Mad Men: Season 6, Episode 5–The Flood

“This is an opportunity. The heavens are telling us to change.”


Usually, in Mad Men, history just rumbles along in the background, its social mores informing our characters’ motivations, its events occasionally prompting semi-important plotlines. Every so often, though, history leaps up and slaps the narrative across the face. Seasons 1-3 were like that; 1 building to Kennedy’s Presidential victory, 2 climaxing with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and 3 ending with the shock of JFK’s assassination. Last week, I wondered whether this season might be building up to climax with the assassination of his brother Bobby. Instead, it took me by surprise with a Big Historical Event right in the middle of the run – the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King.

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Game of Thrones: Season 3, Episode 5–Kissed by Fire

“By what right does the Wolf judge the Lion? By what right?”


As a friend of mine recently commented, for most shows, last week’s Game of Thrones would have been a season finale. For Game of Thrones, it was episode 4.

With that ep’s spectacle and thrill count having virtually maxed out, it was back to a more contemplative, introspective ep this week, as the intrigue continued to ramp up throughout Westeros and beyond. Also, having skimped on it last week amidst the excitement, it was time to get back to the nudity and titillation that the show (despite having so much else going for it) seems to have become known for.

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Doctor Who: Series 7, Episode 11–Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

“Don’t get into a spaceship with a madman. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that?”


This week’s hotly anticipated episode of Doctor Who was always going to divide its ever-fractious fandom. Any episode that explores the mythos of the show always does, and especially when it’s one dealing with the show’s one constant (other than the Doctor himself) – the TARDIS. Neil Gaiman managed the virtually impossible last year, pleasing virtually all of fandom with his ‘character dissection’ of the Ship, The Doctor’s Wife.

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Mad Men: Season 6, Episode 4–To Have and To Hold

“If you don’t like what they’re saying – change the conversation.”


This was the first episode of Mad Men this season in which Matt Weiner had no writing credit – and it showed, in a definite change of tone from his usual portent-laden melancholia. Instead, it came off more like the soap opera it basically is, beneath the existential trappings. Appropriate, given that one of the major subplots involved Megan’s work on the fictional soap opera which gave the episode its title.

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Game of Thrones: Season 3, Episode 4–And Now His Watch Is Ended

“I have no doubt the revenge you want will be yours in time. If you have the stomach for it.”


It’s a hard life in Westeros, and this week’s Game of Thrones was a dramatic one, full of revenge and betrayal. Well, more full than usual, that is. This was a spectacular episode both on a visual and a plot level, as some questions were answered, some schemes revealed and various characters showed unsuspected true colours. Unsuspected, anyway, if – like Sansa Stark – you’re naive enough to believe anyone in this show can be trusted.

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Doctor Who: Series 7, Episode 10–Hide

“I’m talking to the lost soul that abides in this place. Come to me. Speak to me. Let me show you the way home.”


I like haunted house thrillers. So much so, in fact, that my final piece for the TV production module of my drama degree was one (one day I’ll get round to posting that on YouTube to embarrass myself). My DVD collection is crammed with the likes of The Haunting, Legend of Hell House (music by Delia Derbyshire), Poltergeist, The Shining, Stephen King’s Rose Red and so on and so on. Naturally, then, I was pleased to see Doctor Who delving into this most traditional of genres, and keen to see if they’d pull it off.

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Mad Men: Season 6, Episode 3 – Collaborators

“Now I understand. You want to feel shitty – right up to the point where I take your dress off.”


Never a show with a straightforward approach to dialogue or characterisation, Mad Men this week took its usual obfuscation of motive and events to new heights, in an episode directed by Don Draper himself, Jon Hamm. The ep was ostensibly another of those juxtapositions between Don and Don-wannabe Pete Campbell, showing their failings both professionally and socially. But, even more than usual, grasping what was truly going on relied on interpreting the Unsaid as much as the said.

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Game of Thrones: Season 3, Episode 3–Walk of Punishment

Have you ever seen a war where innocents didn’t die by the thousand?”


Showrunners Benioff and Weiss were back for this week’s Game of Thrones, with David Benioff doubling as director too. It was (by this show’s standards) a fairly leisurely episode;  a consequence, presumably, of adapting only half of George RR Martin’s A Storm of Swords for this season. Together with trimming some of the original book’s more repetitive capture/escape subplots, this may seem to have slowed the pace a little, but again allowed for some depth, and some long scenes which dripped with tension even without action.

