Guest post by Basketcase Polly Draper (apologies for posting the wrong name earlier)
There’s a mystery in The Doorway that may not, at first, be obvious.
The episode opens with a dark screen. We hear Megan’s voice, a scream , then “Oh my God.” Then a POV close-up of a man’s face. It becomes clear he is giving CPR to the person through whose eyes we view the scene. Fade to black and we hear Don’s voice: “Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road, and woke up to find myself in a dark wood.” We see Don reading Dante’s “Inferno” on the beach in Hawaii and for 8 minutes he is silent.
This opening is explained to us later in a flashback. We are led to believe that it was the Jonesey the doorman who had a heart attack, witnessed by Don, Megan, Sylvia Rosen (who crosses herself), and her husband: the doctor who provided CPR.
But is that what really happened?
I wonder if we are viewing the opening scene through Don’s eyes, and this foreshadowsa heart attack he will have in 1968. One that will be transformational, and a factor in his journey of rebirth and attempt at redemption, as he travels to find himself.
These are the questions that keep running around my brain:
Why would the opening POV scene be through the eyes of a character we don’t know, and not Don, whose voice we next hear?
Why do we hear Megan first scream and then shout, “Oh my God,” when in the flashback scene, when we see Jonesy crumble, she appears calm as she walks to the phone to call for help?
Why does the first shot of Dr. Rosen giving CPR show his shirt collar unbuttoned and his tie loosened, while in the flashback of Jonesy getting CPR, Dr. Rosen’s collar is buttoned and his tie knot is tight? Could this be because Dr. Rosen is giving CPR to two different people, Don and Jonesy?
Does Don’s 8 minutes of silence in Hawaii suggest that he is in limbo, between life and death? Limbo is also referred to as Circle 1 in Dante’s “Inferno.”
Are Don’s first spoken words to PFC Dinkins, starting with “Army,” symbolic not just of his birth as Donald Draper, but also of his journey of rebirth, all while attention is drawn to the first Donald Draper through the lighter mix-up?
Why does Don say that he had an experience in Hawaii that he can’t put into words? Could a heart attack be his near-death, out of the body experience, which he can’t explain?
Why is Don’s pose in bed corpse-like when Megan wakes him? She hen brushes her hand across his eyes, as if to close them on a corpse, when she tells him she won’t be attending Roger’s mother’s funeral. Is it Don’s funeral she won’t be attending, because he comes close, but doesn’t die?
Although Don has been drinking at home before and at Roger’s mother’s funeral, he appears to break out in a sweat, looking lightheaded and nauseous before he vomits. We’re led to attribute it to his drinking, but these symptoms (amazing acting by Jon Hamm, BTW) are some of the warning signs, according to the American Heart Association, of an impending heart attack.
When Don promises a gift of a camera to Dr. Rosen, he says, “You come by my office, I get to go to yours.” Does this foreshadow Don visiting Dr. Rosen’s office as a patient?
Why does Don seem to want a relationship with Dr. Rosen? He is eager to give him a gift of the Leica camera. Could it be a sign of gratitude, similar to Jonesy giving the doctor liquor, because Dr. Rosen saves Don’s life with CPR? Don asks, “What is it like to have someone’s life in your hands?”
When Don speaks about love as an “electric jolt” that is “like a drug,” does this foreshadow Don’s heart being resuscitated in the hospital with cardiac paddles? Does he learn to love when his heart, broken from childhood trauma, is repaired?
When Don walks Dr. Rosen to the supply room to get the camera, why does he say to Dr. Rosen, “Welcome to my hospital?”
Why does Don hear the sound of the ocean when he looks to the light in his rearranged office. He says to Jonesy, after being helped home from the funeral, “What did you see when you died?” Don asks if he saw the light, if he heard the ocean. Is Don asking Jonesy if he saw the same things that Don saw when he died?
During the Sheraton meeting, why does Don say, “The soul goes in and out of the body” and that Aloha means both “hello” and “good-bye”? Why does Don view his pitch of a “jumping off point” as rebirth (the soul goes in and out of the body) and baptism, even though everyone else sees this as suicide and death?
When I think of these questions, and many of the insights of fellow Basketcases, as well as theories floating about the Internet about Don seeming in limbo, having an out of the body experience, Dr. Rosen as a friend, how Don looks at Megan during his silence, I come up with the following. Even though I have never been able to figure out where Matt Weiner will take us, it doesn’t stop me from speculating:
I think Season 6 will be about Don’s journey to better understand his life, the decisions he has made, and what he has learned (and not learned) from his poor choices. His only hope of finding some kind of redemption and happiness will be to confront the events in his past that made him the dysfunctional, broken man that he. He will at least try to deal with his demons. Don “is lost in the woods” with Sylvia, which puts him in Circle 2 of hell (“Lustful”), and he doesn’t want to stay there (“I want to stop doing this”). Don will only be motivated to make this journey through hell to paradise if he has a transformational near-death experience (a heart attack). Both he and Megan will stray in their marriage (symbolized by the upside-down slide in the Kodak Carousel, and Megan saying “Do you still love me even if I’m a lying whore?”). Don must learn to ask for forgiveness and to give forgiveness. This is why Don’s silence is part of his keen observation of Megan and a glimpse into what is at stake if he dies or she leaves him. As the closing credits roll, we hear Elvis singing, “Hawaiian Wedding Song:” I will love you longer than forever. Promise me that you will leave me never.
Will Don’s journey get him through the last two circles of hell (Circle 8, “The Fraudulent” where he owns up to his identity as Dick Whitman and Circle 9, “Traitors,” where he atones for his lies and deceit) so that he might arrive at the paradise of self-knowledge, or will he try, but fall short?