Okay, so the people getting married aren’t Don and anyone, in fact they aren’t even really characters on the show. Still, when Megan Draper wakes up one morning during her Hawaiian vacation and finds Don gone, she’s more than a little surprised and touched to discover that Mr. Draper is giving away a GI bride as a favor to a stranger. Has Don gone soft and sentimental?
The incident sets the tone of the whole episode, “The Doorway.” Television’s most glamorous show has developed into far more than 60s pastiche or soap opera. This episode it mostly muses on death, life, lust, and love. The title refers most directly to something Roger Sterling says to his therapist, “you realize that’s all there are: doors, and windows, and bridges and gates. And they all open the same way. And they all close behind you.” Poor Roger. This episode is hard on him; his mom dies, Don vomits at the funeral, Ron cannot handle having two ex-wives and a grown daughter, Joan doesn’t fix anything, and he finally goes to pieces when he learns that his shoeshine guy has passed away too.
But back to the question, has Don changed? We were left wondering just this as the last season ended with Don seeming to return to philandering form. Here’s what this episode tells us. He seems more accepting of Megan’s acting work, or at least to be expressing his dissatisfaction in a passive-aggressive way. For example, when she scores more days on the soap opera, she has to miss Mrs. Sterling’s funeral; this is when Don is unexpected unsupervised near the spectre of death that he imbibes so much booze that he yaks during the first (and only) eulogy. On the other hand, it seems like Don has made a real friend in his neighbor Dr. Rosen. They enjoy chatting in the elevator; Don gives him a camera, and seems to genuinely feel warmth toward him. They evidently met weeks or months before when their building’s doorman Jonesy had a heart attack, drawing them together in the critical moments of shock and response. More on Don later.
Betty goes through her own set of revelations, and she chooses to express her learning experience by ditching the innocent blond look with a dramatic dark dye job. To tell the story a bit backwards, she feels shocked by how much the world is changing without her. She finds this out by going to a squat in the Village to find a missing friend of Sally’s, a young violinist, Sandy, who ran away in the aftermath of her rejection from Juilliard and her mother’s death. Betty’s adventure in the radical dwelling leaves her shaken because these kids simultaneous frustrate, disgust, and call to her tiny nurturing heart. She helps them make goulash in exchange for more information on the young woman who appears to have disappeared on her way to California without even her violin.
Things with Peggy appear to be going mostly well. She deals efficiently and skillfully with disgruntled customers when Koss headphones folks go into a complete tizzy over some political humor. Her relationship with Abe seems to have genuine affection and an understanding of her work life. The interesting clues for the rest of the season come when Peggy works late to fix the Superbowl ad (and forces her under-appreciated underlings to work late as well). As she works, she appears to be on a long phone call to her former coworker and near nemesis Stan. They’ve clearly come through their differences into a powerful friendship. Though Peggy and Abe have a good relationship, this new friendly relationship contains elements of submerged attraction, as does her brief conversation with her boss Ted. I have a feeling that romantic shake-ups lie ahead.
Two last things to consider about whether or not season six is bringing us a new Don Draper. First, he is genuinely off target with his ad pitch to Royal Hawaiian. He offers them what is meaningful to him: an existential new beginning. The ad is a stark picture of an empty suit on a beach with footprints leading into the ocean. The reps find it alienating and reminiscent of suicide. The old Don Draper would have accepted their first hint of negativity and spun out a golden new idea before the end of the meeting. This Don Draper seeks to explain himself and doubles down on his pitch of Hawaii as a place to shed one’s skin. It isn’t a good meeting, but we’ll see what happens.
Our last clue comes through New Year’s Eve at the glamorous Draper apartment. Megan and Don host Dr. Rosen and his lovely wife Sylvia and another couple through fondue, flirtation, and a slide show (on the old Carousel, way to go season one callback). They are all having so much fun that they don’t even notice midnight’s passing (which is my personal definition of a good NYE party). They are only interrupted when duty calls for Dr. Rosen. Don walks him out into the snowy night almost tenderly, and we realize why soon after. Don and Sylvia are both guiltily cheating on spouses they love with the partners of good people. Double guilt for Don and his adorable new mistress. I guess that hasn’t changed.
All in all, I think it is too early to say whether or not Don is transforming. I sure can tell he’s thinking though.