Mad Men Returns: The Search for Don Draper Is Getting Old

Plus: Betty and Peggy step through the doorway.

Much as I love Mad Men, the Season 6 premiere left me underwhelmed. Compared to Don Draper, Sisyphus was a party animal.

Dour Don (Jon Hamm) has it all—looks, charm, success, a gorgeous wife—yet he continues to wallow in what is most assuredly an untreated mood disorder. Five seasons in, I am fed up with his endless Search for Self. Would it kill him to look beyond his own navel once in a while?

Sunday’s two-hour episode opens in Hawaii, where Don and Megan (Jessica Pare) are on an all-expenses paid business trip in paradise. Back in New York, there’s a blizzard. Don, as usual, is liquored up, broody and alone at the hotel bar while his wife sleeps. Living in the moment is not his strong suit.

“The Doorway” is about karma and death, which to Don are patron saints. All around him, the world of the late ’60s is changing at breakneck speed—clothes, colors, hair, psychedelic music, hallucinogenic drugs.

With the exception of smoking his first joint—scored by his adventurous wife, naturally—Don is more observer than participant. The ultimate outsider, his comfort zone extends to the circumference of his hatband. Don Draper, Purveyor of Deep Thoughts.

Visually, “The Doorway” is a sumptuous feast, with iridescent colors practically bursting through the screen. In that regard, Mad Men has always held a singular distinction. The dialogue is sharp and provocative as the characters discover new “doorways” in their lives.

For Roger Sterling (John Slattery), another boozehound, the death of his mother leads him to an epiphany. In an homage to The Sopranos, former workplace of Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, Slattery shares these gems during sessions with his psychiatrist.

“You see that door?” he says. “That’s all there are—doors, windows, bridges, gates. All open the same way. All close behind you… The experiences are nothing. They’re just pennies. Pick ‘em up. Put ‘em in your pockets.”

Back at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, now a two-floor enterprise, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) has become top dog, albeit unofficially. When Don wants to postpone an important pitch meeting with the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, sponsors of his trip, Pete vetoes it, sternly. When Don blows the presentation, Pete rescues him. The falcon has become the falconer.

It is the women of Mad Men, however, who open the most meaningful doors. Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss), now a boss at another agency, is the female Don Draper—savvy, ambitious, great in a crisis. A woman of substance, she is growing into her power, and liking the fit.

Don’s ex, Betty Francis (January Jones), virtually unseen last season during Jones’ real-life pregnancy, is back with a bang. Following a run-in with downtown squatters while searching for the daughter of a friend, the blonde beauty decides it’s time to be taken more seriously. So she comes home a brunette, much to her family’s shock.

As for Don, “shock” isn’t a big word in his vocabulary. The more those around him change, the more he stays on his axis of comfort—an axis that resides from the neck down.

At the end of the episode, Don crawls into the bed of his neighbor’s wife. Just minutes before, she and her husband, a doctor, had celebrated New Year’s Eve at Don and Megan’s apartment. When the doctor had to leave the party for an emergency, the coast was clear.

No wonder Don was reading “Dante’s Inferno” on the beach in Hawaii. No matter how hellish his life becomes, he keeps drawing more circles.