Mortality seems to be on many key characters’ minds in the two-hour opener of AMC-TV’s Mad Men season six. The episode, titled “The Doorway,” features death, funerals and even estate planning issues.
Roger Sterling’s secretary tearfully delivers the news that his 91-year-old mother died of a stroke in her bathroom. This sets in motion many of the reactions and relationship issues we so often see at funerals or memorial services: dazed or stunned emotions, anger, and family members angling for money.
Roger takes the news without a tear or really any reaction. He confesses to his psychiatrist that he really doesn’t feel anything at all any more.
At the memorial service held in Mom’s elegant home, a demanding older woman in a wheelchair (an old friend of Roger’s mother) insists on being the first speaker at the event. She tells how after Roger’s father died, Mom made her son the center of her life. Roger doesn’t seem to know what to do with this information.
So take note: It can be helpful to have a celebrant or clergy person emceeing the memorial service, so that speakers such as this lady could be thoughtfully managed. The bereaved family has enough on their hearts and minds without having to stage manage a show.
Roger’s mother was cremated, so there was no body in a casket in this scene. She was in the minority in 1967. That year, the U.S. cremation rate averaged 4.18% of the entire population choosing cremation for final disposition (according to CANA, the Cremation Association of North America).
Even though Mom forbade alcohol in the home, somehow Don Draper shows up at the memorial gathering with a drink in hand. Don gets sick and throws up and Roger is not offended. “He just did what everyone else was thinking,” says Roger.
Roger’s ex-wives and daughter show up. As in the fashion of the 1967 era, all are dressed in black. One of the ex-wives has a new husband who shows up to pay his respects, and Roger screams at him to get out. Then he declares the memorial service is over.
After the memorial service, Roger’s daughter asks if Nana had left her anything. Roger gave her a jar of water from the Jordan River, used to baptize both of them. She was hoping for money.
Apparently, Mom’s estate planning had directed most of her money toward supporting the animals at the zoo. Roger says her will “looked like the manifest for Noah’s ark.” At least her money went toward a cause she believed in.
Later in the program, Roger finds out that a shoe shine man who he frequented just died. The man’s shoe shine kit was delivered to Roger. Looking at the items in the box, Roger finally does have an emotional reaction and breaks down in tears.
With the other characters, the specter of the Vietnam war casts an ominous pall over developments in the ad agency world. We’ll just have to see how the stories unwind this season.