Slate’s Mad Men TV Club writers Hanna Rosin and Seth Stevenson were on Facebook on Monday to chat with readers about the season six premiere. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Seth Stevenson: What did everyone think of the premiere last night?
Patrick McGough: I just found the whole thing underwhelming and hard to connect to. I liked Seth’s take on it in his Slate review, but it all left me cold.
Donna Lyman Semar: Thought it was quite boring. Very disappointed.
Michael Leone: I thought it was strained. Don is becoming dull. Enough with his brooding! The Betty sequence I thought completely unbelievable, and moreover, I don’t give a crap about her. Even the office scenes felt tired and played out. Roger’s sequence was the most interesting and amusing. I was missing Joan.
Hanna Rosin: Wow, am surprised at the negativity. Was it Don’s mute moping that turned everyone off? Roger on the couch?
Jill Elswick: Roger on the couch was the best part! That speech about doors. Death was at every turn in this episode, and the male leads seemed to have lost their way (Don wrote a dud ad that turned out to really be about death!). On the other hand, Peggy and Megan—and even Betty—seemed purposeful. Roger’s tears at being confronted with the death of the shoeshine man was a key development, and it contrasted well with his lack of feeling about his mother’s passing.
Hanna Rosin: Jill—you just pre-empted my Slate entry. I totally agree, the women were doing something, while the men were spinning in circles. Roger can talk—I can luxuriate in Roger talk all day. Woe to the psychiatrist who falls asleep with Roger on the couch. But it’s just talk. Whereas Betty at least ventures out, talks dirty, walks down the path with a modicum of curiosity.
John Swansburg: I gotta say, I found last night’s episode pretty slack. I read that AMC pressured Weiner to open the season with a two-hour episode, and this felt padded out to me. I did love when Ken Cosgrove dressed down that sycophant, though it portended bad things to come for someone.
Seth Stevenson: Ever-amiable Cosgrove took on a much harsher edge last night. Ken’s always been a bit of a fringe character, if beloved by the literary-minded New Englanders among us. Maybe bigger things are in store for him this season?
Hanna Rosin: Yes, why were they all so harsh to that poor fan boy on the couch? And personally, I like having Ken’s clueless amiability as a counterpoint to all the scheming.
Steve Robertson: Pete is a full partner. Ken is a senior accounts exec. There’s a new generation of juniors coming in. Juniors with the same mix of ambition and incompetence that Pete once had. Only now they look at Pete with the same type of awe and jealousy that Pete held for Don.
Seth Stevenson: Perhaps Ken is attempting to nip Pete’s burgeoning fan club in the bud.
Seth Stevenson: Maybe it’s me but I found the premiere riveting. This isn’t a show like Breaking Bad or the Sopranos, where it’s a breeze to chuck in some violence to goose the action whenever things are flagging. I thought there was plenty of emotional drama. Roger dealt with his mother’s death, we learn that Don is cheating on Megan, Peggy is becoming a creative rock star. … Stuff happened!
Byron Boneparth: I think the parts you mention were riveting or at least very interesting. But the whole Betty/Sandy plotline was sort of dull and seemed a bit pointless, and that was a good chunk of the episode. I would have liked more Pete and/or Joan and less of the comparatively less compelling Francises.
Seth Stevenson: I am always in favor of more Joan. And yes, in general, my energy level seems to drop a bit whenever we cut to the Francis abode.
Daniel Noa: Mad Men is about a man falling. It’s a continuous fall. Not two steps forward one step back. And Don’s addiction (womanizing—seduction more than sex) is not Betty’s fault or Megan’s fault, which is the whole point. It’s his fault and he cannot exorcise his demons without drastic action (we’ll see if the show can even go there). More likely, he will be emblematic of a culture and generation that destroyed itself in pursuit of, as Don calls it, “the moment before you need more happiness.”
Hanna Rosin: Matt Zoller Seitz’s recap in Vulture ends on a great question: Are these fundamental human flaws or flaws of the age. Is this something the late ‘60s did to us, or is this the nature of humanity? That seems to be a question overhanging this season, because Don is unchanging and seems unaffected by the times. He would be cheating on his wife if it were 1932. And in some ways, the “age” is setting them up to be better men, to open up and understand themselves better, even if it will take a few decades to get there.