Even so, we met more new characters this week, on top of the multitude introduced in the previous two episodes. Opening the episode at Catelyn Stark’s ancestral home of Riverrun, the script immediately introduced us to two of her previously unseen family – her uncle Brynden, known as ‘the Blackfish’, and her brother Edmure.


Brynden, a recently reconciled black sheep of the family, was played by the inimitable Clive Russell, trading his native Scottish accent for a nondescript Northern English one. You know where you are with Clive Russell; he’ll either be a terrifying violent lunatic, or a stern but fair man of the world. Here, we got the latter of these two. Just as well, really, Westeros already has more than its fair share of terrifying violent lunatics.

Edmure was played by Tobias Menzies, previously seen a few days ago as a Soviet submarine office in Doctor Who. Between him and Liam Cunningham, also in Saturday’s Who, it looks like the shows are sharing a casting pool – no bad thing with actors this good. Still, I thought it was overly obvious having Edmure painted as quite such a vainglorious idiot from the outset, as he repeatedly failed to land the flaming arrow that would set afire his grandfather’s funeral barge.

His incompetence was further rammed home in a meeting with the none-too-happy Robb, who berated him for attacking the Lannister force without orders, leading Tywin out of a trap Robb had planned for him. Presumably this was some while ago, before the Battle of Blackwater. If so, Edmure made a pretty grievous strategic error. If Robb had managed to capture or kill Tywin, the Lannister patriarch wouldn’t have been able to charge to the rescue of the besieged King’s Landing, and things might have turned out quite differently.

Tywin, thankfully, is written more subtly, and Charles Dance was on good form here as he hosted his first meeting of the new Small Council. It’s a mark of how twisty this show is that its members couldn’t even manage to sit at a table without silently jockeying for positions of power, an an amusing sequence that perfectly demonstrated the various rivalries of the characters without needing a word uttered. Tyrion got the last laugh by positioning himself opposite his stern father at the other end of the table, but that didn’t last. Having made the observation that Lord Baelish’s proposed marriage to Catelyn’s barmy sister Lysa Arryn risked leaving the capital without a treasurer, Tyrion found himself appointed the new Master of Coin.

Judging by the satisfied smirks of Cersei and Maester Pycelle, this was not considered to be a good outcome. Indeed, if it was, Baelish would probably have fought harder to keep the position. Aidan Gillen was as smarmy as ever as the jumped up accountant/brothel keeper, and we also got to see the devious Varys (Conleth Hill) for the first time this season. Sadly, he barely got more than a couple of lines, but hopefully future episodes will give him a bit more to do.

It was no wonder Baelish was so pleased to be rid of responsibility for the Seven Kingdom’s finances, as it turned out. In a blackly amusing bit of timeliness, it turns out that Westeros is virtually bankrupt, mired in unpayable loans to the nasty-sounding Iron Bank of Braavos. I’d love to see George Osborne try to deal with the sort of bankers who might try and call in a loan in this world.

Over the sea in Essos, Dany Targaryen too was having money troubles. She’s obviously got a huge problem with the concept of slavery; but attempting to abolish it by dint of buying all the slaves seems rather naive. especially when all she’s got to trade of any consequence are her dragons, and as Jorah and Barristan pointed out, they’ll be more use than an army when they’re full grown.


Nevertheless, a dragon was indeed offered to the contemptuous Master Kraznys as payment, in another of those wittily subtitled scenes (“tell her the Dothraki are only good as pig feed”). Dan Hildebrand is marvellously nasty as Kraznys, but he’s such an obvious villain that I’m not expecting him to last long – especially with Dany being portrayed as a heroic would-be liberator to the Unsullied. She’s not a fool though; having also bargained for the freedom of young interpreter Missandei (Hollyoaks’ Nathalie Emmanuel), she responded to the Braavosi axiom “Valar Morghulis” thus: “Yes, all men must die. But we are not men.”

From sunshine to snow, and north of the Wall is as unwelcoming as ever. Another brief catchup this week, as Jon and the Wildlings reached the site of the (unseen for budgetary reasons) battle between the Night’s Watch and the White Walkers. In a creepy bit of business, the Walkers had arranged the slaughtered horses in a macabre spiral against the snow. The bodies of the men were nowhere to be found, but it wasn’t difficult to figure that they’d risen to join the Walkers’ undead forces.


