Mad Men S06E01, “The Doorway”

“What did you see when you died?”

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This is Don’s question, yelled drunkenly to his doorman as his coworkers try to hurry him into the elevator. Mysteriously opening the episode, the doorman’s brief death is what welcomes Don back to snowy New York after spending Christmas in Hawaii – reading Dante’s Inferno and silently taking in the sights, of course, as only Don Draper can.

The episode oscillates between hot and cold, or perhaps more aptly searing and chilling. Opening scenes in Hawaii lavisciously pan Megan’s tan flesh, fire-jugglers and smoking joints always in the background. Interiors are full of warmth and Christmas cheer (Betty and Henry’s house finally feels like a home, instead of the imposing mansion feel of last season), contrasted only by windows showing bleak skies of grey snow. Margaret talks of refridgeration, characters allude to California, Don’s tan clashes with the white walls of the office. It’s a sensory experience, as Don describes his vacation – the office is bright and cluttered, with a new floor and new faces (and new facial hair; Roger rolls around in fur and remorse at his mother’s funeral; the house in the Village that Betty visits feels desolate. Roger and Don both speak of “experiences” in the episode, and that’s what the premiere is. It’s a “shock” coming back to this Manhattan, catching up with old storylines and understanding new ones.

But is this really a jumping off point? Roger points out that “experiences are nothing,” that even though doors open they eventually close you back in. The reappearance of the Carousel Kodack slide indicates a cyclical pattern. Even seeing Don at the bar in Hawaii mirrors Don in the season 5 finale – a silent figure across the bar, their friend approaching Don with a personal inquiry. Many introductory shots of characters feature some sort of reflection in the background – in Roger’s therapy session, a bust, in Peggy’s apartment, JFK (in Megan’s public life, her character’s persona).

To a point the doubling in the episode matches a sense of déjà vu. Here’s a new eager account man, trying to usurp Ken and Pete for Don and Roger’s approval. Here’s Sally and Betty fighting. Here’s Peggy doing her best Don Draper impression. Here’s a clash between the revolutionary youth and the corporate, suburban adults. Here’s Don having an affair (with Linda Cardellini!!). Things have slightly changed, but not quite. It’s a question Don has dealt with throughout the series – how do you almost die, but then start over and keep living? Ultimately, the characters are their true selves no matter what year it is, or what the circumstances are. Will brown hair change Betty and her dark sense of humour (that rape reference!)?

“Heaven is a little morbid,” Don admits in a sales pitch. Notes of suicide still remain from last season, as his clients immediately pick up drowning motifs in Don’s interpretation of paradise – although, despite immersing himself in the Inferno, he doesn’t see it. I was affected by the doctor’s mention of anxiety, because that’s what I felt while watching – we are coming to the end of the series (Mad Men is set to run for another season, but who knows what tricks Matthew Weiner has up his sleeve), and in terms of time 1967 marks an enormous shift in American culture. In other words, the white light has begun to show. Get ready to shed your skin.

Quick Links: A Mad Men HOF

http://www.grantland.com/blog/hollywood-prospectus/post/_/id/72869/youtube-hof-the-best-of-mad-men

I normally wouldn’t be too excited about boiling a show down to a few of its “best” moments, but this list from Grantland is satisfyingly comprehensive. the scenes chosen have a wide range, highlighting the show’s ability to be romantic, comic, and tragic – sometimes all at once. And personally, I can never get enough of scenes between Don and Joan; “an uncommon pairing, probably because the wise folks at AMC are worried about melting your flat-screen” is a perfect way to describe the characters.

Teaser: Mad Men, Season 6

Today, a new teaser video was released for Mad Men‘s final season, premiering on April 7th. Like the previous teasers, this video contains no new footage or dialogue, using footage from Season 5 to remind audiences what has been happening in the world of Don Draper. ShowBiz 411 has revealed some details about the first episode, informing us that it will be 2 hours long, titled “The Doorway,” and take place in Hawaii (explaining these beachy pictures).

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The Good Wives

“God save us when an Aaron Sorkin antihero is the closest we get to a good guy.”

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A few months ago, the New York Observer ran a piece entitled Bad Men: TV’s Most Reprehensible Antiheroes and the Women Who Love Them. The piece was a follow-up to the Golden Globes, which was argued to be indicative of “a new trend in millennial TV protagonists—men who are, if not quite villains, then at least Bad Men.” 

Tony Soprano, Dexter, Nucky Thompson, Sgt. Brody, Tom Kane, Walter White, and Don Draper all fit the description of this type. “At best, our guy is an immoral misanthrope and a latent misogynist. At worst, he’s a sociopath, one who may or may not be running an international drug cartel. Or a terrorist ring. If you’re lucky, he’s merely a serial killer who kills other killers.” The presence of a misanthropic character on a television show isn’t necessarily a new trend – Archie Bunker is a prime example. What is unique about these millenial protagonists is that audiences identify with them. They root for them. They even respect them. 

Who we don’t respect, for the most part, are their wives.

These shows “all portray nosy, ineffectual matriarchs who are simultaneously ice-cold bitches, helpless victims and puritanical enforcers.” Betty Draper and Skyler White especially are despised by audiences, seen as the “spoilsports” to their husbands’ activities – even when in fact they are the victims of them. 

