Mad Men series creator Matthew Weiner says the theme of this season is centered around anxiety and transformation: "Can you change? And what does it take to change? And are you capable of it? Why are you this way?"
"The Doorway" Parts 1 and 2 certainly kick off these themes: change, for better, for worse, or just for change's sake, is unavoidable. Old habits die hard. Old anxieties die even harder.
The stage is set with a feverish CPR sequence, but quickly cuts to Megan Draper’s stomach on a Hawaiian beach. Don is exercising his existential angst, while Megan is working on her tan and drinking blue drinks. Somehow, Don, reading Dante’s Inferno while on an expensive business trip, is the one that ends up looking self-absorbed.
Inferno introduces Don’s psyche throughout the episode — already preoccupied with death, when his doorman Jonesy collapses and briefly dies, he becomes obsessed. He’s brought back to life with the CPR, but Don seems more shapen than Jonesy does.
In Hawaii, Don doesn’t seem to see the point in anything but some hard, deep thinking. But Megan has enough perk for both of them. She’s a soap opera star now, and she is all smiles and pot-smoking. A woman at the resort recognizes her and asks for her autograph; she is unbelievably flattered.
The couple ends up watching a kitschy hula dance performance, but they might as well have been dashboard ornaments to Don — he smiles briefly, but only for the clients from Sheraton.
Of course, Don ends up drinking alone at the hotel bar, where a younger man recognizes Don as a veteran by his lighter. The man is reluctantly getting married, since his fiancee thinks that he has a better chance of living through his Vietnam deployment if he has something to live for.
“One day I’ll be a veteran in paradise,” says Don's new, temporary pal, “One day, I’ll be the man who can’t sleep and talks to strangers.”
Despite the kid’s obsession with guns and saying that Hawaiians “look like the enemy,” Don agrees to give the bride away the next day. This comes as a total surprise to Megan, who emerges from the room in the morning to see the ceremony.
The doorman’s collapse, in addition to framing Don’s state of mind, introduces Don’s friend and neighbor Dr. Arnold Rosen. The two appear to be kindred spirits throughout the episode — Don even digs into a closet at work to get Arnold a Leica camera. All surrounding characters are understandably taken aback to see Don have a non-work-related buddy, but the friendship is perhaps a little more sinister than appearances imply.
Then there’s Betty and the kids. Betty, who’s still a little heavier, is pulled over coming back from the Nutcracker with Henry’s mother, Sally, and their 15-year-old houseguest Sandy. It’s quickly established that Sandy has come to live with them after her mother died. Betty gets a reckless driving ticket, Sally says she hates cops (we really hope that’s foreshadowing), and the mother-in-law very angrily name-drops Henry.
Sally has grown up considerably; while her air time this episode was disappointingly short, she spent that time rolling her eyes at her mother, talking on the phone about boys, and being generally callous. She does seem to have a bond with Sandy, though, apologizing for her family being embarrassing when they insist on seeing Sandy play violin.
Maybe it’s Sally’s adolescence that’s making Betty uncomfortable, but she’s back to being crass and manipulative like only she can. She voices jealousy to Henry about Sandy: “why don’t you just go in there and rape her?”
She laughs it off after Henry gets understandably uneasy — but wow, Betty, wow.
Regardless of what she told Henry, Betty builds a bond with Sandy. After making things awkward with Henry, she walks downstairs to find Sandy smoking a cigarette at the kitchen table, a spitting image of a younger Betty. They have a pretty serious talk; Sandy reveals that she got rejected from Julliard, but might just run to New York anyway. She’s excited about some squatter communes off St. Mark’s Place. Betty opens up about when she tried to be a model, and warns Sandy that it’s not glamorous being young, single and broke. Sandy has no desire to be dependent on anyone, though.
When Sandy does eventually run away, Betty is so distressed that she drives up to the squat by St. Mark’s Place to look for her, but only finds the violin. She ends up just hanging out with some pot-smoking street kids (“is marijuana expensive,” she asks) and helping them make goulash, only to find out that Sandy sold the violin earlier — she needed money to get to California. The young rapscallion that lets her know is antagonistic: “we get to take everything the establishment throws away.”
Betty, not to be outdone, responds, “I hope you get tetanus or crabs or whatever else is crawling around here.” She’s on a roll! She uses up that energy not by going on a stabbing spree, though, but by dying her hair a deep, dark brown — presumably a callback to her and Sandy’s conversation about being true to yourself, but perhaps giving in a little to the anti-establishment kid who called her hair color “bottle.”
