Sixth season of ‘Mad Men’ stays hellishly entertaining

Lee McClelland

With Spring comes a new season — of “Mad Men.” The season six premiere aired on Sunday, April 7 and marked the return of Matthew Wiener’s highly-acclaimed, award-winning series.

The two-part premiere, entitled “The Doorway,” starts with a hazy view of a doctor and Megan screaming in the background — cut to Don Draper’s smooth voice reading the opening lines of Dante Alighieri’s “Dante’s Inferno”: “Midway along the journey of our life/ I woke to find myself in some dark woods/ for I had wandered off the straight path.”

Right away, Wiener’s incorporation of Alighieri’s epic poem seems too easy, too overt a reference. In the first canto of “Dante’s Inferno,” the pilgrim is driven from the straight path by a leopard, lion and she-wolf. Each have a symbolic meaning: the leopard, excessive desire; the lion, pride; the she-wolf, fraud.

Don Draper is a fraud whose pride leads him into moral snares, which are often baited by excessive desires, and while the reference is apt, any viewer could distill these conclusions from the past five seasons of “Mad Men.”

Don and Megan’s relationship starts to mimic a Betty-era dynamic. Roger Sterling has submitted to a psychiatrist — a service he deems as “just this year’s candy pink stove,” in season one. Peggy is thriving at her new firm, though everyone resents her high standards. Pete is the only character who hasn’t changed from season five to six: disappointing, since he is a character worth hating.

These character continuity issues are rife in the premiere.

Thankfully, the second episode “The Collaborators” picks up the tempo and adds creativity where the premiere lacked. It is worth noting that Jon Hamm directed “The Collaborators;” the second episode Hamm had the opportunity to direct.

While the premiere seems like an easy mark, this episode befuddles the viewer: Don and Megan’s relationship becomes even more tense.

The agency debates whether or not to go behind the Heinz-Beans account and work with Heinz-Ketchup; Pete cheats on Trudy and is caught; Peggy takes an opportunity to steal an account from Don.

The “Dante’s Inferno” reference becomes clearer: Donald Draper is entering into his own personal hell, though he cannot seem to keep his work and personal morals straight.

When Pete discusses whether or not to take meetings with Heinz Ketchup, Don tells him “Sometimes you gotta dance with the one who brung ya.” Though faithful at work, Don has no  problems putting his fidelity aside when the surgeon’s wife, Sylvia, enters into an affair with him.

These kind of moral paradoxes make the characters’ developmental regression a little more believable. In turn, those men who you’ve watched for the past five seasons are starting to lose their strong footing — enter Trudy tearing apart Pete for not only cheating, which she has unspokenly condoned, but cheating with a woman on their block.

“I’m drawing a 50-mile radius around this house and if you so much as open your fly to urinate, I will destroy you,” she tells Pete after discovering his romp with the blonde from down the street.

The women of “Mad Men” are starting to take hold of the reigns. This becomes clear in the third episode “To Have And To Hold.”

Joan, who became a partner at SCDP in season five, is exercising her power by confronting a secretary whom had some punch her timecard after she left for the day.

This of course leads to a clash within the agency, prompting Harry Crane to explode into a partners’ meeting.

But I would be cheating Weiner if I did not mention the evident focus on race and gender within the third episode.

While the viewer is distracted by this minor turmoil, the story moves back to the Heinz-Ketchup account: Pete and Don take a meeting and work in secret on the account, hoping to win the king of condiments.

Unbeknownst to Don, Peggy is vying for the same account; when Don presents his pitch and leaves, the SCDP crew runs into Peggy, who is now the competition.

Peggy wins the Heinz-Ketchup account, making this the first triumph over Don, her old mentor.

After this defeat, Don goes to watch Megan act out her first love scene on the set of her soap opera job. The two fight: Don accuses her of enjoying the scene, which he interprets as unfaithful behavior.

All of the women in this episode, sans Megan, are shown as strong characters who rise above the accomplishments of their male counterparts.

“To Have And To Hold” makes the Inferno reference relevant. Season six aims to be the damnation of the men and the salvation of those once powerless characters.

Equality is coming to Madison Avenue, come hell or high water.