The premiere episode of season six of Mad Men opens with a man being resuscitated. A woman – Megan, it turns out – screams in the background as CPR is performed. We see this from the point-of-view of the one being ministered to. Who is dying? Is it Don, we wonder as the season opens.
Cut to a shot of Don on a beach in Hawaii, reading Dante’s Inferno. A voiceover of Don reading connects the opening of this season to the conclusion of season five:
“Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and awoke to find myself alone in a dark wood…”
Inferno – literally Hell – is a curious book to read in a paradise like Hawaii, but this is Mad Men, and so it is that we find Don reading a book about the acknowledgement of and turning away from sin.
At the end of last season, Don gave Megan what she wanted – a leg up in her acting career – perhaps to assuage any guilt that may accompany his future actions, and as he wanders into a bar and orders his customary Old Fashioned, he is propositioned by a pretty young woman – “Are you alone?” he is asked.
But Don is not literally alone. Megan is with him on the beach, and as she chats him up, he notices that his watch has stopped working. Has time stopped? Is Don dead? Is time running out?
Aside from the voiceover, Don says almost nothing for the first few scenes of the episode. Hawaii seems surreal and strange, and Don seems off kilter. He and Megan smoke pot. They go to a touristy luau. Megan is now a recognizable TV star, having landed a spot on a soap opera called To Have and to Hold – she signs an autograph for an elderly fan as Don watches.
Later, Don can’t sleep and goes down to the hotel bar, where he is befriended by a drunken GI who is about to get married (the kid looks a lot like a young Roger Sterling). Don tries to blow the kid off, especially when the GI asks him to give the bride away. The GI – PFC Dinkins – tells Don, “I believe in what goes around comes around. One day I’m going to be a veteran in paradise. I’m going to be the man who can’t sleep and talks to strangers.” This does something do Don, and he agrees to give away the bride, whose family is back in San Diego.
A few hours later, Megan wakes-up alone, and ends up finding Don with Dinkins, the bride, the best man, and a minister.
Meanwhile, back in New York on the upper Hudson River, Betty and her mother-in-law Pauline, and Sally and a girlfriend named Sandy attend a performance of The Nutcracker. It’s Christmas 1968.
Later, back at the stately Francis home, Sally lets everyone know that Sandy, a gifted 15-year-old violinist, will be starting Julliard in the coming spring semester. The family encourages Sandy to play, and as she does, Betty notices that everyone, including snotty little Bobby, is transfixed by the beauty of the music.
As Betty and Henry get ready for bed, they talk about Sandy. Betty suggests that Henry go into her room and rape her, reminding him that he’s been wanting to spice things up. She says she’ll even hold her arms down. Henry’s shocked response causes Betty to offer to take Sally and leave, if her presence might ruin the mood for him. “You can stick a rag in her mouth, and you won’t wake the boys.” she says.
It’s such a weird thing to say for many reasons, the least of which is that it’s totally out of character for Betty to joke around like this. What’s going on with Betty? Is she finally going off the deep end?
Later, Betty comes down to the kitchen, presumably to get a late-night snack, and finds Sandy there alone. Betty comments on her efforts to slim down, and Sandy encourages to be happy with the way she is. “You’re beautiful,” she tells Betty, who likes the flattery.
Betty tries to connect with Sandy through the fact they are both motherless, telling Sandy she’s happy to include her in the Francis family. Sandy confides in Betty, telling her that she didn’t get accepted to Julliard, but hasn’t told Sally. Behaving like the teenage girl she is – and sounding not unlike Betty – Sandy laments the ruination of her life, letting Betty know that at 15, she’s old for a prodigy.
Betty tries to cheer her up by telling her that there are other colleges. “Sure,” Sandy says. “You go to college. You meet a boy. You drop out. You get married, struggle for a year in New York while he learns to tie a tie. Then you move out to the country and start the disaster all over.” It’s a ten second summation of Betty’s life, and she asks Sandy why she keeps insulting her.
