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'Mad Men' Season 6 premiere review: Tantalizing

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) in "Mad Men" Season

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) in "Mad Men" Season 6, Episode 2: "The Doorway." (Credit: AMC)

"Mad Men" returns Sunday and of course the world awaits anxiously. Can it recapture that cultural buzz it once had in abundance? Will it still be great? Will we still care about Don and Peggy and Roger and...

Questions answered -- sort of. Meanwhile, a Sunday Fanfare feature on Jon Hamm in which said star explains the meaning of life and where to find a good burger (mmm, burger.)  Meanwhile, the Newsday review.

"Mad Men," AMC, Sunday, 9 p.m.


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What Sunday's about: At the end of last season, Don (Jon Hamm) is alone in a bar when he is approached by an attractive female patron wondering if he is "alone." Meaning? Well -- in Don's mind -- several things, besides the obvious. Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) has left for a rival agency; his marriage to Megan (Jessica Pare) is now complicated by her decision to return to acting.

Then, there's the existential angle to the question: Is he, Don Draper, alone and adrift in an indifferent universe? That's the setup for Sunday, which finds Don and Megan very much together and on a junket in Hawaii, while the Vietnam War is raging thousands of miles away. Back in New York, Roger (John Slattery) gets some very hard personal news, while Betty (January Jones) and Henry (Christopher Stanley) offer their home to a young woman whose mother has died. Meanwhile, Peggy is confronted with a challenge at her new job after Vietnam intrudes on her work in a grisly and unexpected way.

My say: Hopefully it's not giving away too much to reveal that Roger has a clever little speech in the middle of Sunday's episode about doors - the episode is called "The Doorway," after all. During this, he's Roger being Roger -- flip, ironic, sarcastic -- but he's also being about as serious as you've probably ever seen him. Life, he explains, is just a series of doors that you go through and then close behind you. Nothing more.

Then, switching metaphors, he decides that that life is actually a trail of "pennies that you pick up [while] you're going in a straight line to you-know-where."

Right: Bleak, grim, nihilistic and a dead giveaway that Sunday night is about death. But Sunday is about much more than mortality while offering a tantalizing glimpse of where this classic will possibly end up a couple of years from now, when "Mad Men" wraps at the end of a seventh and final season.

Besides doors, the episode is about journeys, and transformation, and the search for happiness, and whether people can change or remain in the rut of their own choosing. It's mostly about Don -- exhibit A in that expansive "Mad Men" exhibit of flawed humans -- but also about Peggy, Betty, especially Roger, and specifically their capacity for growth.

It's also about how people are refracted through the moment in history they find themselves in -- in this case, the height of the Vietnam War.

And if all this sounds heavy and ponderous, then the fault is mine alone, because "Mad Men" is also about pleasure -- primarily for those viewers who have invested so much in these rich characters over the past five seasons. You'll be happy to learn that there's much more to learn about them Sunday night. So in the end, "Mad Men" is about happiness -- yours -- and Sunday is a joy.

Bottom line: Terrific start to the 6th.

Grade: A+

Tags: mad men , john slattery , jon hamm , matthew weiner , elisabeth moss , amc

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