No wonder Mance is so determined to storm the Wall and head South. Moves were made in that direction this week, as he sent a small commando force to scale the Wall and knock out Castle Black’s defences, promising to start “the biggest fire the North has ever seen”. Jon was sent along as a test of loyalty – will he pass, or will Kit Harington continue to display his sole, grim facial expression as he plummets from the Wall?

There were brief catchups too with the Stannis and Arya. The Big Climax hinted at when the hound recognised Arya for who she was actually turned out to be rather an anticlimax – it doesn’t seem to bother Thoros one way or the other. Stannis seems to be in a holding pattern of brooding and trying to cop off with Melisandre; she, for her part, asserts that he’s not strong enough, and a shag would probably kill him. (“What a way to go…”) I’m not sure there’s much point to these brief scenes other than to remind us that the characters still exist when they haven’t got much of a plotline, especially in a show as crowded as this one.

Speaking of which, while it’s enjoyable enough, I’m still not sure where the showrunners are going with their original, non-book plotline involving Theon trying to escape from… whoever has him prisoner. As promised last week, the mysterious ‘Boy’ (aka Simon out of Misfits), turned up to set him free, but the guards were in hot pursuit with maces and arrows. Fortunately, Simon out of Misfits turned up just in time to save Theon’s arse. Literally, as he was about to be raped by his gruesomely salivating former torturer.


This being a new plot, even those who’ve read the books can only guess where it’s going. Is the mysterious ‘Boy’ all he seems, or another captor? Or will Theon’s destiny take him in a wholly different direction to the books? At least Alfie Allen must be happy he doesn’t have to wait another couple of seasons before they call him back to work.

Lastly, we caught up with Odd Couple Jaime and Brienne, who, as it turned out, hadn’t managed to fight their way out of last week’s confrontation. Trussed up on the back of a horse, they continued to bicker like an old married couple, but with a much darker air; the disagreement was over whether Brienne should lie back and accept being raped by their captors, or should fight back and probably be killed. Inevitably, Jaime advised the former, while Brienne herself preferred the latter.

Brienne may be one double-hard bastard, but big as she is, even she can’t fight off four men at the same time. Locke (a standin for the books’ repellent mercenaries, the Bloody Mummers) turns out to be a genuinely nasty piece of work, with Aussie actor Noah Taylor sneeringly nasty, despite not entirely being able to hide his Antipodean twang.


Fortunately for Brienne, he seemed to believe Jaime’s story that her father was swimming sapphires, and reprieved her from rape – for now. Unfortunately for Jaime, his apparently greedily accepted promises of wealth and titles for freedom didn’t cut so much ice. I never quite believed Locke was taken in, so I’m surprised the normally shrewd Jaime did. Suck mistakes in this show tend to have dire consequences – as Jaime discovered when the sneering Locke casually chopped off his hand. His sword hand, too. Given all that he’s said about fighting being his only skill and his only passion, this is not likely to cheer him up.

Gratuitous nudity of the week

A properly amusing scene, as Tyrion tried to reward his squire Podrick for saving his life. Visiting Littlefinger’s brothel, he called forth first one full-frontal nude whore… then another… and finally one who at least had a shred of clothing, but promptly contorted herself to push her crotch into young Pod’s astonished face. “Pace yourself, lad,”smirked Bronn.


That was followed by an even more amusing scene in which Pod revealed that the whores hadn’t accepted payment, leaving the astonished Tyrion and Bronn to wonder what he’d done to make them eschew gold coin: “Tell us everything. We want details. Copious details.”

But if you prefer chaps, you had to make do with Theon’s (thankfully still virgin) arse.


Minstrels’ tunes

In an episode with blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos from Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and Coldplay’s Will Champion, it was appropriate that we were introduced to another of the recurring songs from Martin’s original books. First heard sung raggedly by Locke and his men, ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ is an altogether bawdier number than last season’s sombre ‘Rains of Castamere’, in keeping with the ribald nature of many real medieval songs and tales (think Geoffrey Chaucer). A decidedly unmedieval rendering of the tune by Brooklyn guitar band the Hold Steady graced the closing credits. I’m still undecided whether that was a little too jarringly anachronistic.

The highlight of this season’s soundtrack album?