What these women really do is act as a foil to their male counterparts, foils that question the glorified masculinity that the shows depict through violence and rebellion. These women show the side of these men that can be sexist, weak, self-deluding, unreasonable, and downright threatening. When the protagonist is questioned, the audience is uncomfortable. They look for a scapegoat, the root of the problem. “Why is my hero struggling?”

That isn’t to say these women are perfect moral counterparts – they have their flaws and questionable decisions, their infidelity and maternal struggles. But the widespread negativity towards them has to be investigated, especially in an era where there are examples of complex, interesting, powerful female characters leading many different television programs.

There have been many different articles recently on the topic, which is promising, and Breaking Bad and Mad Men each still have a season (roughly) left to engage with these characters on a more complex level. As well, shows like Enlightened and Girls keep encouraging discussion around female protagonists whose relatability and respect differ widely among audiences, an interesting development for complex television. At the very least, the nagging matriarch is a trope that is being dissected in critical reviews.

“Way Down in the Hole”: Title Sequences

A shared feature of many recent shows is their focus on downward spirals, character demises, and mourning, grief, and loss – and their title sequences show it. The credits of these shows are exemplary of their respective shows’ themes and indicate the turn towards darker, more complex content that has been occurring.

Mad Men

Mad Men’s opening titles depict an ad man falling from office buildings, floating downwards past oversized advertisements on the walls of the buildings. The image has been used in print campaigns for the show as well, depending on the viewers’ alignment with the figure and the show (this has caused some controversy, as the image is reminiscent of a 9/11 photograph). The instrumental music accompanying the titles mimicks the trajectory of the falling man, dipping lower somewhat ominously until the man is finally shown sitting in an office chair.

The Wire

The Wire used a different version of the same song for its five seasons. The song, originally by Tom Waits, is called “Down in the Hole” and evokes religious imagery – temptation, salvation, and the fall from grace – that can be applied to the program as a whole. For each title sequence, a sequence of clips from the show is strung together. The clips may be focused on certain themes depending on which season it is, but it is the same effect for each: this show is a glimpse into a fragmented, broken world, composed of various crimes and characters that are in some way associated with “The Hole.” (Notably, much of the first season is set in a location called “The Pit”).

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad uses a short, simple title piece to neatly string together science and drugs, or, more appropriate to the show, formula and effect. In just a few short seconds, the sequence illustrates how rationality can be overtaken by something darkly appealing – in the show this is Walter White, his old life based on formula and routine fading into smoke.

The Sopranos

The opening lyrics to The Sopranos’ title sequence: “woke up this morning, got yourself a gun,” immediately sets up the violence that saturates the program. Tony’s uneasy expression as he drives through the bleak landscape of New Jersey indicates his discomfort in both his work and family life without explicitly showing either.

Six Feet Under

Six Feet Under, a show completely based on narratives of death, loss, and grief, immediately introduces its content with a bleak, desaturated series of images related to the world of funerals. The starkness of the sequence reflects the frankness of the way the show deals with its primary theme, while at the same time bringing artistic detail to what could otherwise be a cursory look at a funeral home.

Four Favourite TV Couples

In honour of Valentine’s Day, here’s some great television couples that you can use to model your romantic life (or, maybe not…) – *warning, some spoilers!*

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Buffy and Spike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Angel’s such a drag, don’t you think? I’ve always preferred the complicated Buffy/Spike chemistry, especially in “Once More With Feeling.”

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Jesse and Jane, Breaking Bad

Tragic, doomed, heartbreaking. This storyline gave Jesse depth that no one would have seen coming at the beginning of the series, and makes me cry every time I watch.

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Kim and Daniel, Freaks and Geeks

The dreamy rebel and his tough-chick girlfriend? Definitely the most realistic portrayal of a high-school romance, and the source of my favourite Kim quote of all time:

“Are you calling me irrational? Because I’ll tear your head off, Daniel. I’ll tear it off and ‘Ill throw it over that fence.”

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Joan and Roger, Mad Men

Mad Men knows how to work the “not together, but still connected” romantic plot perfectly (see also: Pete and Peggy), and Joan and Roger’s continued chemistry throughout the series is a perfect balance of humour and melancholy.

So, who did I miss?

AMC: Advertising, Meaning, Comprehension

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HBO, with its lack of commercial breaks, has redefined the way that television can work with sponsors and advertising. Through subscription fees and single-sponsor shows with product placement rather than traditional advertising, HBO creates a unique viewing experience for its audience.

HBO isn’t necessarily a departure from traditional methods, but rather an escape. AMC, through one of its most popular shows, Mad Men, have changed the way viewers receive commercial breaks instead of abolishing them completely. Though Mad Men involves storylines of romance, family life, and personal drama, it is first and foremost a show about advertising and those who control it. Seeing both Don Draper’s persuasive ad pitches and the behind-the-scenes reasoning that form the pitch ideas, Mad Men gives audiences a view into the process behind commercial advertising. Viewers are privileged in knowing how their emotions become manipulated through the process, and through that privilege they feel a superior understanding of advertising. 

So, when Mad Men breaks for commercial, the audience now understands the logic behind the car commercials and make-up ads that play. They retain the knowledge acquired during the program and apply it outside the diegetic world of 1950s Manhattan. AMC may still gain revenue because of these traditional commercial breaks, but the experience for the audience is different because of the specific show aired.