Mad Men season premiere recap: Death Takes a Holiday

The two-hour season 6 opener finds Don and Megan in Hawaii, Roger in the therapist's chair, and Betty in the slums
Ep. 01 | Aired Apr 7, 2013

LEI MAN Don silently fumes in his tropical Purgatory.


Roger was probably the most desperate character this week. We see him in therapy, which is a perfect place for him: He can blab on and on, talking to no one but himself, and pretend that he's getting to the root of things. I'm surprised we haven't seen more shrinks on the show, considering Weiner's previous writer's room. Sigmund Freud is to his nephew Edward Bernays as The Sopranos is to Mad Men. But Roger is the opposite of Tony Soprano when he gets in the chair. Rather than withhold his emotions, he just pushes outward, deflecting as he's always done with jokes and inexhaustible charisma. He mugs and exasperates, "Oh God, Doc, what is it all about!" before going into a Foghorn Leghorn impression, perfect for the ever-preening Roger, whose white coif has always kind of resembled a coxcomb.

He eventually goes into a speech about how life is only a series of thresholds (doors, windows, bridges, gates) that lead to more thresholds. Everyone always takes the saying "When God closes a door, He opens a window" to be heartening advice, but Roger gets at the uneasy premise underlying that: Why are we going through these doors? What makes us want to escape the room that we're in? What's the ultimate end point and will these accumulated experiences mean something when we finally get there? Roger seems to think that all his experiences have just rolled off his back like water off a well-tailored duck. He's finally trying to assess his life truthfully, not self-aggrandizingly like with Sterling's Gold, but he's not one taken to sober reflection. Heck, he's not one taken to sober anything. Maybe he just needs to get some acid and go on another trip downstream. On the other hand, what's the point of going through the same door twice?

Roger is also worrying that he can't feel anything anymore, and not even necessarily because of the couple of drinks he always has in him. He can't even bring himself to mourn his mother's death, comforting his secretary instead of vice versa and flirting with the blue hairs at the funeral. The service takes place in the Sterling estate, a Versailles that has taken on the air of a mausoleum. Roger, ever self-absorbed, starts feeling a bit like Tom Sawyer, as if this is his big send-off and not his mother's. He even yells, "This is my funeral!" before storming out. Mona tries to assuage Roger's pained but prideful heart. Roger was close with his mother and always seemed the kind of man, despite his sexism and despite how he's treated many of his female companions, who draws strength and resolve from the women around him. Here Roger, of course, ruins the moment by propositioning Mona, who delivers the line "Soothe yourself" as exactly the hilarious riposte it's meant to be. His daughter too rejects him and his too-little-too-late effort to connect with her. She's more interested in the flow of cash -- it's for investing in refrigerated transport, not a terrible idea -- than the flow of the River Jordan. She leaves behind the symbolic jar he'd given her once she has what she needs.

Roger doesn't see the value in acquiring new experiences, while Sandy most certainly does. Sally's friend didn't get into Julliard, but she seems to be more interested in matriculating to the School of Hard Knocks anyway. In a late-night gab session, she admits to Betty that she wants to put a penny on her life-path and derail the train, hoping to run off to the city and never look back. Betty forges a tenuous connection with her, having lived as a quasi-bohemian herself in her model days before Don met her. This is possibly one of the most sympathetic subplots the former Mrs. Draper has gotten on the show. She barely even flashed her fangs once -- except for that wacko aggressive rape joke she made while smiling psychotically -- and while she may seem to have a lot more motherly instinct for this random girl than her own flesh-and-blood daughter, it's still nice to see her being protective of someone.

She visits a house full of communistic itinerants in her search for the disappeared violinist, and both sides are simultaneously repelled and fascinated by each other's lives. (Betty: "Is marijuana expensive?"; Boho Hobo Making Goulash: "Do I have to stir it again?") But they are basically un-"grok"-able to each other, to borrow the Heinlein reference. When the head of the vagrant household -- like the Rat King of the Nutcracker suite Betty watched -- comes back to the building and harasses her, she eventually realizes she's a stranger in a strange land and lets go of finding Sandy, instead returning to her own home, one with running water and plentiful chicken salad. This house represents the path she chose for herself a long, long time ago. And with everyone else obsessed with dying, Betty decides to just go with dyeing, coming home with Elizabeth Taylor-esque brown hair, presumably because of an offhand comment from the Rat King calling her "bottled." Last season saw the arrival of Fat Betty, and this year we're graced by the presence of Brown Betty.

NEXT: Peggy Olsen: Crisis Management and sideburns, sideburns, sideburns...

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