap-opera acting. Megan is on a soap opera! Bully for her. And Megan and Don are classic, beautiful, sculpted. Here in paradise they look like the future, and this woman with her decrepit hairdo worships — literally worships — at the altar of Megan and Berkshire Falls (the soap). Only when we are back in the bitter cold of New York do we see that despite their beauty, their ruddy success, Don and Megan lack contemporary hair.