Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mad Men Episode 6-1 & 6-2: The Doorway

Greetings to all Mad Men fans! Sorry we're late getting started this is just too busy...but Mad Men Themes is back for another great season of thematic analysis, starting with the first episode below.

Recap: Don and Megan take a trip to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, a new client of SCDP, to check it out. While there, Megan is asked for her autograph as a TV soap star, Don stands up at the beachfront wedding of a new military acquaintance, and they both  smoke marijuana in the hotel. When Don returns to the office after the vacation, everyone is having professional photographs taken, and Don has to pose in his office. Pete, Harry, Stan and others have all changed their hairstyles according to the trend of the late ‘60s. Entering the Creative room, Don discusses the use of the term “love” in advertising, saying that the word has been trivialized and shouldn’t be.

At home at night, Megan wakes Don up to say she has to go to work and can’t make the funeral of Roger’s mother. Don is drunk by the time he shows up at the funeral of Roger’s mother. The funeral is a disaster, with an old lady speaks about how much Roger’s mother doted on Roger, and Don vomits and has to be removed from the room.

After much thought, Don develops an ad campaign for the Royal Hawaiian hotel that sums up his experience there: wanting to walk off into the unknown – with a picture that reminds his co-workers of suicide. At the end of the program, Don and Megan are having a New Year’s Eve get-together with two other couples, and the last to leave are Dr. Rosen and his wife Sylvia. Rosen gets a phone call about a medical emergency and Don accompanies Dr. Rosen to the basement. He talks to Rosen about what it’s like to have the power of life & death over others, and Rosen says it doesn’t bother him, and that it’s a privilege and an honor. Rosen says, “You get paid to think about things they don’t want to think about; I get paid not to think about it. People will do anything to alleviate their anxiety.” Rosen tells Don to quit smoking for the New Year. Then Don sneaks over to his apartment and makes love to his wife Sylvia. When Sylvia asks Don what he wants for the new year, Don says he wants to stop “doing this.” Sylvia says “I know.”

Meanwhile, Roger sees his psychiatrist and waffles between cavalier jokes (which the psychiatrist challenges him on) and existential observations, such as: “Doors, windows, bridges and gates all open the same way and close behind you. Turns out the experiences are nothing. You’re going in a straight line to you-know-where.” At the office, Roger smiles and jokes and talks on the phone to his latest girlfriend. Then his secretary, Caroline, enters his office crying and tells Roger his mother has died. Her heavy crying contrasts with Roger’s hollow response as he begins to absorb the information. When Caroline cries on Roger’s shoulder, he says, “She was 91.” But at the funeral Roger begins acting strangely and has a melt-down that ends with him shouting, “This is MY FUNERAL!” and telling everyone to leave, although they just sit there and he walks out. Later in the show, Roger is told that his shoe-shine man died and bequeathed his shoe-shine kit to him. Sitting alone in his office with the shoe-shine kit, Roger begins to weep.

In Betty and Henry Francis’ world, Betty, Sally, Pauline, and Sally’s friend Sandy attend the Nutcracker ballet. On the way home, Betty (who looks dowdy) gets stopped by a cop for reckless driving in icy conditions, and Pauline tries to get the officer to let her off without a ticket by saying how important her husband Henry Francis was. Once at home, Sally tattles on Betty to Henry, and Sandy plays her violin for the group. She’s accomplished and says she expects to attend Julliard next year even though she’s only 15 years old. After they all go to bed, Betty jokes to Henry about his being attracted to Sandy, and suggests that he could go in the other room and rape her and she could hold down Sandy’s arms, since “You wanted to spice things up.” Later Betty can’t sleep and goes to the kitchen, where she discovers Sandy at the kitchen table. Sandy admits she was rejected from Julliard and reveals her plans to drop out, go to Manhattan and live like a hippy. “People are naturally democratic if you give them a chance” she asserts. Betty wants Sandy to stay with their family but Sandy doesn’t want to. Later Sandy disappears and Sally tells Betty that Sandy went to Julliard early, although Betty knows better. Betty goes to “the Village” to the building where Sandy said she’d been. Sandy had sold her violin to a guy there, and the guys in that building try to figure out how to cook stew. Betty challenged some of them, and one guy grabbed her wallet but gave it back to her. Betty leaves, disappointed that she couldn’t find Sandy and take care of her. When Betty returns home, she sees Sally talking on the phone, and Sally looks at her mother and closes the door to get privacy from her. Later in the show, Betty comes home and she’s dyed her hair black, making her look a lot like Pauline. Sally sarcastically says, “What happened to you?” and Bobby is angry: “You’re ugly!” and runs out. Henry says “Elizabeth Taylor…”