Sandy shifts gears and talks about Greenwich Village, and how the people there are different. This is just after the Summer of Love, and she references articles she’s read, as well as a visit she made to the Village alone. She tries to pull Betty into her idyll by letting her know that Sally has told her about Betty’s experience as a model, living in the Village herself. “It was different back then,” Betty says, the generation gap opening up. “People are naturally democratic if you give them the chance,” Sandy says, opening Betty up for the best joke of the episode. “Are you on dope?”
This exchange fuels a strange connection between Betty and Sandy, and though Betty is old enough to be Sandy’s mother, and behaves like one, there’s more of a peer-to-peer feeling about them.
Don and Megan arrive home from Hawaii, and we learn that the man being resuscitated at the beginning of the episode may have been Jonesy, the doorman at Don’s building. As they enter the building, there’s a flashback to Jonesy having a heart attack at their feet just before the holidays. A neighbor, Dr. Arnold Rosen, happens upon the scene and saves Jonesy’s life. Don does next to nothing, and watches the scene in shock.
The flashback over, Jonesy presents himself as a good-natured, gregarious man, familiar with the tenants’ private lives. He hands Megan an envelope containing a new script for her TV show. Megan gripes about only being included in one scene, as Don grouses about the way the apartment has been kept by the maid in their absence. Rather than coming home from paradise relaxed, these two are agitated and restless.
Next, we catch up with Peggy. As Don and Megan arrive home from Hawaii, Peggy and Abe arrive home from a night out at vegetarian restaurant, which sends Abe running to the bathroom with the runs.
The phone rings. It’s Bert Peterson, a co-worker at the agency informing Peggy that a client – Koss Headphones – is worried about a set a comedian performed on The Tonight Show. Peggy wrote an ad that plays on the Shakespeare line from Julius Caesar, “…lend me your ears.” As this campaign is building steam, a controversy in Vietnam erupts over an American soldier making a necklace of the ears of killed North Vietnamese soldiers. The client is terrified of the connection between the ad and the scandal, and wants something done about it.
The conversation ends with Bert urging Peggy to reach out to Ted, the head of the agency, who is on a religious retreat in Colorado with his wife.
This conflict puts Peggy in the spotlight where her progress is contrasted against Don, who will have troubles of his own. Ted is unreachable, and Peggy will have to call the shots on how to solve the problem with the client.
The next morning, Don runs into the doctor – Arnold Rosen – who saved Jonesy. They are neighbors, and we quickly get the sense that they are friendly acquaintances when Don invites Arnie over to the office to pick up a free Leica camera.
A fourth storyline involves Roger’s mortality. We find him on a couch in his psychologist’s office, mid-conversation, discussing a woman who is not a natural blonde. The first thing that struck me about the scene was that it was over-acted. Was this on purpose? Was it meant to show that Roger is performing for his doctor, or was it just a rare misstep by John Slattery? I’ll go with the former, since there are some delightful exchanges between the two men, with Roger’s doctor reminding him that he can’t laugh at all his jokes. It’s a wonderful picture of how humor is often a defense against pain – in this case, Roger’s frustration with the way his life is going.
“What are the events of life?” Roger asks. “You see a door, and the first time you come to it you say, ‘Oh, what’s on the other side?’ You open a few and say, ‘I’m going to go over a bridge. I’m tired of doors.’ Finally, you come out the other side and you realize that’s all there is – doors and windows and bridges and gates. And they all open the same way. And they all close behind you. Look, life is supposed to be a path, and you go along and thee things happen and they are supposed to change you. Change your direction. But it turns out it’s not true. It turns out the experiences are nothing. They’re just some pennies you pick off the floor and put them in your pocket, and you’re going in a straight line to you-know-where.” This marvelous confession reads like the book of Ecclesisates – that life without God/higher purpose – i.e. Roger’s hedonistic way of living – is meaningless. The doctor asks Roger what he’s afraid of, but Roger won’t cop to any fear – only that he’s numb and can feel nothing. He hates where he’s ended up, and there’s a sense that what he calls numbness is really emptiness.
