Perviously on Mad Men: Don may or may not have returned to his old ways, Roger may or may not have had an terrifying realization about his life and pursuits, Peggy may or may not have gone to greater pastures, Pete may or may not have had gained some emotional maturity, Megan may or may not be the partner Don needs going forward, and Joan may or may not have finally gained the respect she deserves... suffice to say a lot was left hanging by last season's end. This is Mad Men we're talking about, after all, the only thing cloudier than the future is the cigarette smoke. However, there were certainties: Lane had a bad year, Betty is not taking her role as the ex-wife well (Ok, I'll be the first to link to it), Sally is having an 'interesting' adolescence, and the entire main cast is going through major transitioning.
With that all out of the way, let's unpack this two-hour premiere shall we. We open with the P.O.V of someone getting resuscitated back to life, cut to Don quoting Dante's Inferno while lying on a sun-soaked Hawaiian beach with Megan, always good tidings with this show. When we last left our favorite existentialist vice-prone ad-man he was helping his wife get ahead in show-biz. It seems the effect of spoiling her is weighing a tad heavily on him. He indures a sleepless night and converses with a young PFC Dinkins (Looking a whole lot like a young Roger Sterling, more on that theme later) on R and R from Vietnam. Dinkins tells him that this is his last moments of Bachelor life, his best man is passed-out from all the Hawaiian alcohol, and that Don should take his place. Don does this act of courtesy while seemingly mixing up his lighter (Lt. Draper's of course) with the PFC's in the process. These events all likely hit a little too close to home for him, namely the effects of marriage and of taking someone else's place.
As the couple return from their trip to paradise, we get a flash-back from right before they took off, their doorman having a heart-attack right in front of them and getting resuscitated by their cardiologist building neighbor, Dr. Rosen (he's the P.O.V from the beginning). Adding more to the ominous tone that the series always manages to produce, the look on Don says it all, "When will I be in that man's position?". It is all a rather odd, but not out of place cold opening for the show. Laying down some of the themes both overtly and subtly for this episode and perhaps the rest of the season.
Meanwhile back at the Francis', Betty and company are enjoying Christmas with Sally's musically inclined friend, Sandy. There is obviously something about her that gets to Betty, her use of "raping her" as an attempt at Dark Humor after Sandy gives an impromptu Violin recital raises a few eyebrows for Henry. Betty has always hidden her vainness and selfishness by her passivity and homemaker's smile, thus whenever she asserts herself it can be jarring. However, what really gets to her is even more apparent in a late night conversation Sandy and Betty have over the former deciding to not continue with playing music after getting rejected by Juilliard, just as Betty gave up modeling years ago deciding to marry Don instead. She sees Sandy making the same mistake of giving up talent in the face one set-back. After she finds out that Sandy has in effect runaway from home, Betty surprisingly searches for her in the village district (Sandy's parents presumably are not around anymore, with her mother's passing recently). Unfortunately, Betty finds out what has been lost can sometimes never be found again. The theme of the night seemingly was seeing and remembering the past by means of a young mirror, PFC Dinkins to Don, Sandy to Betty, Margaret to Roger.
Speaking of Mr. One-Liner, Roger has taken up therapy sessions in leu of his 'epiphany' last season. He gives the episode's title in that he imagines that all of life's 'doors' hold no more mystery for him. As if his mood couldn't be better, his secretary tearfully tells him that his mother passed away. At this moment he only lifts a glass in her honor. After a very Mad Men-Esque funeral ("This is my funeral!") service goes badly, he makes an attempt to amend things with his ex-wife and daughter. He knows that he has burned a bridge concerning his wife, but perhaps he can repair or make an entirely new connection with his daughter. As he remembers how loving and caring his mother was to him, but what will his offspring say about him at his funeral. He does try to patch things up only to find out that they were responding to him in an effort to 'butter' him up to financially support his son-in-law in his pursuits with refrigeration. It's no surprise that when he gets more one more piece of bad news, that of his shoe shiner dying, that he becomes openly emotional, weeping, for the first time in the series.
All the while Don is seemingly still in a haze of sun and surf, detached from 'his' life. He comes back with not just with Dinkins lighter but a renewed question of what life is he actually living? Brought on by the combination of Deja Vu, Dante and Doobies (Bikini Bottom clad no-less). His look of bewilderment as the office photographer asks him to just "be himself" says everything about the state of our leading man since day one. It has always been a labor for him to be 'himself', as he is reminded several times this episode. With PFC, the lighter swap, and at his partner's mother funeral after listening to a eulogy about motherly love and affection he throws-up whatever alcohol was in his system. No doubt thinking what did Mama Whitman have to say at Dick's funeral. Additionally with his "Jumping off-point" ad, when he just doesn't see the negative connotation of suicide in his work, could he possibly start questioning whether he is loosing his touch?
While Don maybe questioning his prowess, other horizons are bright. Continuing the trend of characters transitioning into other ones (Don to Roger, Pete to Don/Roger, and Roger to Burt), Peggy is turning into a killer Don impersonator at her agency. Working late into the night, knocking down her subordinate copy writers a few pegs and repairing a suddenly damaged ad-campaign (due impart to the violence escalating in Vietnam, the times 'they are a' changing') in a flash of brillance. She has learned well from the maestro. Most of her scenes, especially while on the telephone, add much needed comedic moments to the darkly ominous opener. It may be too obvious a plot point for Mad Men to pursue, but it looks as though Don and Peggy are headed in a collision course for the same prime account in the near future. A no holds-bar slug-fest that would potentially turn out to be with many emotions juggling in the balance. Which just as easily may not happen, given the unpredictable nature of the Mad Men writers. His smugness himself, Pete Campbell, also seemingly has gained a stronger foothold in his standing. Teasing Don when he gets back from the trip about his work habits and glibly disregarding Roger's WWII past at the pitch meeting. I think we shall see how strong his standing really is, no doubt he'll be the one to push it.
In summary there is much deathly foreboding and foreshadowing in play (as always...), but also smaller elements of rebirth and renewal. The episode's time-frame is late 1968 to New Years Day 1969, Roger tries to give her daughter baptism water as a sign of continuing the family line (to no avail she leaves the jar right there in front of him), Betty tries a new dark hair-color (to which both Sally and Bobby disapprove harshly) to recapture what had been lost and Don says he wants to "stop doing this" as a New Year resolution, because as it turns out he had in fact been back to his infidelity ways with Dr. Rosen's wife. Is this a sign that he has turned that corner to accepting marriage life, or has he come to the realization that it's time for a new 'Don Draper' identity, with all the signs this episode reminding him of the past he once had. "In life we often have to do things that are just not our bag" indeed, is Don finding out that all this just is all baggage now? Let's see what the next 12 weeks unpacks for us.
So According to the Next Week on Mad Men preview: Don and Pete shout non-sequiturs! People walk in and out of rooms! Don paces around his office! A rousing time to be sure!