‘Mad Men’ – The Soporific Pacing and Sartorial Surprises of Season 6, Episode 1

| April 8, 2013

Last season’s Mad Men premiere — which was six months late due to endless contract negotiations and speculations if the show would even return — was met with bated breath and the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, did not disappoint. The following morning social media was all atwitter with effusive praise: The Season Five opener was a success. And what are the devoted fans of AMC’s cult hit show saying today following Season Six’s two-hour premiere last night? Meh. (Insert crickets)
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Reviews of the first episode were, as per usual, shrouded in stealth at Weiner’s command, yet speculation abounded. Many assumed, or it was leaked, that the Drapers would be beachside in Hawaii and they were right. The rest, however, of what unfolded has left many fans puzzled.
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The primary plotlines in a nutshell: Don and Megan in Hawaii researching and schmoozing a new hotel client. Don became the impromptu best man at an on-leave U.S. soldier’s beach wedding, while their wartime Zippos got accidentally swapped. Upon arriving back in New York, the Drapers’ doorman suffered a heart attack, died and was revived, then Roger’s Mother died, and all the men’s razors died.
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As the subplots and rampant symbolism lumbered and napped for much of the night, the most interesting aspect of last night’s show — save the curious violinist — was the cast’s various physical transformations. As Draper pondered and perspired, we wondered what the hell is going on with so-and-so’s hair, dress, and teeth.
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While the women seemed to have held steady in the 1960s, the men just let it all hang out and embraced the free-spirited unkemptness of the later part of that decade. A newly mustachioed Ginsburg now looks like a poor man’s Jim Croce with Chester Arthur sideburns, and Harry Crane was also working some face sweaters and sporting some shellacked Howard Cosell helmet hair. Even buttoned-up uber WASP Pete Campbell got in on the act and donned some baby ‘burns, which were as tight and fussy as he is, and they somehow even managed to add little extra creep factor to his character. Roger showed off his snow-white ‘burns and jettisoned his signature gray three-piece suit to a navy sports coat with gold buttons and trousers. We spied Abe, Peggy’s live-in lover, looking like Jim Henson’s Animal by way of Frank Zappa. The only characters whose appearance remained unabashedly unchanged were Don Draper and Bert Cooper.
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And then there were the ladies. Betty’s still a bit thick around the middle, her teeth looked a bit off, and then in one of the more exciting and unpredictable moments of the show, she appeared to slick her hair down with Kiwi black shoe polish. The best line of the night came from young Bobby, who upon seeing Betty’s newly raven-haired coif, leapt up from the table and screamed, “You’re ugly!” Out of the mouths of babes. Her delusional husband, in a patent attempt to get laid, said Betty looked like Elizabeth Taylor, but we’re going to go with creepy Bobby on this one.
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Peggy, now at Cutler Gleason and Chaough, was sleeked in geometric prints while  steel-arming the new bosses and bullying her lazy underlings. Meanwhile, back at Sterling Cooper Draper Price the second floor was teeming with new employees including Brown Nose Bob (holy crap, we can’t wait to see where this goes) and a handsome tough broad working in the creative department whom we’re already hoping to see open beer bottles with her teeth.  Megan, still youthful and lovely is (finally) showcasing her sorry acting chops on a soap opera. With these great visuals laying the footwork, our favorite characters were back where they belong but we were waiting… waiting for that Zou Bisou Bisou moment that never came.

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The reoccurring theme of “Who is the real Don Draper?” — which was asked by a reporter from The New York Times in Season Four — was echoed against when last night’s photographer coaches Draper with, “I want you to be yourself.” And as Draper stares off holding the brass lighter: a symbol of swapped identities, we are reminded that the question has been, and will most likely always be: Who is Don Draper?

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But the show’s most head-scratching plot device filled up our Facebook news feeds instantly: Who is this kid with the violin? While the character is set up at simply Sally’s frienemy Sandy, one has to wonder if she’s much more than that. Either Don’s or Betty’s long-tucked-away illegitimate daughter from another liaison? Or is she a Balthus-esuqe allegory representing Betty’s faded ambitions and independence? Regardless, I can’t imagine we’ve seen the last of Sandy.
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In my show, The Mad World of Miss Hathaway (a musical satire of Mad Men), nothing — no matter how offensive or inappropriate — is off limits, yet last night’s bedtime conversation between Betty and Henry about ball-gagging, hog-tying, and raping the teenaged mystery girl, gave even me pause. It was so off-putting and alarming that one can’t help but wonder if the toe-curling commentary wasn’t foreshadowing or the undercurrents of a darker backstory than we could only imagine.
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I’m not going to say it was a bad episode, because as far as I’m concerned, no Mad Men episode is ever bad, but this premiere played more like a mid-season “they’re laying a lot of plotlines down” episode. It hummed along, and lulled a bit, but for the most part we stayed the course and enjoyed the view of the late ‘60s fashions, the Martin van Buren face warmers, and a few terrific funereal headpieces. The good news is this is just the beginning of Season Six and things can only get better from here — so there’s no need to strip down and walk into the ocean, just yet: After all, I think we can almost see Diamond Head from here

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About the Author ()

Angela Di Carlo is the mastermind, playwright and star of the downtown series "The Mad World of Miss Hathaway" (a musical parody of "Mad Men"), as well as a cabaret performer who has entertained slews of hambones from Joe's Pub to Feinstein's at the Regency. Mrs. Di Carlo is also an accomplished makeup artist who's painted the famous mugs of everyone from The Scissor Sisters to Vice President Al Gore. She has been a resident of the Lower East Side and its little bitch sister Alphabet City for sixteen years.

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