Don has another elevator encounter, this time with a new character – Bob Benson. With Pete and Ken and Harry ten years into their careers, Bob is the new them. He’s fresh out of the Wharton School of Business and as ambitious as Lucifer – a better looking Pete Campbell. He follows Don off the elevator, schmoozing and butt-kissing all the way into the writer’s room where Stan and Ginsberg and a couple new copywriters are already at work. After he’s ignored, Bob slinks off to wherever he came from, leaving Don to face the teasing and well wishes of his admiring team.
Stan is bearded now and looks like Zach Galifianakis. Ginsberg has longer hair and a hideous moustache that reminds me of Schnieder on One Day At A Time. The other copywriters, a man and a woman, are on familiar terms with Don. In the background, a man in a blue sweater vest sleeps on a couch. It seems like the work-loving Don has stuck around, having won the Jaguar account, and his team seems motivated and close-knit in the way that hard work and success will make unlikely friendships possible.
Stan asks Don if he has anything for him that he can use for the Sheraton pitch, which is coming up later in the week. Don has nothing substantive. “I had an experience,” Don tells him. “I don’t know how to put it into words.”
Don leaves the team to their work, and as he approaches the desk of Ms. Chambers, his secretary, we notice the staircase to the upper floor, another symbol of the success of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Additionally, a photographer is taking publicity shots of the executive team, with Pete Campbell posing mid-way up the staircase. Pete is sideburned, and his hairline has receded, giving him an older, more mature look. A mini-skirted secretary completes the picture, letting us know that we are far removed from the 1950’s feel that accompanied the premiere of the show. Even Roger has a slightly shaggier appearance, leaving Don and Joan stuck in their old-school uniforms.
Don catches up with bunch. Pete whines, Joan flirts, and Roger gets in his quips, referring to Don as Don Ho. Harry arrives in the middle of this exchange, modish and crabby, and climbs the stairs to his office, bitching and complaining.
Don moves on to his office, where he’s irritated by an impromptu rearrangement of his office furniture by the photographer. Despite everything going like gangbusters, Don is ill at ease, and as he stares out his office window, we get a clue to where his mind is when we hear the sound of waves crashing.
Peggy meets with Bert Peterson and the executive from Koss. She tries to dance around the controversy, hoping to stay the course, but the client won’t be swayed. He wants a new ad that won’t remind prospects of the Vietnam controversy. It’s a tense meeting, but the client likes Peggy and the work the agency has done, and gives her time to come up with a solution.
Bert again urges Peggy to do whatever she has to do to get Ted involved. We can feel Peggy’s pressure, and when she does try to get through to Ted, it calls back other times when Don was there to solve her problems for her. Ted’s absence forces Peggy to go it alone, to do what she’s been trained by Don to do.
Back at SCDP, Don is immersed in a meeting with his team, reviewing work they’ve done in his absence. Ever the stern taskmaster, Don applies his high standards unsentimentally, ripping the substandard work to shreds.
Side Note: The difference between Don and Peggy, at this point, is that Don’s hectoring comes across as tough love, where Peggy’s is detached and impersonal, alienating her from her team. She still has a long way to go.
Arnie Rosen shows up in the middle of Don lecturing the team and hangs back to watch him work. It’s Don being Don, and Rosen seems to relish the moment he’s stumbled upon. When Don notices Rosen, he concludes his meeting and shows Rosen around the office, obviously trying to impress. “Welcome to my hospital,” he tells him. Rose is impressed, too, telling Don, “If I talked like you and looked like that, I wouldn’t have had to go to medical school.” Don shrugs off the compliment, but Rosen goes on, confessing that he had hoped that Don didn’t have brains to go along with his good looks. It’s a mutual admiration society – a rare instance where Don is vulnerable with another man, a guy who could be a friend, something we haven’t really seen with Don.
