Despair! Everybody’s Doing It!
Mad Men Season 6 Episode 1 recap
Did you feel warmed and welcomed by your friends? Were you filled with the holiday spirit? Do you feel invigorated because 1968 is here and feeling fresh and new? Or are you only focused on the fact that Betty Francis said what she said and the world didn’t explode at 10:17?
I feel like we should save that, because the episode wanted me to see that Don is Falling Apart, so let’s acknowledge that first. So. He’s a different person in Hawaii – so much so that he not only gives away a bride, but picks up another man’s lighter, as though it would be easy to become someone else. But, given the usual clichés about how you can’t stay in paradise forever, Don returns home to an endless series of elevator rides and skirmishes with doormen, all conspiring to tell him that he’s not on the top of his game anymore.
I thought the Hawaii pitch, in particular, was indicative of this. Maybe Pete and Roger have gotten so comfortable they don’t know the difference between a magic Don pitch and a terrible one – that’s assuming Roger was paying attention at all, of course – or, that they feel they can’t step in to course-correct. I could be wrong, but it seemed a lot like Don went with his first idea, assuming that would be good enough for the eager Hawaii people. Kind of like he assumed his “getting cigarettes” ruse would be enough for Megan not to suspect what he was doing for hours while he was out in the wee hours of the new year. I wish she did suspect. I wish Don’s ever-more-public embarrassment, which Mona made sure to notice, included not being smarter than a 26-year-old actress whose focus is on how many lines she gets the next week. How long has this been going on? Am I wrong in feeling that the only reason Don has chosen this woman in particular is because she’s so close it feels even more illicit, because, like any addict, he needs bigger and bigger hits of fear and drama to keep his adrenaline going?
The biggest question for me, at this point, is where to find the charm left in Don. When we met him he believed in goodness, just not necessarily that he could achieve it. He believed in the perfect alchemy that hard work and long nights could provide – that magic could appear out of his fingertips over and over. Not only does he not seem to remember how to do those things, he doesn’t seem to want to. Who is Don Draper these days?
Roger, by contrast, I find much easier to understand. Not just because he talks at length about his feelings so that we can hear them, but because he’s always been up front about being a pleasure seeker. About wanting what’s next, and next, and next. That’s what made it so poignant when Jane showed up to the funeral. In fact, I have a real soft spot for the way people in Roger’s life continue to take care of him. Not the awful Margaret, of course, but Mona understands Roger better than anyone else ever will, and can’t help but comfort him because she knows how. Partly it’s that he’s a child, of course, but partly it’s that he’s so open about not understanding why he’s unhappy. How can you be angry with someone who just looks at you with an open face and is all “I thought I would be happier”? What do you say to that guy? To the guy who can’t release over his mother but for whom the loss of the stalwarts in his life – like the shoeshine guy - reduce him to tears? What I really thought about as the despicable Margaret pressed him for money and didn’t care at all about the sentimental gift he gave her was that Roger is one of the first true work casualties whose coworkers and consorts were his true family.
In fact, I thought about this as I watched Peggy on the phone with Stan. Peggy has a work husband! She will be one of the first who will think back on a colleague with as much true comraderie as anything else. It’s not hard, too, to look at the signals we’ve seen. Not just that she’s turning into Don, which we all knew she would, professionally, but that her personal life is like Don’s, too. Look at how her (gross) boyfriend spends his time with her – shut away, or under earphones. By contrast, Stan – who may be blocks away but knows the real her – he hears everything. Isn’t that how a real, intimate relationship is supposed to go?
I cannot even begin to process what I thought when Betty Francis started chatting idly about raping the girl next door. I had to go “Okay, what do the writers think they’re doing vs. what does Betty think she’s doing”? What I’ve come up with is that Betty’s trying to prove to Henry that she can be playful and irreverent. It was horrifying, sure, but then, that’s always been Betty – a little off the mark where jokes and social involvement are concerned. But nonetheless, she’s wanted to prove that she can be young. Her interest in Sandy is, of course, nothing to do with parental concern and everything to do with seeing herself as a young girl again, with all kinds of potential and lies in front of her. (P.S. Kudos to the music director for having the kid play a pleasant, but by no means Juilliard-ready piece. Nice work.) It’s interesting to me, too, that Betty is dealing incredibly well with Sally Draper’s monstrous behavior – not bothered by teenage attitude perhaps because she sees herself in a time of renewal and regrowth, too. It’s not just the dark hair that’s going to let her be someone else, nor the adventures to New York, but the fact that Henry smiled when she made her horrific joke, and that Sally is a brat (on the phone! Hooray!) but is still talking to her, and Betty may well think she has this second act thing down.
Overall not a bang of a premiere – but when has it ever been? When has Mad Men ever done anything but beg us to wait, and be patient, and “think of something important”?
Attached -- Jon Hamm out with Jennifer Westfeldt and their dog this weekend.