Although the critically-acclaimed AMC series Mad Men failed in its bid to win five straight Emmy's for Best Drama Series last year, losing out to Showtime's buzzworthy Homeland, don't think for one second that the show is losing a step. The two-part Season 6 premiere, "The Doorway, Part 1" and "The Doorway, Part 2", proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is still one of the best shows on television, if not the best, and proves that every week we have Don Draper and the rest of these Mad Men (and women) in our lives, is better than a week without them.
As with every season of Mad Men, much is made about what year the show is set in. Season 5 left off in the spring of 1967, and, while it is not implicitly said what year Season 6 takes place, there are a few big hints as to what year this season takes place in, one of which involves a phone conversation with Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), where she reveals who she thinks will be playing in the Super Bowl. Part of me doesn't want to spoil it for you, just so you can figure it out for yourself... and another part of me doesn't want to spoil it because I'm not entirely sure that my hypothesis is correct. Regardless of the actual year, you can most definitely tell it is the late 1960s because certain characters, such as Rich Sommer's Harry Crane and Peggy's boyfriend Abe (Charlie Hofheimer), have let their hair and mustaches grow out plenty.
This two-part premiere starts out with an odd scene indeed: one of Don's new neighbors, Dr. Arnold Rosen (Brian Markinson) giving CPR to a man in the lobby of Don's luxury apartment complex. Moments later, we're whisked away to Hawaii to find Don relaxing on the beach, reading Dante's Inferno (bizarre) while his lovely wife Megan (Jessica Paré) soaks up the sun. We learn just a short time later that Megan is now a working actress on a soap opera entitled Berkshire Falls, when an adoring fan interrupts her dinner to ask for an autograph. As you may recall, Season 5 ended with Megan asking for Don's help to land a commercial, and it seems that move paid off in spades for her. It's also worth noting that Don has a unique encounter with a U.S. soldier named Dinkins (Patrick Mapel), who is on leave from the war in Vietnam so he can get married in Hawaii. While it is a brief scene, there are reverberations from that encounter that come up throughout this fantastic two-part episode.
If I have any "complaint" about this two-hour debut, it's that there is almost too much going on. Mad Men has always been quite the crowded show, with a large ensemble cast of incredibly compelling characters that each deserve their just due, which makes it exceedingly tricky to keep everyone happy. While I haven't had a problem with this in the past, for reasons I can't entirely pinpoint, it just seemed like a premiere that was more cramped than usual.
The episodes, both written by series creator Matthew Weiner and directed by Scott Hornbacher, brilliantly set up how much change many of these characters will have to face. There is a superb sequence where Betty (January Jones) goes into a dingy part of the city to look for a runaway, Sandy (Moneyball's Kerris Dorsey), who apparently is some sort of family friend, although her presence isn't explained terribly well. Betty finds herself in a rundown building full of young squatters, who are perfectly content with their filthy way of living, which visibly disgusts the prim and proper Betty. This scene speaks volumes of the sociological changes that are happening whether Betty likes it or not. She seems appalled that they choose to live like this, and it seems to be quite the shock to her prim and proper system, although she does stick around longer than I would have expected her to. We also see plenty of Peggy Olsen, who is thriving at her new ad firm and becoming somewhat of a Don Draper in her own right. It's amazing to see how subtly they show Peggy's growth, confidence, and Draper-like demeanor without bashing us over the head with it.
Also, be on the lookout for a few fantastic guest stars in James Wolk (Lone Star) as Bob, a new and mysterious presence around the Sterling Cooper Draper offices, and Linda Cardellini as Sylvia Rosen, Arnold's wife. It's pretty clear what both Bob and Sylvia will be sticking around for at least part of the season.
Mad Men, oh how did I miss thee! This superb season premiere sets up what should be an incredible season, and I have to imagine there will be many "radical" elements of the late 1960s that will creep its way into the show. Welcome back, you mad men and women of AMC. Welcome back indeed!
If you agree or disagree with my review, feel free to follow me on Twitter @GallagherMW and let your voice be heard. The two-part Season 6 premiere, "The Doorway, Part 1" and "The Doorway, Part 2", debuts Sunday, April 7 at 9 PM ET on AMC.