Don gives Rosen the promised Leica, and they discuss upcoming New Year’s Eve plans their wives are making. Don invites Rosen to lunch, but Rosen has surgery that afternoon. Rosen parts, thanking Don for the toy.
Roger’s morning (and a phone call to one of his girl friends) is blown apart by an interruption from Caroline, his secretary, who bursts in to tell him that his mother has passed away. Upon delivering this news, Caroline falls to pieces, leaving Roger to console her, explaining that at 91 years old, it was hardly a shock. “For 20 years she’s been saying it’s her last Christmas,” he tells her. When she asks him what to do, he tells her to take it to Joan, who will know what to do about the arrangements. Caroline takes a drink that Roger has poured for her and drinks it in one gulp before drying her tears and returning to her desk. Once she’s gone, Roger raises his glass, looks heavenward, and says “Cheers.”
Finally, it’s time for Don’s photo. The photographer, enamored with Don, decides to abandon his usual approach and go for an action-oriented shot. He has Don leave his sleeves rolled up and tells him to be himself, which for Don Draper is always a loaded remark. Don lights a cigarette, and as he snaps the lighter shut, he looks down and notices that the lighter isn’t his, but PFC Dinkins’s, the soldier he met in Hawaii. An inscription on it reads, “In life we often have to do things that just aren’t our bag.” This discovery catches Don off guard and sends him into a tailspin. While this is happening, the photographer tells Don to be himself. Don’s having picked up another soldier’s lighter is an echo of Don having assumed another soldier’s identity and then building another new identity on top of that, so that when Don is urged to be himself, it’s a complicated matter.
The following day, Betty finds Sally eating in the kitchen, and when she reminds her that Sandy is coming for lunch, Sally informs Betty that Sandy won’t be coming. She’s left early for Julliard. Kiernan Shipka continues to deliver wonderful performances as the put-upon Sally Draper, making you want to wring her neck at her over-dramatic responses to every comment uttered by her family.
This news sends Betty into a tailspin, and she goes to Sally’s room, takes a photo of Sally and Sandy, and leaves to go looking for her – a journey that takes her to the East Village.
Betty on St. Mark’s Place is a study in contrasts. The neighborhood is bombed out and populated by scruffy young people. She looks every bit the suburban housewife, and sticks out like a sore thumb. She asks passersby if they’ve seen Sandy, but no one will talk to her.
Finally, a couple of guys stop and look at the photo, but deny having seen Sandy. They enter an abandoned building. When Betty asks if she can come in, they tell her the door is always open.
Betty is shocked at the squalor of the living conditions of the flophouse, but over time, offers to help the boys cook goulash with pilfered groceries. Again, even though Betty could be their mother, it’s as if she, like Sandy, is the fresh-faced kid, experiencing something wondrous and new.
Finally, the leader of this band of dropouts – Zow – shows up with Sandy’s violin case, and when Betty confronts him, he attacks her middle-class values, accusing her of casting kids like him and Sandy off, treating them like garbage. This angers Betty, and she fights back, telling Zow that what he doesn’t understand is that she’s on a reclamation mission. She wants Sandy.
Unswayed, Zow lands a solid punch when he calls Betty a bottled blonde and tells her he doesn’t like her life any more than she does. This said, Betty takes the violin case and leaves, except that just before she walks out of the house, she puts the case down, abandoning it.
Back home, Betty attempts to talk to Sally, who is on the phone and shuts her bedroom door to get some privacy. She then goes to Henry, who is in bed and curious about where she’s been. She keeps her adventure a secret.
On the day of Roger’s mother’s funeral, Don sleeps in. Megan wakes him to let him know she’s leaving for the studio. After she is gone, Don sits up and sees the lighter on his nightstand. He picks it up, then walks over and drops it in a wastebasket.
At the funeral, held in Roger’s mother’s house, Roger is fawned over by friends of his mother and relatives – spectral old women not far from the grave themselves. Ex-wives Mona and Jane show up. Roger welcomes Jane warmly, rejecting her offer to return his mother’s wedding ring. Mona’s arrival is marred by the presence of a new man, whom Roger doesn’t like.
