New ‘Mad Men’ episodes explores Don’s character

By Kevin Bartelt

Discovering your true identity is a difficult, often never-ending process.

We hope the decisions we make positively effect our future; however, this isn’t always the case. The struggle of understanding one’s identity is an overlapping theme seen once again in the two-hour season premiere of “Mad Men.”

The first half of the episode takes place in Hawaii as Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his wife, Megan (Jessica Paré), meet with a potential hotel client. Besidesa voiceover of recited lines from Dante’s “Inferno,” Don does not speak for roughly eight minutes. His lack of dialogue shows us Don is in his own world of thought that no one else can hear or see.

There are only two noteworthy parts of the Hawaii scenes. The first shows Megan is becoming a successful actor, and like most of the women in “Mad Men,” she is becoming a confident and independent woman. In season five, many fans did not like Megan because she entered the show quickly, and Don proposed to her not long after. Ironically, she is an actor on a soap opera in “Mad Men” who portrays a villain who people love to hate. The show clearly pokes fun at how fans perceived Megan in the prior seasons.

The other interesting scene in Hawaii is a conversation Don has with a man in the Army. Not surprisingly, the discussion is rather one-sided as Don only gives the man one-word answers. The man notices Don’s Army lighter that has his name written on it. The lighter is the first physical proof of his assumed name, Don Draper, rather than his actual name—Dick Whitman. Later in the episode, Don loses the lighter, symbolizing he has lost his assumed identity.

The second half of the show takes place in New York City, mainly in the ad agency. An obvious difference from last season is everyone’s crazy facial hair. Most of the characters have adapted to the late 1960’s style with their muttonchops, beards and mustaches. Don, however, has kept to his classic look. He refuses to adapt to the eccentric trends of his co-workers as he sticks to his stylish, late 1950’s businessman look.

We simultaneously see Peggy at her new company. Peggy has to create a new ad in a short amount of time. Similar to Megan, Peggy has developed into a strong, confident and secure person.

A significant new character is introduced, a doctor who lives at the same apartment as Don. The show opens with a brief point-of-view shot of a dying man as the doctor attempts to save him. We assume the character is Don but it is difficult to tell. We later learn it is a doorman at the apartment they both live in.

The notions of life and death intrigue Don. During the episode, he regularly asks the doctor what it feels like to save someone. In addition, he creates an ad for the hotel he visited in Hawaii and it appears the man in the ad has died. Perhaps Don feels like he cannot understand his identity until he understands the concept of life and death.

Conversely, Roger Sterling Jr. (John Slattery) is afraid of death. Halfway through the episode Roger learns his mother has died, and he is not even fazed by this information. There is a funny moment where his secretary is bawling as she breaks the news, yet Roger does not even think twice, stating, “She was 91. It was bound to happen.” At the end of the episode, when Roger learns that his favorite shoe polisher has passed away, he cries. As Roger ages, he does not like coming to terms with the fact each day brings him closer to his own death.

The episode concludes on New Year’s Eve as Don has one last conversation with the doctor before he goes back to work. The doctor said, “People will do anything to alleviate their anxiety.” Moments later, we see Don sleeping with the doctor’s wife (Linda Cardellini). Through this action, we see that Don still searches for his identity through his curiosity with life and death. Unfortunately, the doctor deals with life and death so Don sleeps with his wife. This is not a surprise because this is how Don deals with most of his problems. Hopefully, Don can discover himself through more just, practical ways.