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Janus and Duality in Mad Men’s The Doorway

Mad Men Season 6 kicked off in classic MM style, with a big dollop of death, existential angst and a whole lotta duality. I have referenced this before as a key theme of the show and it looks like that is set to continue.

ImageA big clue to the importance of duality was the name of the episode, The Doorway. Obviously this appeared in Roger’s therapist couch speech about life events and the inevitability of death. But it also reminds us of the Roman god Janus, the master of transitions – and New Year. So, which pairs of opposites appeared in this episode? And what do they signify?

Good Don vs Bad Don

An obvious dichotomy and one that has been present since the start of the show. We saw both sides of Don in this episode – the devoted, passionate husband and the philanderer, who wearily expresses his wish to ‘stop doing this’. But, as Roger hints, experiences are nothing. Don is stuck in a cycle of self-abuse and nothing seems to be able to lift him out of it.

Don vs Dinkin

When Don meets a young soldier in the bar, it’s almost like he’s confronting a younger version of himself, perhaps one who never switched lives. Dinkin is youthful and vivacious, if a little bloodthirsty. Crucially, he will do anything to increase his odds of survival. Dinkin surely reminds Don of his past and through the switching of the lighters jolts him into an existential depression.

Peggy vs  Don

Peggy has clearly reached an advanced stage of her transformation into Don. She bosses the juniors around with aplomb, forcing them to stay late on NYE with nary a pang of guilt. Interestingly, SCDP seem to have hired her middle-aged doppelganger, providing another mirror.

Bob Benson vs Pete

Pete also has a mini-me snapping at his heels – the obsequious, greasy Bob, keen to climb the ladder. Time will reveal what Bob’s game plan is and whether he will make Pete look good by comparison.

Sandy, Betty, Sally, Betty

It was great to get a meaty Betty storyline for the first time in ages. She clearly sees herself in Sandy, as their conversation reveals – although Betty rather exaggerates the similarities between her time as a model and Sandy’s adventures in the Village. Interestingly, Betty seems to relate to Sandy in a far more motherly way than Sally, also pointing up the opposition between the two girls. The whole episode also prompts a shift from Blonde to Brunette Betty, perhaps in response to the squatters’ mockery – or trying to co-opt some of their bravado. Much like Don, Betty has always been a woman of two halves, whose inner rebellion is hidden beneath a glossy veneer.

Mimsy v Don’s Mum

An obvious opposition – devoted, upper class motherhood for Roger vs Don’s poor prostitute. Don’s sickness in reaction suggests his uneasiness in his adopted society.

Corinne vs Corinne vs Karen

Megan’s new role in the soap opera is one that morphs from insignificant maid to killer. Again we see the importance of appearance and reality in the show.

This is all tied together in the different interpretations of Don’s Hawaii ad – suicide or freedom? As always in the show, the disjunct between surface appearance and inner truth is central. The appearance of opposites, mirror-images and doppelgangers merely heightens this. As Janus looks back to the past and forward to the shining future that is 1968, the question is – will the characters ever make the transition and embrace change? Or are they doomed to repeat the mistakes of yesteryear?

Unrelated thought: Stan/Peggy 4lyfe. I mean really. SO CUTE.

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