SCDP is represented by Pete, Ken, and Harry…and Bob Benson. Benson’s presence is announced by caterers, who show up with a big spread that is accompanied by a card of condolence by the scheming newcomer. The card is read aloud, and not knowing who Benson is, Roger tells the caterers to take the food to the kitchen.
Ken attempts to break the tension with small talk, asking Pete and Harry if their mothers are still alive. It’s in the middle of this conversation that Don shows up drunk. Pete, already annoyed at Harry’s horniness, chastises Don by asking him how many funerals he’s already been to that day. Ken, ever the peace-maker, asks Don about whether his mother is still alive. This unwelcome reminder of who he really is causes Don to retreat to the other side of the room to watch the proceedings.
Before Roger can begin the service, a friend of his mother’s butts-in and demands to speak. She reads a prepared statement that testifies to the love Roger’s mother had for him, how he was the center of her universe. Right on cue, Don throws up in the corner, disrupting the eulogy. Pete and Ken and Harry whisk Don away, but the spell has been broken and Roger uses the incident as an excuse to behave like the spoiled little boy he really is and berate Mona for daring to bring this rival to “my funeral.”
That said, Roger tells everyone the party is over and demands that they all leave immediately. When no one makes a move to do so, he runs out of the parlor and upstairs to his old room.
Later, Mona comes to Roger, who is feeling sorry for himself, and tries to comfort him, assuring him that everyone there loved him and worried about how he felt about them. This cheers him up, and he makes a pass, which Mona brushes aside. She encourages him to spend more time with their daughter Margaret.
Later, Roger goes back downstairs to find Margaret sitting alone in the parlor. He sits with her, and they have a good talk. Roger shows her a jar containing water from the River Jordan, which his father brought home from one of his trips. Roger was baptized with this water, as was Margaret. He’s feeling nostalgic. Sensing an opportunity, Margaret makes a pitch for Roger to invest in a company that her husband Brooks is backing. The company has made an advancement in refrigeration technology, making it possible to ship produce cross-country so that folks on the east coast can have fresh fruit and vegetables from the west coast. Roger agrees to take a look, provided Brooks can put something in writing for him. Margaret happily agrees, and gives him a big, happy kiss. Once again, Roger is buying happiness. He can’t help himself.
Pete and Ken and Harry get Don back to his building, where they meet Jonesy, who asks if Don is okay. Don asks Jonesy about the day he nearly died, wanting to know if he saw anything. Jonesy’s cheerful mask melts away, and he tries to avoid Don’s line of questioning, telling Don that the doctor said he wasn’t really dead. “I saw it,” Don says. “You were dead. What did you see?”
“I don’t like to think about it,” Jonesy says.
“You must’ve seen something.”
“I don’t know…there was a light.”
“Was it hot, tropical sunshine?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you hear the ocean?”
Finally, the guys get him into an elevator and apologize to a bewildered Jonesy, who has probably never seen Mr. Draper out of control.
Later, Megan returns to find Don as she left him, except for the suit and shoes which are strewn all over the bedroom floor. She tells him that they have expanded her role on the soap opera, except that she’ll be playing a villain. Don congratulates her. “So, you’ll love me if I’m a lying, cheatin, whore?” she asks.
As she gets up to get something to eat, she hands Don the lighter, which the maid found in the garbage. This lighter has become like a ghost – a reminder of what? His inauthenticity? His paradise lost in Hawaii?
Peggy works late, as usual, and Abe shows up with food. When he asks what she’s working on, she explains that it’s a trick Don taught her – she’s writing a letter to a fictitious friend, telling her how good the Koss headphones are. Her writers bring her some new ideas, and after she dresses them down for bringing her work that “looks like cowardice,” Abe calls her out for being mean. When he puts on the headphones and starts rocking out to whatever music he hears, Peggy is inspired by an idea.
