As Season 6 of "Mad Men" approaches, it might be time to ask: How much more of Don Draper is there to discover?
We already know, of course, that the old-school advertising exec so adroitly played by Jon Hamm is a hard-drinking, chain-smoking scoundrel with a shadowy past. We know he has a history of infidelity, that he's prone to self-destruction and melancholy, and he really doesn't spend a whole lot of time with a smile on his face.
So what else is there?
Producer-writer Matthew Weiner, the brains behind "Mad Men," has said in recent interviews that Season 6 will be a journey into learning more about Don. But, really, where can the character go that he hasn't already been?
That's the substantial challenge confronting this brilliant but aging show. How do you stay fresh? How do you top yourself without repeating yourself?
The challenge is even greater for a show like "Mad Men, which is typically heavier on atmosphere and theme than plot. After all, there is no island to escape, no zombies to splatter. And it's unlikely that Don will transform into a mobster any time soon.
But one thing does seem apparent: Mr. Draper just can't be happy for long. If he is, there is no show. It's done.
So there was ample cause for skepticism last season when it initially appeared that he and his new trophy bride, Megan (Jessica Pare), were basking in blissful matrimony. No way that could last.
And sure enough, Megan, a wannabe actress, began to assert her independence, leaving Don feeling somewhat diminished. And when our main man was approached in a bar by that attractive young woman during the Season 5 cliffhanger, it looked as if the old Don might be primed for a comeback.
"Are you alone?" she asked.
Talk about a loaded question.
Season 6 jumps ahead in time and launches with a beautifully written, contemplative two-hour opener called "The Doorway." It would make for a great discussion here if Weiner wasn't the ultimate spoiler-phobe.
When AMC delivered the episode to critics for review, it came with a note imploring us not to reveal the year the season begins, the status of Don and Megan's relationship, whether the ad agency has expanded to an additional floor, any new characters, and any new relationships or partnerships.
Um, all righty then. So what's left to talk about?
Well, we can safely say that the opener is generally absent of major revelations. It does contain somewhat of a stunner, though the surprise isn't the fact that it happens, but in the way it happens. Otherwise, the episode does what most "Mad Men" openers do: Move along methodically while laying the groundwork for what's to come.
As for Don's current state, he seems to be more angst-ridden and introspective than ever. He's marching further into middle age, which was closer to old age back in the '60s. It's getting harder to shrug off thoughts of death with a three-martini lunch. And there continues to be that creeping sense of alienation, or irrelevance, in a world where social change is coming ever faster.
At one point someone says, "People will do anything to alleviate their anxiety." So what is Don ready, or willing, to do to relieve his?
The episode is also a strong showcase for John Slattery's silver-haired pitchman, Roger Sterling. He, too, is obsessed with thoughts of mortality and becoming a cultural dinosaur. But at least he brings his usual doses of cynical wit to the subject. That's good. We could use the laughs.
Other regulars don't figure prominently in the opener, although we do check in with Betty (January Jones) and daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka). And it's great to see that an emboldened Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) is still part of the mix, even though she defiantly left Don's firm last season to make a name for herself.
In some ways, separating Don and Peggy might be problematic. One of the great dynamics of "Mad Men" was the conflict and interplay between these two, who, in some ways, seem to be cut from the same cloth. We want to see them together, but not in a romantic sense.
For now, though, they're adrift in a tumultuous time. What year, exactly? Weiner doesn't want us to tell you. But it's the late '60s, and some major historic jolts are about to hit, which can only bring on more anxiety.
When: 9 p.m.