The sixth season of Mad Men has started, and our own Jason Diamond and Jen Vafidis will be sitting down to dissect every episode. Since this week we were treated to a two hour season premiere, we figured we’d just let the two of them go ahead and simply discuss their thoughts on Don and Megan in Hawaii, facial hair, Roger in therapy, and Betty’s rape jokes. Next week we will resume with individual recaps, but, after an evening spent drinking scotch cocktails and eating heavy food, this seemed like the way to ease back into it.
Jason: So, first things first, the little signs and metaphors. Obviously there was a ton of “What does it all mean?” talk between the seasons among fans, but I felt like the show was either trying to set us up to be disappointed in all of our theories, or feeding into them. It’s almost like Matthew Weiner can’t be that obvious, right?
Jen: I don’t know, I think he’s always been pretty obvious! That’s me though. I hate Matthew Weiner. He gets away with some really iffy writing on the strength of his actors and his set people. There were all these painfully obvious parallels to previous episodes in this season opener. It’s like someone is giving me building blocks and telling me exactly how to arrange them. Don tries to sell the idea of a man walking into the ocean, much like him at the end of season 2 when he was gallivanting in Southern California with Joy and Anna. Don takes friends through a slideshow of memories, much like the experience he sold in what is arguably the most famous moment of the series, the carousel episode. We get it, right? Experiences repeat themselves. People think they change, but they don’t. They return to the same thing over and over. You and I were talking as we watched about how the first episodes of any season of Mad Men are always the clunkier ones, because Weiner sets up the exposition in the most on-the-nose way. This season opener was about as on-the-nose as you can be.
Jason: Oh, and Don is reading Dante’s Inferno, and I’m wondering what the point of that was. The first Circle of Hell is “Limbo,” and obviously we’re entering 1968, a year when so many crazy things happen. I always wonder how much we can read into Weiner’s placement of books in the shows.
Jen: Yeah, he deliberately gave Don a voice over, echoing the season 1 episode where Don is reading Meditations on an Emergency in bed. So it’s not just a beach read. The first thing that came to my mind here was Aleister Crowley’s faked suicide at the Boca do Inferno, what with all the jumping off metaphors, not just with Don but with Roger too. (His invisible parachute line was sort of a groaner, but you can forgive it because it’s John Slattery, I guess.) You know the story behind that, right? Crowley fakes his own death at a rock formation in Portugal literally called the Mouth of Hell, and then he reappears three weeks later at an exhibition in Germany. Crowley isn’t really of the time period, even though his presence was felt in more fashionable circles. What do you think? Maybe that’s giving the show too much credit. There’s lot of suicide talk in this episode. Don seems unhappy. Not remarkably worse than he usually is, but still unhappy.
Jason: Another thing I noticed, and this obviously plays into the whole “times they are a changing” thing, is the whole office culture has changed, it’s become a little more freewheeling, less rigid than it has been in past seasons.
Jen: Right, there’s pot in the copywriters’ room. Everyone has sideburns.
Jason: But it also seemed more cluttered. Then you have Roger’s office staying the same, but Don’s office being moved around played a part in the story. Did you get anything from that?
Jen: There’s maybe something meant to be poignant about Roger crying on the floor of his unchanged office because his shoe shiner is dead, while Don is losing his train of thought in his rearranged office, staring at someone else’s war effects. We don’t change! Except when we do, and it’s upsetting. But really we don’t! I feel like I’m being hit on the head with a hammer.
Jason: One thing we both commented on while watching was Betty asking her husband “Why don’t you just go in there and rape her?” about Sally’s friend. That was way out of left field, but she also mentioned to her husband that he wanted to spice things up. Yet we never actually hear him say these things. Then Betty shows up with black hair at the end of the show. I’m almost starting to think Betty is delusional.
Jen: Betty is hands down one of my favorite characters. Where did she get that mouth? Who is she hanging out with these days? The rape fantasy was totally strange, but I don’t know. Betty is a sick puppy. She has always been a secret freak. Remember how she and Henry met? Him feeling on her pregnant belly? He sucks. I could do with less of him, and more of Betty telling hippies they don’t have any manners. Those were basically Muppet Babies hippies though. Real hippies are scary, man. By the way, what did you think of all the “it’s the 60’s!” moments? I don’t think the show has always been bad about those decade signifiers—I liked our adventures in Greenwich Village with lesbian Zosia Mamet, for instance—but that felt pretty bad to me.
Jason: I like the fact that they’re showing the East Village around that time as something other than the typical Beatnik/hippie crap we’re fed. What I find interesting is that Don and the people his age were so cool and hip in the first few season, but now they’re starting to seem dated.
So obviously Peggy is the new Don. I think that’s what we’re getting. But do you think Peggy misses her old job?
Jen: If by “her old job,” you mean Stan the art director, then yeah. She totally misses her old job. (How much better is he than Abe at growing facial hair, by the way? So much better. Abe looks like Frank Zappa, and it’s bumming me out.) I don’t think she misses not having the power, and I doubt she misses the daddy-never-tells-me-he-loves-me dynamic, but she cares more about the opinions of the people who once made her feel insignificant and out of place. Ain’t that always the way.