Mad Men Season Six Premiere: Death, Change, And Hair
So (death), did you see (death) last night’s season premiere (death) of Mad Death?
Yes, creator Matthew Weiner and the gang from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are back, and subtly isn’t exactly their thing. From an opening POV shot of a man dying, to Roger shouting “This is my funeral,” mortality and its ensuing anxiety were inescapable in this episode.
Also inescapable: the facial hair, signaling our entry into the freewheeling late 60′s (the episode ends on New Year’s Day, 1968), when even business men had sideburns. But not Don. The shaggy ‘dos and bright clothes (not to mention the office pot smoking) are a stark change from the Sterling Cooper staff in season one.
I thought this episode was Mad Men generally at the top of its game: dark, funny, patient, and ominous. But while a season premiere, especially after a long absence, is bound to be a bit weighted down with exposition, my one concern was that (like many longer-running series), Mad Men might just be rehashing the same old problems.
But the show is aware of that. Don is back to his old adulterous ways, though he claims he wants to stop. In therapy, Roger complains that nothing in life has changed him, that things just happen and you move on. (I noted last season that several bouts with mortality had not changed Roger, and probably never would.)
Highlighting character’s lack of change could be a cover for series redundancy- but let’s give the amazing writers and producers a little credit, because the idea fits in with the show’s whole existentialist vibe. We’ve watched Don struggle with identity, but it’s possible there’s no “real” Don waiting to be discovered underneath it all, no secret to his happiness waiting to be unlocked- just a guy who will keep drifting from problem to problem, picking up pennies, as Roger put it.
It made me think of the British playwright Michael Frayn (Copenhagen, Noises Off), who objects to the whole traditional structure of drama where an external crisis reveals an internal truth about a protagonist. In a recent interview, Frayn said “I think the great lesson of life is that you never do learn any lessons. Every situation you confront is a new one and whatever wisdom you think you have acquired isn’t really applicable.”
If that’s the anti-lesson at the center of Mad Men as the series progresses through its final two seasons, the really interesting (and tragic) part might not be watching Don, Roger, Peggy, and Joan realize it, but cope or not cope with that realization.
What did you think of last night’s Mad Men?