Peggy and Abe are still together, and Abe now sports long hair and moustache. At her office, Peggy meets with two coworkers about a problem they have with an ad they’re running. The Johnny Carson show had featured a comedian who joked about U.S. troops wearing a necklace of Viet Cong human ears, which casts a new light on Peggy’s ad campaign for the Super Bowl: a Roman saying “… lend me your ears.” The client wants to pull the ad and Peggy has to come up with an alternative. She works late and forces her underlings to work late also. Peggy tries to call her boss, Ted Chaough, who is on vacation, and she talks to a pastor instead. She tries to leave a message with him but doubts it’ll be delivered to Ted. Peggy is an abusive boss to her direct reports. Abe is there and witnesses it, commenting, “Sorry, I didn’t know what kind of abuse was required for the fraternity.”  On New Year’s Eve, Peggy and Stan talk on the phone to each other from their respective offices, and then Ted shows up in the doorway of Peggy’s office. He tells Peggy he had received all of her messages, he acts impressed and slightly turned on, and Stan teases Peggy over the phone, “He likes you.” Peggy shows Ted a video she had made of a guy using the headphones they are promoting in the ad. Ted tells Peggy that he didn’t answer her messages because his wife had told him he works too much.

Newspaper headline early in the program: “End to a violent year.” (1967-68). Ending music: Elvis Presley: “This is the moment; I will love you longer than forever; Promise me that you will leave me never…”


A major theme of this double episode is personal transformation. As the title suggests, characters this season are moving or have moved through doorways, from one phase of their lives to the next, or from life to afterlife. Death is one form of this concept of transformation, but not the only one. (Note: Matthew Weiner was interviewed on NPR – WBEZ on 4/25/13 and said that his view of the theme for this episode was “transformation.”)

·        Sally has been transforming from a preteen to a sarcastic, unhappy teenage girl, but on the positive side, she’s gaining a sense of independence and self-confidence.

·        Sally’s friend Sandy undergoes a major transformation from an aspiring young violinist to an alienated hippie dropout. She also laughs about her mother’s recent death, indicating that she has yet to be transformed by the grief that awaits her when she’s ready to feel it.

·        Sandy’s contacts in the dilapidated building in Manhattan are recently transformed from protected teens to young adults trying to stay outside the social system and invent their own “democratic” society, a hint of the youth movement of the ‘60s that aimed to transform society.

·        Betty transforms herself from a bleach blonde to a brunette, a transformation that makes her look very similar to her mother-in-law, Pauline.

·        Peggy has transformed herself from Don’s protégé at SCDP to a fully independent creative force, someone with her own staff at the new agency.

·        Pete, Stan, Abe and other men have transformed their appearances. Pete has an old-style Elvis look with his carefully combed hair and sideburns, while Stan and Abe have adopted a 60s radical look -- long hair and beard/moustaches. The changes in appearance suggest that they’ve gone through a doorway into a new sense of self, defined partly by generational changes.

·        Megan has become a TV soap star, and is mistaken by a fan as “Corryn” – the character she plays. Not only has she transformed her career, but her marriage has been transformed from rocky to apparently stable, since Don now seems to give her whatever she wants.

·        Megan and Don have gone through the doorway of smoking pot, which gives them another dimension to their relationship that Megan believes transforms sex into a different experience.

·        Don has transformed himself at home from highly engaged husband to bored but dutiful husband who goes through the motions of his relationship. Back to his habit of infidelity, he is now attracted to Sylvia, a woman who appears closer to his own age than most of his attractions – and this new relationship is transforming or influencing his thinking, with their shared interest in reading Dante.

