One Heart Attack or Two?

 Posted by on April 22, 2013 at 1:00 pm  Mad Men, Season 6
Apr 222013

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.

draperinfernoThe 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?


  47 Responses to “One Heart Attack or Two?”

  1. Nice post. I didn’t realize there was more than one Dark Peggy on here.

  2. Brill questions, DP. It is so easy to disregard the events in the first episode but I think you’re right, it’s all going to come back. Reminds me of that old Wesson oil commercial on TV; “it all comes back except for one tablespoon.”

    • I remember that commercial…how appropriate because this time Don is the one who will be FRIED!

  3. Great post!
    We’ve already had the “two” CPR scenes, the “missing” four hours in Hawaii, Don and Sylvia, and the return of Bowl Cut Dick. I think Season 6 could top any of the first 5. Considering my opinion of the future of the show at this point last season….that is simply incredible.

  4. Brilliant Observations!

  5. My thought about the CPR is that the removal of the jacket and the loosening of the tie could merely denote the passage of time. Once you start CPR, you’re obligated by law to continue until help arrives. Someone could have done compressions for Dr. Rosen long enough for him to take off his jacket etc. CPR is physically demanding.

    Still, I love these ideas.

  6. How thought-provoking! Thank you!

  7. I posted about this in week one when I noticed the doctors outfit and megan’s response seemed different in the two scenes. I definitely think the first scene is don, but maybe not a heart attack, but at least collapsing for some reason.

  8. I have been thinking about this for weeks. The Hawaii scenes were so dreamlike, and Don was so silent in them: I got a definite here-but-not-here vibe from him. He reminded of Tony Soprano, as “Kevin Finnerty,” in the scenes after that shooting at the start of Season 6 of The Sopranos.

    But it was last week’s episode, when Don collapsed in front of his own door, that kind of sealed my sense that all is not well with Don Draper.

    Oh! And Sylvia. With her Dante and her devil steak and her prayers that Don “finds peace,” she keeps moving between being his downfall and his possible salvation.

    There’s a lot to chew on here, Polly. Well done.

    • Yes…about Sylvia. I agree with you that she is another piece of this fine puzzle. Someone else on the open thread (I think) raised the question about whether Sylvia is Anna, but with sex.

      It also bothers me that we know nothing about how Don and Sylvia hooked up. With all of Don’s other lovers we witnessed the seduction, and with Bobbie Barrett, she seduced Don. If Sylvia seduced Don, then I don’t think she will be his possible salvation.

      • This is apropos of nothing, but I got the strongest Bobbie Barrett vibe from Megan’s colleague Arlene (soap opera actress, married to the soap boss, one half of the swinging couple). Start to finish: right down to that glance she exchanged with Don after Megan’s love scene.

        I half expected her to start telling Megan how “young and beautiful” she is …

      • But Megan basically seduced Don too. She went into his office that night near the end of S4 and offered herself on a platter. There was no courtship to their relationship.

        That scene and “Tomorrowland” were why I expected her character to be more devious and show some claws as time progressed.

  9. Yes. Yes to all of it. Great post, so many good observations!

  10. Great Post! I’ve had a nagging suspicion about those two hear attack scenes too — I do think that the first one we saw was actually Don having a cardiac–especially since the reactions around it were different each time. The first time we hear Megan scream and then say “Oh My God!” twice”. Then we see and hear the doctor say “Let me in there, it’s okay Jonesy, ope his coat, call an ambulance” The second time, we only hear her scream, and the doctor says “That’s it, that’s it, hang in there!” “Keep listening to me, Come on!” I think we’re being toyed with!

  11. I wonder…when Don bites the dust, who will show up at his funeral? Which mistress will throw themselves on top of his casket and sob? Haha!

  12. PD, I love the way you think. So much going on in this episode.

    I’m interested in his attachment to Dr Rosen, entirely aside from the matter of his involvement with Sylvia. He was eager to give the doctor a Leica from his closet full of them. Ever held a Leica? They’re like the Jaguar of small cameras. In a way I think it was alpha-male bonding, wanting to share his success and handle it lightly (“I only know them by the price”). But the camera is something more too; Don never takes pictures, and when they’re in Hawaii, what kind of camera is Megan using? Some ticky-tacky Instamatic? Why didn’t he give her a Leica? Shrug. Just the wifey, I guess. Those pictures she brings home are the little stops on the carousel of his life. Don, of course, had nothing to say about them, and who knows what the doctor will use his camera for, if anything. Maybe it’s just another thing of beauty that he can truly own (and leave on a shelf).

    Maybe the cameras are a dead end. I keep going back to the image of Rosen departing through the doorway into the snow, on his skis. So completely unexpected, after one door after another after another in this episode. Some say the world will end in fire, some in ice? Who was Don’s guide through the cycles of Hell, and which one are we up to by that point? Which one is Orpheus, and who gets left behind?