At the office the next day, Pete reminds Don of the Sheraton pitch, and when Don tries to postpone it, Pete won’t let him. Don then finds Ms. Chambers and asks her to locate PFC Dinkins and send him the lighter. When she asks if she should send a note, he tells her not to, that it was something he found and wants to return to its rightful owner. Nothing more.
Roger returns to his shrink, and complains about Mona and Margaret, that all they do is guilt him and take his money. But that’s not his real gripe. He explains to his doctor that “all I’m going to be doing from here on is losing everything.” His doctor tells him he feels lost. “I don’t feel anything,” Roger says. “Life will eventually end, and someone else’ll get the bill.” It’s a bleak outlook.
As Ken shows up at the office, he notices Bob Benson sitting on a couch at the receptionist’s desk. At first, Ken ignores him, and he thinks better of it. He turns to Bob, who immediately goes into suck-up mode. Ken asks him how his catering business is going. When Bob expresses confusion, Ken calls him out on his stunt with the funeral – sending the food. “It was too much,” Ken tells him. “Almost like you were invited. You weren’t.” He does Bob a favor by telling him exactly what he’s doing wrong. It’ll be interesting to see if Bob takes the advice.
It’s interesting to see Pete and Harry and Ken as they assume more senior roles within the company. Pete looks older. Harry seems curmudgeonly, despite the trendy looks. And Ken seems to be taking his career more seriously. Is he still writing? What about Corning? Is he over that? Gone are the frat-house antics. These guys are approaching 30, and are dealing with the pressures of family, homeownership, and fighting off a younger generation of hungry upstarts like Bob Benson. As Mad Men is primarily about identity, it will be interesting to see how these guys adjust to this new phase of their lives and careers.
At the Sheraton pitch, there are two representatives from Sheraton. From SCDP it’s Don, Roger, Pete, and Stan. Don leads the pitch, as usual, and he begins by describing the feeling that has stayed with him since returning from Hawaii. It’s vague, and he tells the Sheraton guys they aren’t selling a location, but an experience. An experience that makes you glad to be away from home. That doesn’t cause you to be the least bit homesick. He nails it with the tagline – “Hawaii, the jumping off point.”
Stan reveals the artwork – a suit and tie and shoes lying on the beach; a pair of bare footprints trailing off to the water. He goes on to explain that Hawaiian legend has it that the soul can enter and leave the body, but that it usually happens from a leeward point into the waves.
This confuses the clients, who want to know where the man went, did he commit suicide, and why there aren’t any photos of the hotel or Diamond Head in the ad. It’s a rare whiff by Don, and perhaps the reason has to do with how he’s been affected by the trip, by PFC Dinkins, and what it reminds him of. This ad seems to be more about Don that it does Sheraton.
The more Don tries to justify the ad, the worse the situation gets until Pete whisks the clients away with promises to make a second try at getting it right.
After Pete and the clients leave, Roger gets in a zinger on Don. “What’s the matter? You didn’t get all your vomiting done at my mother’s funeral?” Don apologizes again for the gaffe, and Roger waves him off, telling him he didn’t miss anything.
Don turns to Stand and asks him if the ad reminds him of suicide. “Of course,” Stan tells him. “That’s what’s so great about it.”
“You know, we sold actual death with Lucky Strike for 25 years,” Roger says. “You know how we did it? We ignored it.” It’s a statement that applies to their lives as well as Lucky Strike.
Sally complains to Henry that she wants to go somewhere for New Year’s Eve. As Henry is punting on a decision, Betty enters, a newly minted brunette. Henry gasps. Sally laughs. Bobby tells her he hates it and that she’s ugly. Henry collects himself, and hugs her and asks Elizabeth Taylor what she’s done with his wife. The bottled blonde comment by Zow must have really hit home. But where is Betty going with this change? Is she giving up on being Princess Grace, or is she truly going au natural and strive to be the real Betty, whoever that is?
