Don Draper's gonna die.
It was everyone's first thought last night, when the sixth season of Matthew Weiner's Mad Man premiered. From a first-person POV, someone dying looks up at a ceiling while a bald doctor administers blows to the chest. A heart attack? Megan Draper is screaming.
It's Don. It must be Don.
Confirming the fears, we hear Don in voice-over, reading from Dante's Inferno. Then we're in Hawaii, and Don's alive. But like one already dead, he isn't speaking. In just one of many incredible moves made last night, Don spends the first five or so minutes of the episode not speaking. Through a number of scenes we see Don but he's silent. Megan prattles and a comedian at the resort where they're staying cracks wise and dances. But Don is as quiet as a corpse.
Bold prediction: This season, more than any other, is going to be the downward spiral for the most handsome ad man TV has ever seen. Don Draper's pretty face is going to hell, as the song says.
During the time lost between season five and season six, much has already come undone. As the drunk Vietnam vet that Don finally speaks to at the resort says, Don's become "the man who can't sleep and talks to strangers." The soldier's voice is cheerful when he says it—just one of the many delicious lines from the premiere; it elicits laughter because of its perfection—but it only augurs despair.
When Don and Megan return to New York, we learn that it's the doorman from their building who was dying in the opening. A neighbor doctor, Dr. Arnold Rosen, who seems chummy with Don, was the M.D. pumping the doorman's chest as he almost exited the scene. But he was saved. (Later in the episode, Don gleefully asks the doorman what it was like, dying. What the light was like. If it was tropical. Maybe Don's already checked his pulse and found it to be nil.)
At work, Don's become a piñata. Pete Campbell cuts up on him with fearless gusto. It's unprecedented. And what's more, Don's one saving grace, that he's brilliant at his job—that seems to be gone too. When he pitches an ad for the resort he's just visited, he can't see that it's an advertisement for suicide. Hawaii—the jumping off point, the ad declares, next to a sketch of an empty dress shirt and a tie hovering above the space where the neck should be like a noose in waiting. Footprints lead off the beach and into the water, inexorable. D-E-A-T-H. The resort guys are aghast. Don's stunned. Oblivious. Too caught up in his own head to see it.
In the final moments, we learn that Don is sleeping with the wife of the doctor in his building. During a sex scene more vulgar and grotesque than anything we've seen on Mad Men thus far, Don's body lays atop Mrs. Sylvia Rosen (played by Freaks and Geeks' Linda Cardellini!). When he slowly rolls off and out of her, you realize that he must have been limp and dribbling inside her. It wasn't the moment before sex, but after. He mentions reading Inferno, how it makes him think of her, presumably because she recommended it, or because she speaks Italian, but the comment doesn't scan as pleasant to Sylvia. And why would it? He's likened her and time spent with her to time spent in hell.
She asks what he wants this year. He tells her for this to end.
Bold prediction: Lots of things will end this year. And none of it will be pretty.
Written by Ross Scarano (@RossScarano)
[GIFs via Rory B. Bellows]