    • BA, I was also struck by Megan’s crappy camera.

      If I remember correctly, Don gave Dr. Rosen a Leica M2 from the storeroom — and 1968 was the last year for that model. In Season 1 in the episode, Marriage of Figaro, we do see Don with a motion picture camera filming Sally’s birthday party. For someone like Don who sees the simplicity and power of images and words, cameras should be very important.

      I also agree with you about that image of Dr. Rosen departing on his skis and the look on Don’s face — exactly who gets left behind?!

  13. Finally, this season is starting to pick up! “To Have & To Hold” was a great episode! Project K felt very caper-ish, it was good to see Harry finally stand up for himself, albeit for the wrong reasons, and we finally get a good Joan story line! We also mention the “One Heart Attack or Two” article from this site on The MadCast Podcast, available on iTunes ( as well as Stitcher Radio. Give us a listen!

  14. Hawaii wasn’t a dream. They WERE there. But……..that silence from Don has me stumped.

    Love that Polly D has me thinking about this. Can’t/won’t get this out of my head all day.

    • Me too! Brilliant PD so much mental gristle!!!

    • Hey Tilden,

      If Hawaii wasn’t a dream, I’m wondering if it becomes Don’s worst nightmare AFTER his childhood?

      Something tells me that we will see more scenes of Hawaii in the weeks ahead….can’t wait.

  15. Love the idea. I couldn’t think of anything else but Don being the one dying when I first saw that scene. Then, that set up everything else so nicely, especially the pitch about the jumping off point, shedding skin, death, and starting new.
    And, the asking to visit Rosen’s office… well, unless he means to sit in during a surgery, I’m not sure what else he’d be subconsciously saying expect “I’m destined to be heading to the hospital”

  16. Does anyone know if Dr. Rosen is a cardiologist? Or an internist, or trauma guy or what?

    • Dr. Rosen is a heart surgeon, correct? I think that has been implied at least once. Don made that comment to Dr. Rosen in the elevator about giving a Leica to Christiaan Barnard, who had performed the first heart transplant in December, 1967. It was, I think, both a way of locating us in time as well as telling us what Dr. Rosen does.

      I also find it interesting that there is a medical model of a heart on the dresser in the maid’s room where Don and Sylvia have their trysts. I stare at it every time. It seems out of place.

      • Courtney, I stare at the heart model in all of those scenes, too! That room is so tiny and awkward, it helps me feel less anxious (for Don & Sylvia) by looking out for it. It reminds me of the impaled heart on Mexican lotteria cards, of Jesus’s sacred heart. I love that it’s just sitting there on the dresser, a stark representation of love and life and death.

  17. Yes, yes, YES! I have been thinking along these same lines as well… What really caught my attention was noticing that the two “heart attack” scenes aren’t identical… Megan’s reaction in each one was the biggest tip off for me. I can buy that Dr. Rosen’s coat and tie are different because we do see him take off his jacket and loosen his tie in the second flashback, but still… Megan’s reaction is so different that I’m also unconvinced they are representations of the same event. What also gives me pause about that theory, though, is that both scenes seem to take place in the lobby of Don and Megan’s apartment building, judging by the very distinctive light fixture on the ceiling above. That two heart attacks would occur in the lobby with essentially the same people present seems to strain credulity a bit… but I don’t know. It does seem extremely “foreshadowy” and ominous…

    I also agree about the fact that Don’s experience in Hawaii seemed like “limbo,” which would also fit in very nicely, as PD stated, with the idea of that being the first circle of Dante’s Hell.

    • There’s another thing that kind of bothers me… If we assume that Don is the victim in one of those scenes and that his behavior in Hawaii and asking Jonesy about what he “saw,” etc are related to that, then Don’s heart attack would have had to have taken place before the trip to Hawaii… and I’m not sure Don seems “different” enough to have gone through that experience already. But that magical “It’s A Wonderful Life” kind of turnaround is purely cinematic and would probably play out quite differently in real life… I can’t see Weiner going for something that cliche at all. Who knows.

      I am so on board with this theory, though… at least some aspect of it might be right. Right?

  18. I felt like, in retrospect, the first episode is a collage and we are going to see greater snippets that mean something other than what we have seen so far. Like if you edit a sentence down to 2 or 3 words it may have a completely different meaning than the entire thing.

    I enjoyed your insights and synopsis.

  19. PD, so brilliant! Don’s sins come home to roost in his own living hell. Makes me wonder if future episodes are going to represent the circles if hell– greed, gluttony, lust, anger,etc. although sometimes it seems like MM is a mishmash of all those circles of hell in one epi! I also need a primer on Dante’s Inferno BTW. Never read it, and the Wikipedia synopsis isn’t doing it for me. Any takers?