As entertaining as ever, this week’s episode was more jaw-jaw than war-war, but the lengthy scenes and some actual laugh-out loud comic moments distinguished it from some of the show’s darker hours. Still, plenty is going on, even if it’s back to plotting and scheming rather than confrontation.

Doctor Who: Series 7, Episode 9 – Cold War

My people are dead, they are dust. There is nothing left for me except my revenge.”


A very nostalgic episode of Doctor Who this week, as we saw the return of a classic 60s ‘monster’ beloved by the fans but in no way as embedded in popular culture as the Daleks or the Cybermen. The Ice Warriors were back, in a genuinely interesting period piece that revisited one of the most defining aspects of the 80s without miring itself in  big shoulder pads or terrible hairstyles.

For those of us who grew up in the 80s, the looming threat of nuclear armageddon was probably a more all-encompassing menace than Thatcher and a bigger cultural phenomenon than New Romance. It was, as we all knew, the ‘Cold War’. What better war to reintroduce the cyber-augmented reptiles from the freezing planet Mars – the so-called ‘Ice Warriors’?


The Ice Warriors (name coined by a minor human character in their first story, which uncannily turned out to be what they were always known as) are one of Doctor Who’s more inventive aliens; inventive in the sense that, unlike the Daleks or the Cybermen, they had individuality, depth, and a proper culture.

We saw, in their first few stories, that they could be bad guys. Then, along with the Doctor, we had to face up the idea that as individuals, they might be capable of good as well as bad. 1972’s The Curse of Peladon is a groundbreaking story, the first demonstration that ‘monsters’ were actually people, and that it might not be the case that an entire race were ‘bad’ even if the ones we’d seen up to that point were.


As a result, the Ice Warriors have become something of a fan favourite, their ‘honourable warrior’ culture much explored in the Virgin New Adventures and other such fan fiction. But this is their first appearance on your actual television since 1974’s The Monster of Peladon, where they were back to being the baddies. So how did they fare?

Well, it was a script by Mark Gatiss, whose work has been somewhat variable on the show. A huge fan, whose Virgin novel Nightshade was genuinely superb, as a TV writer he’s rocketed from the excellent The Unquiet Dead to the fun but inconsequential The Idiot’s Lantern and then the pretty awful toy relaunch Victory of the Daleks. His work has been so variable, I’ve come to think of it as rating on a ‘Gatiss scale’. Cold War, on that scale, is better than Victory of the Daleks, on a par with The Idiot’s Lantern, but not quite up there with The Unquiet Dead.

On top of being an Ice Warrior re-introduction and a period piece, Cold War also took on the tall order of being a genre piece too – a submarine movie, like Das Boot, Crimson Tide or my all-time favourite, 1957’s The Enemy Below. On that score, it didn’t work out too well. Those movies depend on actual conflict, while this utilised the claustrophobic submarine setting but little else.

Nevertheless, it (perhaps intentionally)  reminded me of another aquatic Who story – the less than classic Warriors of the Deep, itself a re-introduction of sorts for classic monsters the Silurians and the Sea Devils. Warriors of the Deep was actually made at the height of the real Cold War, and reimagined it in a future setting. It was still an obvious allegory for the situation that was, at that point, current.

Mark Gatiss, a child of the 80s every bit as much as me, obviously had his own adolescence as sullied as mine by the threat of nuclear holocaust. With that in mind, it was refreshing that he chose to set his story on a sub belonging to the ‘enemy’ – the Soviet Union. The sub (not, as far as I noticed, named) was populated by the usual Gatiss cast of varying depth (pun intended).


Commander Zhukov (presumably named after WW2 Marshal Georgi Zhukov) was played with some dignity by the excellent Liam Cunningham, Game of Thrones’ similarly seaborne Ser Davos Seaworth, but not really given any more depth than the standard ‘base commanders’ of the Troughton episodes this was reminiscent of. Less, really; he was more like the forgettable Commander Vorshak from Warriors of the Deep.

His (I assume) political officer Lieutenant Stepashin was a good enough performance from Tobias Menzies (especially his doomed attempt to ally himself with the Ice Warrior), but an obvious lift of Tomas Arana’s rather more threatening equivalent in The Hunt for Red October. The rest of the crew, sad to say (even the pretty James Norton as Onegin) were given little more depth than the average Star Trek redshirt.


