Woo! The Orange Couch returns with our “Mad Men” recaps, where Marc Faletti and I put those liberal arts educations to good use examining the themes, symbols, and other literary devices that have made “Mad Men” a low-rated critical darling. Watch the video for our discussions of all the heavy symbolism around life and death, warmth and cold, and various objects that we ought to be cherishing but instead are leaving in a building on St. Mark’s Place that probably is valued at one gazillion dollars now, but was home for rats and squatters in 1967.
The episode is called “The Doorway”, and we didn’t talk much about the use of doors, because Roger Sterling went ahead and told us what all the doors represent. It’s a symbol laden with irony in this elegiac season opener. You think that opening a door means change, but in fact you find that things on the other side of the door are the same as they are on your side. The obviousness of having him say that is rescued by the heavy layers of complexity and irony that this metaphor lays underneath. After all, our characters work in advertising, an industry that exists to routinely promise us that change really is possible. Buy this appliance/car/cigarette and your life will be easier/sexier/more meaningful. But as Don has always understood in his heart of hearts, things do not change. You buy the exciting new product and for a moment, you feel like you really did change your life, but then you wake up in the morning, and you feel empty again, and look, this advertisement for some other product is pulling you in again. Maybe this time the product will actually bring change. But in truth, it never will. It’s just another door.
Even death is questioned in this episode as a change you can believe in. The characters are fascinated by the heart transplant and this possibility that even if your heart stops, you might somehow still be alive. The doorman goes to the other side and comes back, saved by our valiant new character the heart surgeon. Don is haunted by the fear that even death is no escape from the grind.
It’s an interesting theme to dwell on in a show that’s often characterized by detractors as a times-they-are-a-changing cliche-fest. Don used to be a great believer in change. A new identity. A new agency. A new wife. A new account. This time, the change will make a difference! Now—oh irony—he seems to be changing his tune on the subject of change. He’s burned out on change, since change never changes anything. They rearrange his office for a photo shoot and he gripes about it. Change is meaningless, so give it up already. Let’s all just give up and drift out to sea.
But a counterpoint is offered in the doctor strapping on his skis and going out into the snow. Existential dread can be combated, he seems to suggest, by throwing yourself into your work and creating your meaning there. Megan is the same: She’s loving her silly job as a soap opera actress. Don knows that these people have found a way to be satisfied with themselves that’s elusive to him. But he can get his revenge by undermining their marriages, one of which happens to be his own marriage. Don is a bad person. But somehow, we still don’t want him to die. Maybe because that, he’s beginning to fear, is the easy way out.
What did you think of the episode?