Seth Stevenson: I am also eager to see how the women respond to the changing times. Peggy is raring to go. Joan might have some stumbles as she tries to adjust.
Jaclyn Mosher: How great was it to see Linda Cardellini join the cast! Looking forward to learning more about Sylvia.
Hanna Rosin: Jaclyn, here is a good interview with LC on what it’s like to work on the Mad Men set, and how different it is from Freaks and Geeks. Also, on her wig.
Seth Stevenson: She’s toured the ‘80s in Freaks and Geeks and now the ‘60s in Mad Men. Can’t wait for a ‘70s-themed Linda Cardellini dramedy.
Patrick Topping: Have we figured out what year we are in yet? Seems like there were some clues, i.e. the Leica M2 camera Don handed to Rosen was produced between 1957-1968, the Hawaiian Wedding Song was from early ‘60s, and the Dylan song playing in the St Mark’s Place house when Betty first enters—any thoughts, Seth or Hanna?
Seth Stevenson: The episode started in December ‘67 and ended on Jan 1, 1968. You can see a headline from the New York Times that Don picks up in front of his apartment door at the end of the show.
Cheryl Duncan: I liked the premiere. I think it sets the table for the season. Don is back to his old antics (did we expect anything else?), Roger is still unhappy and must have lost the effects of his acid trip, Peggy is in charge and has lots of men friends and underlings, and Betty is still all over the place and weird. Don sleeping with his friend’s wife is extra creepy, but there seems to be no limit to his immorality.
Seth Stevenson: I kind of wish Roger had kept tripping. It’s understandable he’d decide he’d gleaned all he could from hallucinogens, but how fun might it have been if he’d just flipped out and started following the Merry Pranksters?
Cheryl Duncan: The funeral for Roger’s mother was the strangest funeral I have ever seen. And short! I guess Roger misses his first wife and I don’t blame him. She seemed to be the only sensible person on the entire show last night.
Caroline M L Potter: Did anyone else feel bad for poor Bob?
Seth Stevenson: He did get disproportionate blowback from his brown-nosing. But did you notice: He has two cups of coffee in the elevator, and gives one to Don. Then he gives the other to Pete! Take it down a notch, kiss-up.
Megan Heaney Fleming: I thought the name of the episode “Doorways” was very apt—from elevator doors to coffin lids… But the direction they’re taking Betty gets stranger and stranger. What’s going on there?
Seth Stevenson: I thought about The Doors (named for Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception) and looked up their discography. Their album Strange Days was released in fall 1967, with trippy tracks like “People Are Strange” and “When the Music’s Over”…
Jenny Hansell: I’m still hung up on Betty’s “tie her hands down while you rape her” line… I was as slack-jawed as Henry when she said that. Where did that come from? Are we to think that Henry has wanted her to be more unbuttoned?
Hanna Rosin: Henry seems to blanche when she says that. I don’t think it’s coming from him. I think it’s part of Betty’s perpetual attempts to break out of the suburban fog she lives in (even if those attempts always reveal how petty and vindictive she is). Remember when Betty shot those pigeons in Season 2? It’s something like that. Sometimes Betty just tunes into the dark side.
Charles Gustine: I was thrilled Don had no dialogue until about eight minutes in; I thought it was one of those cool audacious choices that as it went on and on, and dawned on me what was going on, got me really excited.
Seth Stevenson: Don’s first word was “Army” and I wondered if it was somehow a portent for the episode or possibly even the whole season. Why keep him so conspicuously silent unless his first utterance holds some deeper meaning?
Charles Gustine: I keep imagining Don going overseas to Vietnam and, in the rousing season finale, after a season-long search, pulling PFC Dinkins out of heavy gunfire a la Forrest Gump and Bubba. Reason number 5,678 why I am not a television writer.
Hanna Rosin: I had more cheesy, Touched by an Angel-style references floating through my head. There’s a trope with the near death experience when a character finds himself/herself on the other side, not sure whether he’s dead or not, and totally silent before the mystery. So Don’s not talking is a sign, as Seth wrote, that he might be in heaven (or Dante’s Inferno).