Mad Men is back, so you know what that means-- we're poring over weather reports from the 60s to find that New Year's Eve snowstorm, flipping through copies of Dante's The Inferno for hidden references, and mourning that Lindsay Weir (a.k.a. Linda Cardellni) has shown up to make trouble for a beloved TV marriage. We've already written our full recap of the episode, but with two hours and a whole lot of story to dig through, there's obviously more to talk about.
Where is the season going from here? How will Don manage to self-destruct this time? How many Roger Sterling monologues can a single TV show handle? Those and many other questions pondered below.
1. How seriously do we take all this death imagery? When Mad Men went heavy on the death imagery last season, plenty of people were speculating that it would end in a major character death, which made Lane Pryce's suicide not terribly surprising (but still very sad). This season premiere opener seems to double down on the imagery, to the point that I almost wonder if Matt Weiner is pulling our leg. The foreboding took us in the right direction last time, but it's not like Mad Men to do the same thing twice. So if we shouldn't expect another major death… what should we expect from all that gloom?
2. Is the opening shot more than just misdirection? I know I'm not the only person who saw the doctor and heard Megan screaming in that opening shot and assumed Don was having a heart attack (Weiner acknowledges "We want you to worry he's dead.") It was a pretty unfair bait and switch, putting us inside the head of a character we'd never seen before to open up the new season, but that also seems a little cheap for Mad Men's taste. WIll we eventually see Don on the floor, gasping for breath and clinging on to his life-- at least metaphorically? Fans have basically assumed a heart attack was in the cards for Don from the very beginning, and now that the show has plainly acknowledged it, it doesn't seem wise to forget that just yet, especially given all the self-destructive behavior he's engaged in in this episode alone. If it's not the vomiting at Roger's mother's funeral or the cry for help ad for the Hawaii hotel, it's the sleeping with the neighbor's wife that will get him. Or, most likely, some combination of the three.
3. Is Betty on the verge of completely losing it? Last night gave Betty one of the most interesting stories she's had in ages, with her naturally childlike nature leading her to an unusually strong connection to Sally's friend Sandy and a quixotic attempt to find her in a hippie hovel on St. Mark's Place. I don't think I've ever felt for Betty more than when she was helping the squatters cook goulash and snapping back at the mean guy who "bought" the violin, and when she returned home with her hair dyed brown, it was an exciting change of pace for a character who seemed to exist as an anchor pulling Sally and Don both back into the past. But Betty can't just turn into a hippie overnight, and she's too old and meek for that dramatic a change. Given the show's penchant for punishing Betty over the years, I worry this change isn't going to rescue her-- it will devour her.
4. Are we really stuck with Roger Sterling's therapy sessions from now on? Roger is one of television's great talkers, and the interplay between him and his therapist was hilarious ("We've talked about this. I can't laugh at everything you say.") when it wasn't heartbreaking. But I don't think I'm down with Roger stating the show's themes out loud on the therapist couch ("Look, life is supposed to be a path, and you go along, and these things happen to you, and they’re supposed to change your direction, but it turns out that’s not true. Turns out the experiences are nothing.") Mad Men's subtext has always been pretty blatant, and the last thing we need is Roger putting an even finer point on it-- even if his character seems to be going through his most interesting crisis yet in the wake of his mother's death. ("This is my funeral!" Yikes!)
5. Can Peggy stay happy? In an episode suffused with death and bad decisions it was a relief to return periodically to Peggy, who had the episode's funniest scenes ("And also with you" to the pastor on the phone) and the best relationship with her boss and even a brief reunion with Stan over the phone. She's even getting along with that dippy boyfriend! Getting out from under Don's thumb was clearly the best move for her, and the entire series has been setting Peggy up as the ascending star to Don's setting sun. But it doesn't yet feel time for Peggy's happy ending, so how long can this last? And how long before she inevitably winds up clashing with her old mentor from SCDP?