With the exception of David Warner as the New Romantic-obsessed Professor Grisenko. Warner, a firm genre favourite and veteran of more Star Trek roles than is reasonable, is one of the greatest Doctors we never had, having given us a glimpse of how good he could have been in two ‘alternate Doctor’ Big Finish audio stories. Here, he was as charismatic as ever – I never expected to hear him sing Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’ – but while the part was good, and he was good in it, I couldn’t help feeling that his long-awaited appearance in Doctor Who should have been something more significant than, essentially, a comedy bit part.

But what of the Ice Warrior, thawed out in minutes under very similar circumstances to the creatures’ original appearance? On that, Gatiss did really well, exploring aspects of Brian Hayles’ creations we’d always theorised about but never actually had spelled out. It was a given from their very first story that they had some kind of cybernetic augmentation, and certainly their built-in sonic weapons (little used here) were not the product of natural evolution.

Gatiss here did what we’d always wanted – demonstrated that the big green carapace was a removable suit of cybernetic armour. And also that, out of his armour, Grand Marshal Skaldak was at least as much of a threat as he was in it. Douglas Mackinnon’s clever, old-style direction steered clear of showing us the unmasked Warrior until the very last minute – a good strategy, as it turned out, as I wasn’t entirely convinced by the CG facial expressions. Nonetheless, as it stalked the sub picking off unwary crew members, the creature was (again presumably intentionally) a credible threat reminiscent of the original Alien.

And to add menace, we discovered that the armour could be used as a weapon in itself, as Skaldak summoned the empty suit to gun its way tot the command deck. We also learned more of the (somewhat Klingon-inspired) Martian code of honour; Skaldak’s hostility was basically a reaction to the Russians having started the fight, and he was honour-bound to meet them in combat. Discovering (he thought) that his people had died off during his 5000-year slumber, his bitterness against a race whose nations he didn’t distinguish between was understandable. And more than a little affecting, with his stories of his past, and the combat alongside his daughter in “the red snow”.

Cold War

Matt Smith was (as usual) on good form as the Doctor, though he seemed to slip into Tennant’s ‘Estuary English’ accent at one point. The aspect of the Third Doctor overcoming his (understandable) prejudice against the Ice Warriors, and realising their race could be good as well as bad, was a central plot point of The Curse of Peladon. Here, it seemed like a lesson learned, but the point was well-made that, whatever the Doctor thought of himself, Skaldak would see him as a ‘soldier’ every bit as much as the Russians.

So, as is often the case since 2005, it was his companion who saved the day. There wasn’t much of the self-conscious ‘arc’ stuff about Clara this week, which thankfully gave Jenna-Louise Coleman a chance to showcase her character on its own terms. She is, as we know, the standard Moffat self-reliant spunky young woman; I still find her a little identikit in that regard. But that’s no disrespect to the actress, and Coleman was enjoyable here. Her belated acceptance of Grisenko’s invitation to sing ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ was the tipping point that stayed Skaldak’s hand in mercy, reminding him of his daughter singing. It was both amusing and touching.

Aside form the obvious nostalgia value of the Ice Warriors returning, we also got the fanboy-pleasing reference to the HADS – Hostile Action Displacement System – not used or even referred to since 1969’s The Krotons. It was more than a fan-pleasing gesture though, effectively answering the obvious question I asked early on – “why doesn’t the Doctor get everyone out of there in the TARDIS?” Still, alongside last week’s oblique reference to Susan, it’s plain we’re getting 60s references to celebrate the 50th anniversary year. No bad thing, in my opinion; the references aren’t so central as to alienate new fans who won’t get them, and give a little thrill to those of us who do.

All told, while I thought the story wasn’t that inventive, this was an excellent re-introduction of a classic alien – probably the best since 2005’s Dalek. I hope they’ll be back. I also hope that, if they are, the nuances of their culture seen here are retained, and they don’t just become another Big Bad.


Mad Men: Season 6, Episodes 1 & 2 – The Doorway

“Midway through life’s journey, I went astray on a straight road – and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.”


It’s time to rejoin the existential angst of the unhappy folk at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, as Mad Men returns for its sixth, apparently penultimate season. After the tumultuous events of last year – Joan whoring herself to a sweaty exec for a partnership, Peggy heading off to a rival agency, and Lane Pryce hanging himself in his office – our heroes are unhappy. For this show, this is not unusual.