Meanwhile, Peggy’s situation is the comic relief. At the end of last season, Ted Chaough offered her a lucrative position at Cutler Gleason and Chaough, a rival agency, but now everyone Peggy is working with is an idiot. Her current crisis? Johnny Carson did an insensitive sketch about Vietnam, involving a necklace made of ears. A Koss headphone ad that she wrote airs during Johnny Carson, and opens, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen! Lend me your ears.” Peggy sees a big problem. Her new co-worker, Burt, who’s drunk-dialing her at midnight, doesn’t get the Shakespeare reference.
After wrestling a flighty creative team into coming up with a quick but usable solution, she eventually settles on an outtake of an actor making funny faces while wearing the headphones. Ted stops in, since it’s New Years Eve and all, a nice and charming gesture that Don never extended to her. “You’re good in a crisis,” he says. Positive feedback: what a concept!
Back at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, the creative team is smoking pot and the partners are posing for publicity portraits. Most of the lower-level staff have jumped on some kind of ridiculous late-’60s-early-’70s fashion bandwagon: Ginsberg has an awful mustache, Stan has a full beard, and poor Harry has sideburns and is wearing a suit patterned in used-car-salesman checks. We’re briefly introduced to a new copywriter, a middle-aged woman who has trouble getting past a shallow definition of love, and Bob Benson (Lone Star's James Wolk), a disgustingly perky, ambitious new accounts man.
The lighter conversation back in Hawaii (maybe in addition to reading Inferno on a hot beach) really freaks Don out, and he spends most of his time the rest of the episode just staring at it, getting drunk, or trying to throw it away. This has predictable but negative effects on his ad campaign for Sheraton — he can’t make it sound like it’s not about suicide. "How do you get to heaven?" Don says as he panics, defending his ad campaign, "Something terrible has to happen."
Pete senses how far Don is off his game, and tries to charm up some downer damage control. Stan thinks the suicidal undertones are pretty groovy, though: “that’s what’s so great about it!”
Roger has started going to psychoanalysis, which is pretty much exactly like when he was dictating Sterling’s Gold into a tape recorder, only there’s a man sitting a safe distance behind him. He tries to joke, but is unnerved when his analyst doesn’t react like the general public.
“We talked about that,” the analyst reminds him, “I can’t laugh at everything you say.”
But Roger is thrown for a loop when his mother dies. She was 91, and initially Roger laughs it off, but it begins to eat at him. When one of his mother’s friends delivers a touching eulogy about how much Roger meant to his mom, a very drunk and sad Don vomits (perhaps set off by his own dead mother, whom he never knew) and Roger flies off the handle. Bob has a fancy dinner spread sent to the wake right as Roger’s ex shows up with her new husband, causing him to throw a fit, only to be calmed down by his ex-wife.
Jane’s still around, but she is just a well-dressed brick wall except to give Roger his mother’s ring back. Roger hands it over to his daughter, who normally hates him, and maybe takes a few steps toward maybe not being a pariah among those he loves. He lets his son-in-law have some money to invest in refrigerated trucks, too, while he’s at it.
Don, on the other hand, does nobody any favors as Jonesy the Doorman helps him up to his room. “What did you see when you died?” he asks. “I didn’t,” Jonesy responds.
Megan has been working all day, and comes home late to Don sleeping it off. Her character on the soap has become an extremely exciting foil, apparently: she asks, “So you’ll still love me even if I’m a lying, cheating whore?”
We hope that’s foreshadowing, as well.
Roger, after insisting for most of the episode that he doesn’t feel any feelings whatsoever (despite telling his shrink things like, “all I’ll be doing from here on is losing everything”), learns that his shoe shiner has died. He locks himself in his office and cries.
All worries about a lack of scandal are tossed away by the end: Don and Megan’s small, domestic New Years Eve party comes to a close when Arnold gets called to the hospital at 1 a.m. Don walks him to the door, and you think he has finally made a deep, human connection with someone. As Arnold says, “Guys like us, that’s why we get paid... you get paid to think about things they don’t want to think about, and I get paid not to think about them. People will do anything to alleviate their anxiety.”
As if on cue, Don makes a pit stop on his way back upstairs: at Arnold’s apartment, to sleep with his wife (Linda Cardellini, making us do a total double-take). Apparently, this affair has been happening for quite some time. That copy of Inferno that Don was reading? She was behind that. It’s a pretty morbid book for your partner in adultery to lend you, unless you like the idea of being smashed against rocks by a stormy sea for all eternity.
She asks Don what his New Years resolution is, and he responds, “for this to stop.” We are pretty sure that’s not going to happen right away. He is, however, able to muster enough domestic bliss to cuddle up with Megan back at home, and respond to her “happy new year” in kind.