·        Roger’s mother, “Mimsy,” has passed through the ultimate doorway from this life to whatever lies beyond, transforming from the living to the dead, or perhaps from this life to the next. Meanwhile, Roger begins to undergo a major transformation upon her death and upon the passing of his shoeshine man.  In the midst of Roger’s seemingly endless jocularity, he reveals to his therapist his existential angst: “Doors, windows, bridges, and gates all open the same way and close behind you. Turns out the experiences are nothing. You’re going in a straight line to you-know-where.” Roger breaks through his feeling of emptiness when he receives the shoeshine kit bequeathed to him, and feels deep grief over his losses. These experiences transform him into a more complete, feeling individual.

·        Roger’s daughter Margaret asks Roger for financial assistance for her husband Brooks, who aims for a career transformation to the field of refrigerated trucking.

·        In a flashback, Don is horrified to see his building’ doorman, Jonesy, faint and apparently die, and then be revived by Dr. Rosen. Later in the show, Don drunkenly demands that Jonesy tell him what his near-death experience was like. Many people who have near-death experiences claim to be transformed by them, though in this case we don’t know if Jonesy felt transformed. We do know that Don is searching for information on the nature of death from an unusual standpoint. Later, once he distills his Hawaiian vacation experience and depicts it in a proposed ad campaign, he reveals a fascinating aspect to it, as if it might be like paradise. Thus, his view of death is apparently undergoing a positive transformation.

·        In his presentation of his ad campaign for the Hawaiian hotel, Don says, “It’s not just a different place – you are different. It puts you into this state…You don’t miss anything.” He’s suggesting that the hotel experience is transformative.

·        Ted shows up at the office on New Year’s Eve and discovers Peggy talking on the phone with Stan. This illustrates how much Peggy and Stan’s relationship has been transformed over time from their original hostility to a friendship. Ted tells Peggy he got all of her messages but didn’t answer them because his wife had been complaining that he worked too much – so Ted was at least trying to transform himself into a better husband – although this may be just a New Year’s resolution that won’t last long.

·        Reactions to death range from conceptualizing it as a transformative but not necessarily bad (Don in his hotel ad campaign); to something to be laughed at or shrugged off (Sandy and Roger about their mothers, comedian on Johnny Carson joking about the ear necklace); to a horrifying prospect (Don and Megan when Jonesy collapsed); to evoking feelings of emptiness (Roger about his mother) to something cool and exciting (Bobby seeing a coffin in the violin case, and Pfc. Dinkins discussing his machine gun: “You should see what it does to a water buffalo!”); to something it’s best not to think about (Dr. Rosen); to an existential void (Roger when seeing his psychiatrist).

A second theme is one-way relationships.

·        From the beginning, it appears that Don no longer feels as emotionally invested in Megan. He lets her lead the relationship and he tries to cooperate, just as he did with Betty, but his heart isn’t in it anymore. Megan, however, seems to be excited about Don and clueless about his bond with Sylvia.

·        The woman in Hawaii who wanted Megan’s autograph was excited to meet her, but Megan was less than excited to be approached by a fan.

·        Betty cares about Sandy, but Sandy doesn’t want Betty around her and doesn’t return the feelings.

·        Sally wants to be friends with Sandy, but Sandy doesn’t seem to care about Sally’s friendship. Later when Sandy leaves, Sally feels dissed and says Sandy was stuck up. Sandy, on the other hand, didn’t express any emotions, good or bad, towards Sally.

·        The young man Don meets at the bar in Hawaii, Pfc Dinkins, is excited about having Don in his wedding, and wants to bond with Don. Don goes along, but doesn’t return the young man’s excitement about becoming fast friends.

·        Betty harassed Henry about raping Sandy, sneering at Henry’s earlier suggestion that he wanted to “spice things up” a bit. Henry obviously was less satisfied with their sexual relationship, but Betty resented that he felt that way so likely didn’t share his sentiments.

·        Peggy’s client was unhappy with Peggy’s “lend me your ears” Superbowl ad campaign because of the sick humor of the Johnny Carson Show comedian who joked about a necklace made of the severed ears of the Viet Cong. Peggy did not share the viewpoint and thought the ad campaign was fine, but she agreed to change it. She then asked her subordinates to come up with new ideas, and she intimidated them. They did not feel about her the way she felt about them – she thought she was fair to them, but they apparently didn’t.

·        Bob Bensen from upstairs meets Don in an elevator and is exceptionally friendly to him, giving him a cup of coffee. Don takes the coffee but rejects Bob’s offer of Cottonbowl tickets, and doesn’t show any interest in Bob.