The season premiere, appropriately enough, was all about death. We opened with a POV shot of some unknown person being resuscitated from a heart attack. Oh no! Is it Don? Roger? Bert, even?

Since Matthew Weiner’s script immediately cut straight to a Hawaiian beach, that was a mystery to be eked out for a short while. It lent a hallucinatory air to the proceedings, as I began to wonder whether Don and Megan’s idyllic holiday was actually one of the dream sequences the show occasionally does; it’s often so thickly portentous even when it isn’t a dream, it can be hard to tell. Let’s face it, Mad Men is so heavy with portents, the folk from Frank Herbert’s Dune look uncomplicated by comparison.

Don Draper must be the only person whose choice of beach reading is Dante’s Inferno, another portent that made me wonder if this was a near-death experience. But no, as we began seeing things from Megan’s perspective too, that clearly wasn’t the case. Nevertheless, the Drapers’ vacation had a surreal quality to it.

Don, unable to sleep, met a drunken soldier at the hotel bar. As they chatted about their respective combat experiences, Don found himself agreeing to be best man for the clearly doomed PFC Dinkins at his wedding the next morning, before heading back to Vietnam. The whole sequence had such a dreamlike quality, it was hard to tell if it was imaginary until Megan found her husband giving away a bride on the beach the next morning, taking a snapshot of the occasion.


Mention of Vietnam got me wondering exactly when the new season was set. Mad Men never does anything as easy as telling the viewer; you have to work it out from hints in the dialogue, the fashions, the cars etc. Last year, the elapsed time between seasons was easy to work out from Joan’s pregnancy. This year, there was no such easy clue, but the Christmas trees, and the repeated references to Dr Christiaan Barnard’s first heart transplant, gave it away – we were in December 1967.

So, the characters have just been through the Summer of Love, though in typical Mad Men fashion, it’s a very cold winter when we catch up with them. Don, increasingly out of touch with the young, was dismissive of the trivialisation of the word ‘love’, being used to pepper conversations and ad campaigns – “Why are we contributing to the trivialization of the word? It doesn’t belong in the kitchen. We’re wearing it out.”

In keeping with the times, absolutely everyone’s now smoking weed – the creative team at SCDP even sparking up in the office, to very little reaction from Don (“I smell creativity”). Vietnam would now be in full swing, and the horror of the combat starting to come through to the American public – as Peggy discovered to her annoyance.


In keeping with what I’d expected at the end of last year, we spent a deal of time here catching up with Peggy and how she was doing at rival firm Cutler, Gleason and Chaough. Not unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of Don Draper in her work style – she’s confident and thoroughly in charge of her rather timid creative team. She’s also now living with longtime boyfriend Abe, and walking all over him too, which he seems perfectly content with; he too seems permanently stoned.

Still, Peggy obviously misses the SCDP crew; working all night at the office, she spends ages on the phone to old buddy Stan. So it was that Stan happened to overhear everything that passed between her and her boss – Don’s old rival – Ted Chaough. Trouble a-brewing?

Roger, meanwhile, appeared to have got his acid-fuelled serenity out of his system and was spending time with a therapist. John Slattery was as wryly amusing as ever; he manages to keep Roger deep enough to avoid him being just a comical buffoon. We saw both sides in these two episodes, as he too got to reflect on death, in this case his mother’s.

This was announced to him by his tearful secretary Caroline, who he awkwardly comforted while balancing two glasses of gin. The comedy was heightened even more at a supremely awkward wake. In Mad Men, no social occasion ever goes well, and this was no exception. Having to deal with fawning elderly relatives, two ex-wives and his grasping daughter, it was a relief for Roger when the unexpectedly sloshed Don turned up, staggered about a bit and vomited into the umbrella stand, mercifully cutting short his wheelchair-bound aunt’s saccharine eulogy.


It felt strangely out of character (presumably intentionally) for Don to be so out of control on booze. Yes, he’s had his problems there before, but he seemed to get over them. This time, there was little forewarning; after Megan (now a minor soap opera star) left for some filming, he was seen silently sipping whisky while the maid vacuumed. Next minute he was turning up at Roger’s, barely able to stand up.

