When we last left Don Draper, the question was “Are you alone?” Let’s get some answers. It seems like Mad Men isn’t necessarily the must-watch show around the ol’ water cooler that it was in the first few seasons. Let’s get into it, shall we?
We open at the end of 1967. Don and Megan are still married, but all is not well in the Draper household. He seems more annoyed with her than ever. The pair are vacationing in Hawaii, where Don is doing a little light reading from Dante’s Inferno on the beach as a man dies nearby. They’re there to come up with a pitch for the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, but when he gets back to New York and airs his idea, it reads as a cry for help from a prospective suicide.
Roger Sterling is the other major player in the episode. After his LSD experiences last season, Roger’s introspective nature continues to flower in therapy. Unfortunately, he’s thrown off-track by the death of his mother. The funeral is an excoriating scene that drives an already morbid Don Draper into vomiting.
Peggy Olson has apparently continued her transformation into Don, settling into her new role at Cutler, Gleason and Chaough. She’s a little harder, a little less open, and already cracking the whip on her subordinates. Where she’ll go from here is anybody’s guess – I doubt they’ll keep her away from the SCDP crew for too long – but it’s super interesting watching her evolve professionally.
Betty Francis’s story gets even weirder as Sally brings home a teenage violin player friend who later runs away to live with squatters in Greenwich Village. Her dive into the grotty side of the beat scene prompted a very unusual character transformation – Betty’s a bottle blonde after all, which shines a new light onto Don’s previously all-brunette dating history.
And, at the end of the episode, we learn that Draper’s quest for meaning has driven him back to the one thing that he’s always turned to: women. He’s actually having an affair with the wife of the doctor in his building, letting us know that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The overarching theme of this episode was death and mortality, as the free-wheeling 60s segue into the grim 1970s. America’s star started to fall with the Vietnam War, New York City started to transform into a bleak hellhole, and advertising – well, advertising continued to thrive. This was an interesting episode, for the most part – it set up some new status quo but didn’t really push anything forward much. It’s hard to recap because it was so dense and layered – reducing it to a plot summary makes it seem like any other TV show, and that’s not Mad Men. Even up against Game Of Thrones, it’s still worth watching.