·        When SCDP staff are having their portraits photographed, several men admire Joan but she doesn’t seem to enjoy it much or return their admiration.

·        Caroline enters Roger’s office crying, and delivers the news to Roger that his mother has died. Caroline grabs onto Roger to cry on his shoulder, and he doesn’t share her feelings of grief or appreciate her grabbing onto him at the time.

·        Don is awakened by Megan in their home. She is saying goodbye because she has to leave early for her acting job, and says she’s sorry she’ll miss the funeral of Roger’s mother. Megan shows that she seems to feel close to Don, but Don winces with resentment towards her when he says, “My wife’s a big TV star.”

·        At the funeral, we learn that Roger’s mother built her emotional life around Roger, whereas Roger thought his mother’s sentiments were “completely pointless.”

·        Mona talks to Roger about how Roger’s mother wanted to spend more time with him, and Roger’s daughter wanted to spend more time with him. Obviously, Roger didn’t share in those desires or he would have done it.

·        Roger gives Margaret a jar of water from the River Jordan as a gift, saying it’s valuable, but Margaret couldn’t care less about it and leaves it behind.

·        When Betty comes home from chasing down Sandy in Manhattan, she and Sally lock eyes while Sally is talking on the phone. Betty presumably wants to know what her daughter is up to, but Sally simply closes the door on Betty in a rejecting way.

·        Bob Bensen seems to want to be part of the in-crowd at SCDP, but even when he sends free catering to Roger’s mother’s funeral, he is rejected.

·        Ted flirts with Peggy when he shows up at the office on New Year’s Eve and sees her working. Peggy presumably doesn’t return his feelings, possibly thinking that his admiration is all about her work, although Stan picks up on the flirtation over the phone lines.

·        At the Draper’s on New Year’s Eve, Dr. Rosen gets a call from the answering service and claims to have to leave for a medical emergency (although we don’t know what he really did), and Don goes out with him. Then Don sneaks over to his place to sleep with his wife, and we see that Don and Sylvia do return each other’s admiration. However, Don/Megan and probably Arnold/Sylvia don’t seem to have mutual feelings for each other within their respective marriages.

A third pervasive theme is the many faces and interpretations of love. The entire Mad Men series features love relationships of many kinds, but in this episode various ideas about how love is expressed and what love is in terms of marriage and sexual relationships or parenting become thematic after Don passionately expresses his opinion about use of the word love.

·        Don’s love for Megan appears to be a real, strong commitment, even if she no longer excites him as she used to. But with Sylvia, he’s not just using her for sex; he appears to feel a deep bond of love there, which means he’s living the belief that a man can love two women at once, just in different ways.

·        Betty shows a motherly love toward Sandy and toward the young drop-outs she meets when searching for Sandy that she doesn’t often exhibit toward Sally, although in past episodes she sometimes shows a limited amount of love for Sally.

·       Betty observes Henry and Bobby’s love for the violin music Sandy plays. Betty’s love for Henry is complicated, and laced with envy toward Henry’s love of Sandy’s music, which she expresses through dark humor.

·       The love of each of the parental characters is complicated, from Mimzi’s doting devotion for Roger that he never experienced as love, to Betty’s extremely limited love toward Sally that Sally understandably doesn’t appreciate.

·        In Hawaii, we hear that Megan’s TV drama is “To have and to hold,” an obvious reference to marriage, which is supposedly based on love.

·        Don stands up to Pfc. Dinkins’ beachside wedding, and we hear from Dinkins that the marriage was part of a compromise for him, bringing up the question of what happens when marriage doesn’t include love.

·        At the office, Don criticizes the creative work of his team for trivializing the word love, while the creatives point out that “anything matrimonial sounds Paleolithic.”  This reflects the changing views of love in 1960s America. Despite all of his philandering, Don never continues a relationship (except in marriage) where he no longer feels passionate, and for that reason he shows that love is central to his life, not trivial.

·        We hear about the 1967 “Summer of Love” and yet also see that ‘67 was a violent year, an interesting juxtaposition that hints at a possible connection between love and violence.

·        The final music of the episode is Elvis Presley singing: “I will love you longer than forever; promise me that you will leave me never.” This mythical view of love and marriage was being questioned openly in the 1960s, as divorce laws were beginning to be loosened up in many states.

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