Don being Don, he was lost in introspection half the time, staring at things with a troubled expression in that way he has. In one of the show’s examples of portentous symbolism, he’d discovered that, while in Hawaii, he’d accidentally switched his Zippo lighter with that of Private Dinkins, and he can’t get rid of it. He tried throwing it in the trash, only for Megan to hand it back to him after the maid found it. Later, he asked his secretary Dawn to get the Army to return it to Dinkins; given this opener’s obsession with death, I think it’s a fairly safe bet that the young man is already on his way home in a body bag.

Don seems obsessed with death. Perhaps he’s still haunted by guilt over Lane’s suicide, which itself reawakened his guilt over his brother’s. We discovered fairly early on (in a joltingly timeslipped sequence) that the victim of the heart attack seen at the outset was the seemingly insignificant doorman at Don’s apartment, Jonesy. As the drunken Don was manhandled home by Pete and Ken, he stopped to slurringly and insistently press Jonesy for details of what he’d seen when he ‘died’ – as it turned out, the old standby of ‘a white light’.


Perhaps this was what inspired Don to come up with an ill-advised pitch to the Sheraton honchos, showing an abandoned set of clothes on a Hawaiian beach. He thought it was an image of freedom; to everyone else, it suggested suicide. An interesting juxtaposition of ideas, if a little obvious by this show’s standards.


Betty at least didn’t seem morbidly obsessed with death, as we caught up with her and Sally watching Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. But she too was acting very oddly. With Sally’s friend Sandy staying over for Christmas, she was obviously none too keen on husband Henry apparently perving at her – but it was a bit out of the blue when she acidly suggested that he should rape her. And that she should watch. Joke it may have been, but this is not the prim Betty we remember – is middle age taking a toll on her sexual tastes along with her waistline?

Taking her unusual behaviour further, she seemed to be forging a maternal bond with Sandy in the way she never has with Sally. Tracking the errant teenager to a filthy commune in Greenwich Village, she then took on the role of den mother to the straggly hippy boys trying ineptly to cook goulash while stoned. She didn’t find Sandy, though – and what was the heavily telegraphed significance of her ripping her coat?


And while Roger may have taken the death of his mother with a sanguine, almost exasperated air, death came back to hit him hard as he was handed the cleaning tools of his just-deceased shoeshine guy – and collapsed in a weeping heap. Of course, this would usually just be a delayed reaction to the death that really should affect him; but it would be quite in keeping for Roger Sterling to be more attached to his shoeshine boy than his mother.

Not many clues here about where the season’s going to go. Everything seems pretty stable at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (nice that they kept Lane’s name on the ticket). Don’s full of introspective angst and middle-aged obsolescence, but when isn’t he? Black secretary Dawn is still the sole representative of non-white ethnicities in the office. And Peggy seems to be doing just fine at Cutler, Gleason and Chaough, despite the unfortunate problem with the Koss headphones account.

Yes, on the surface, everything seemed fine. But then, in this show, that’s often the way. This episode had a doom-laden, ominous tone deriving from nothing out of the ordinary at all; Dinkins’ lighter, Don’s rearranged office and so forth. And the noticeable fixation with death – and what happens after – may be some tonal indicator of what’s to come. For now though, while this was a good season opener and certainly very watchable, it lacked the compelling tone of last year. A low key start, even for a show this low key – let’s see where it goes from here.

Historical events

As mentioned above, the first successful heart transplant – achieved by Dr Christiaan Barnard on 3 December 1967 – got a lot of shout outs. It was also perfectly accurate that Phyllis Diller was fronting the Tonight Show at that point – Matthew Weiner pointed out that Johnny Carson routinely took the holidays off. Not sure who the comedian guest was that made the unfortunate gag about GIs having necklaces made from human ears, but that certainly did become a scandal at about this point.

Dedicated Followers of Fashion

As we’ve moved on from 1966, apparently the Hideous Checked Sports Coats so prominent last year are no longer In. What is In, after the Summer of Love made hippies trendy, is flamboyant facial hair. Ginsberg was sporting a fulsome moustache:


While Stan had gone the whole hog with a massive full-on beard:


Even Peggy’s beau Abe is no longer the clean-cut beatnik we remember, but has morphed into a Frank Zappa lookalike:


No wonder he seemed so stoned.

Roger, for his part, was sporting a style new to him – a none-too-subtle pastel blazer, with two rows of conspicuous buttons:


Tune in next week to see what other atrocities the looming end of the decade will force our characters to wear…