The season opener for AMC’s Mad Men dealt with death, hell, and how each character seems to be dealing with these concepts. It opened upon someone giving a man CPR then cut to Don Draper reading Dante’s Inferno on his vacation in Hawaii. Quite a read for a romantic paradise getaway. Megan and Don have sex while high and later on, Megan is recognized by fellow hotel guests due to her star role on a daytime soap opera.
Don can’t sleep so he goes down to the hotel bar and bumps into a new friend. Private Dinkins is taking a break from Vietnam to marry his Hispanic sweetheart beachside and wants Don to give the bride away. Dinkins says he is only getting married because they say married GI’s have something to live for.
After imploring about Don’s army experience in Korea, the two bond and Don does his duty by giving the bride away on the beach. Megan wakes to witness this event and snaps a picture. No big deal right? Wrong. Anything to remind Don Draper about his experience in Korea is going to send him into a downward spiral.
Betty goes to see the Nutcracker with Old Lady Francis, Sally, and her new friend Sandy. Betty gets a ticket for reckless driving and even though Mrs. Francis name drops her son, the officer isn’t impressed. When they get to the house the family insists that Sandy perform on her violin as she recently got into Juilliard. Everyone is entranced and later on, Betty creepily tests her husband to see how into the young girl he really was. He admits she was pretty and talented, but Betty gruesomely offers to hold the teenage girl down while he rapes her. Betty’s beauty and jealousy issues are off the charts insane.
Betty later finds Sandy awake in the kitchen and smoking. Even though she is fifteen, Betty listens to her admit that she didn’t get into Juilliard and plans to run away to New York and live in the village rather than return to school. Betty tries to discourage her from it, saying that when she was a model it wasn’t an easy life.
When Don and Megan return from Hawaii they meet up with the doorman who just recovered from his heart attack. Don flashes back to the scene and realizes that their friend Dr. Rosen was able to save the doorman after the couples had dinner together. The recovered doorman hands Megan a new script from her show. Megan discovers that she has only been given one scene and worries that her vacation damaged her relationship with work.
Peggy gets a late night phone call from her new coworker Burt Peterson about the Johnny Carson show. Apparently, a comedian brought up soldiers cutting off vietcong ears over in Vietnam which directly conflicts with their latest advertising campaign for the Superbowl. She meets with her employees to fix the problem and after meeting with the client she realizes that they’ll have to scrap the ‘lend me your ears’ campaign. She stays late at the office with some cronies to get the job done on New Years Eve.
Don runs into Dr. Rosen in the elevator and offers to give him a Leica camera if he visits the office. They have a ton since they are doing the advertising for the company. Rosen shows up to claim his prize. Don seems enamored with Rosen and invites him to lunch, but the doctor is busy.
In creative, things have clearly shifted forward in time. It’s safe to say that it’s around 1967 from the historical references the characters list throughout this episode. Ginsberg has grown his hair long and sports a mustache, Stan has a full beard, and practically everyone is smoking weed nonchalantly. No one seems phased. Out in the hallway the partners are getting photographed on the new staircase connecting the floors. Pete presses Don on details from his Hawaiian trip to impress the clients, but Don has nothing thus far. Don is annoyed with the photo shoot as his office has been moved around and he isn’t in the mood.
When it’s Don’s turn to be photographed he notices that he switched GI lighters with Private Dinkins. This reminds him of switching dog tags with the real Don Draper and sends him into an alcoholic downward spiral of shame. Roger finds out that his mother has died and holds a wake for her. His ex-wife and her new husband show up as well as his daughter and her husband, and Roger’s ex-wife Jane. When Don shows up he is so drunk from his war memory woes that he vomits in the middle of the wake and has to be carried home. When he sees the doorman, he asks what the man saw when he died. He says he saw a white light.
Betty finds out that Sandy left school early and realizes that she has ran way to the village. Betty attempts to find her, but instead comes upon a dilapidated house in which a bunch of poor kids live. She tries to find out where Sandy may have gone to, but only finds her violin. When more runaway boys show up, they begin to harass her and judge her for being part of the system, calling her ‘blondie’. Betty is so annoyed by this that she leaves Sandy’s violin behind and comes home sporting a brunette hairdo. Her kids hate it, but her husband loves it. Betty recognizes that she isn’t a pretty face anymore and lacks substance, but she doesn’t know what to do with these feelings of inadequacy.
During the episode, Roger is constantly talking with his psychiatrist. He attempts to connect with his ex-wife and then his daughter, but to no avail. Roger is certainly alone, but can’t acknowledge any sadness over his mother’s death or the disconnect from his family. Later on, when his secretary informs him that his shoe shine guy has died Roger breaks down into tears.
Don is so ashamed of Dinkins cigarette lighter that he throws it away, but the maid finds it in the trash and Megan makes sure he gets it back, assuming it is Don’s true lighter. Don presents with the clients of the Hawaiian resort in which he pitches an ad featured a man walking into the ocean without his clothes. It reminds the clients of suicide, but Don insists that it is not about that. It’s about freeing oneself and going into the unknown. The clients aren’t pleased.
Peggy finally figures out what she needs to do to fix the headphones ad and her boss Ted is impressed. Stan listens on the phone and tells Peggy that Ted likes her. Ted does say that she is a little hard on her employees, but that is what makes Peggy great. She is the new Don Draper of her firm.
New Years Eve at the Draper’s features fondu and alcohol. Dr. Rosen is called away for a patient and the couples are so distracted with conversation that they realize they’ve missed midnight. Don offers to walk Rosen downstairs and wants to pick up some cigarettes. He asks what it’s like to care for people who are dying and who put their life in Rosen’s hands. The doctor answers that it is a privilege and an honor that he is proud of. Don remarks that his life is less important, but Rosen disagrees saying that Don acknowledges all the hardships in life through advertising which are things most people don’t want to think about. Rosen says that people will do anything to forget their anxieties.
Later on, Don sleeps with Rosen’s wife which is apparently a recent routine. She asks him what his resolution for the New Year is and he replies, “To stop doing this.” Rosen’s wife seems to understand. Even someone like Rosen whom he admires isn’t enough to curb Don when he wants to sleep with someone. Don Draper is a man who has it all and wants very much to be honorable, but feels as though he doesn’t deserve his success or his beautiful marriage or family. He self-sabotages over and over again as punishment, secretly hoping to bottom out. It is a perpetual hell of which he cannot escape.