Roger receives one more bit of bad news from Caroline. It turns out that Giorgio, the shoeshine guy Roger was looking for on the day of the photo shoot, has died. His family sent Giorgio’s shoeshine kit to Roger because he was the only person to ask about him. Caroline hands him the shoeshine kit, and he takes it to his office. Alone, he opens the kit and looks at the meager possessions – the tools of one man’s trade that are all that is left behind in the wake of his death. Something about them breaks through that numb façade Roger’s been hiding behind, and he breaks down in tears.
On New Year’s Eve, Peggy and her team work as though it’s any other night. Peggy and Stan are on the phone, having their usual late-night chats while each burns the midnight oil at their respective offices. They gossip and bitch, and in the middle of this conversation, Ted walks in, dressed for a party. Peggy sets the receiver down on her desk without hanging up, allowing Stan to hear the conversation that follows.
Ted says that since he heard four people were working on New Year’s Eve, he felt like he needed to make an appearance. He apologizes for not being available for Peggy during her Koss crisis, explaining that it turns out her works too much. Peggy lets him know that she figured out the problem, and that everything will be okay. Ted asks why her underlings are still there on New Year’s Eve if the big crisis has been averted. It’s a gentle admonishment, but a criticism that isn’t new to her.
Peggy shows Ted the work. It’s from an outtake of a commercial shoot that was inspired by Abe’s visit. Ted loves the new commercial, pronouncing it even better than the first. “It always takes a crisis to make work this good,” he says. He piles on the praise by telling Peggy that she’s always good in a crisis.
Appearance made, Ted wishes Peggy a happy New Year then leaves for his party. When Peggy picks up the receiver, Stan is still there. “He likes you,” he says, laughing.
Don and Megan host a party to ring in 1969. Arnold and Sylvia Rosen are there, as is another couple from the building – Dave and Kathy. The couples obviously don’t know each other very well, and ask basic getting-to-know-you kinds of questions. It’s a setting that has never suited Don very well.
As Megan switches fondue courses, she has Don get out the slides from their vacation. It’s such a 1960’s move, and one that calls back the chilling conclusion to season one – Don’s Carousel pitch to Kodak – except that Don is mute during this presentation.
Later, after Dave and Kathy have gone home, the Drapers and Rosens enjoy themselves so much fun they miss midnight altogether. While they do a round of celebratory shots, the phone rings. It’s Arnold’s service, calling him in for emergency surgery. Don offers to walk him downstairs, saying he needs to buy a pack of cigarettes.
Don and Arnold end up in the storage area of the building, looking for Arnold’s cross-country skis. Don asks Arnold what it’s like having someone’s life in his hands. Arnold tells him it’s an honor and privilege to be trusted with that responsibility. He also tells Don to quit smoking.
As Arnold makes his way to the door to leave, he turns and tells Don, “The whole life and death thing doesn’t bother me. Never has. Guys like us, that’s why we get paid…people will go anything to alleviate their anxiety.” Don watches him ski into a driving snow.
Don seems to really like and respect Arnold, which makes the next scene difficult to reconcile. Instead of returning to his apartment, Don goes to the back entrance of Arnold’s apartment, where Arnold’s wife Sylvia waits and leads him to bed.
In the bedroom, Sylvia asks Don if he read her Dante. He tells her that it reminded him of her, a comment that she doesn’t quite know how to take. Don tells her it’s beautiful. After a quiet moment, she asks him what he wants in the new year. “I want to stop doing this,” he tells her. It’s a flat statement, nearly whispered. “I know,” she tells him, not understanding that Don’s statement isn’t about them leaving their spouses for each other, but something much deeper. Don’s statement seems to be more about that jumping off place, and this season promises to take us there.
Early the next morning, Don goes back to his place and slips into bed with Megan, who has a script in bed with her. They wish each other a happy new year as Don Ho sings.
Don and Betty and Roger and Peggy are at a jumping off point. Who else will join them? Who will follow-through, and who will chicken out or not make it?