  20. Although the post is really interesting, I disagree about Don being in a “limbo” = between life and death. In Dante’s Inferno, the limbo is where the souls of righteous men that have lived before the advent of Christ (and the souls of children dead before they could receive baptism) are: they are not condemned to hell, but they can’t go to heaven either because they didn’t live as Christians, but they sure are dead.

  21. Wouldn’t it be appropriate that it’s Don’s heart that fails him in the end?

    Also, if you recall, a few seasons back Don visited a doctor who told him that he should take care of himself at his age. Then, when Dr. Rosen visted Don’s office to get the camera, Dawn seemed alarmed by his presence and Don told her not to worry that it was just a social visit. Perhaps this is a set-up to show that Don already has had some problems — not a major incident, but something that has made him worry and see a doctor — perhaps those problems occurring at work in Dawn’s presence but no one else’s. This could culminate in the opening scene being played out again, but in full, in the final scene of the season.

    In the premier this season, when they cut to a shot of Megan’s belly, just after the heart attack and Don reading from Inferno, I thought, “so she’s pregnant.” Turned out, she was, but miscarried. So, potential birth, potential death. That’s all I’ve got on that symbolism.

  22. Loose quoting:

    Dawkins to Draper: what about you…we’re you married in Vietnam
    Draper without hesitating: NO

    Draper was married…
    Whitman wasn’t…

    Maybe Hawaii Don, was happy Dick in heaven….paradise, beach, Jessica Para in a bikini with 2 joints, time/watch stopped, food, more food, old fashion drinks….and….the greatest part of heaven….drinking until 4 am and waking up for an 8am wedding looking like you slept for 10 hours, had a 2 hour spa session, took a 90 minute nap, ate brunch then gave away the bride….

    ….am I right?

    Other minor notes….If Megan gets famous, could the trolls from ‘1969 TMZ’ uncover Don’s secret? I’m trying to articulate the lighter switch and the passing of 2 souls into different parts of purgatory but my flight is about to land…thanks for this amazing recap author!

  23. Fascinating theory, and you made the case for it exceptionally well. However, the interview with Matt Weiner that aired on NPR’s Fresh Air today (4/25/13) pretty much debunked it. MW spoke explicitly about Dr. Rosen performing CPR on Jonesy while Don looked on.

    • The Fresh Air interviews are great. Matt denied the Doorway ep was all about death, but he likes to old surprises back, of course.

      One thing he says, right off the bat, is that Don’s going through a “complicated” midlife crisis.

      • “Don’s going through a “complicated” midlife crisis.”

        Ha! What a gift for the understatement. This mid-life crisis has been 40 years in the making. 🙂

        It is interesting to go back and listen to ALL of Matt Weiner’s Fresh Air interviews — I love that Terri Gross is such a fan girl.

  24. Polly,

    I’m so glad you posted this, amazing observations! The whole idea of Don having an “experience” in Hawaii and the seeing the heart attack from Jonsey’s point of view may definitely be connected.

    After “The Doorway,” I think Deb wrote something about going in circles of birth and rebirth. And then I remembered the Buddhist concept of being trapped in a cycle or birth and rebirth. One main way to get out of that cycle is through cultivating compassion.

    Perhaps that’s what Don’s “experience” was in Hawaii, having a moment of ultimate compassion for Jonesy by experiencing the heart attack from Jonsey’s perspective. I posted earlier that when Jonsey is lying down he resembles Don. And in some shots it looks like it is actually JH on the floor in the doorman’s uniform w/grey sideburns added.

    Also, a religious researcher named Karen Armstrong has stated that the main thing all major religions have in common is compassion. Interestingly, the most famous astronaut is Neil Armstrong and the soldier at the bar mistakes Don for and astronaut. And then Don shows him compassion by participating in his wedding. And when the lady at the luau “mistakes” Megan for her character on her soap opera, she asks for an autograph for her niece Karen instead of herself, an act of compassion. Perhaps coincidence, perhaps not.

    Also, one of the men in the run down apartment mentions the word “grok.” It’s from the Sci Fi novel “Stranger in a Strange Land.” The title is a Biblical reference (there seem to be a lot of them in S6) and the plot deals with a Martian on Earth (Ginsberg). Grok, as per Wikipedia, means

    “ understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience.”

    So perhaps Don “grokked” Jonsey in Hawaii. Another definition of grok is “to drink,” And Jonsey give both Arnold and Don bottles of the liqueur Galliano. Another definition of grok is “to live.” And that could be the essence of the toast Arnold gave as they drank the Galliano at New Years, “L’chaim.”

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