The Remote: ‘Mad Men’ returns stronger than ever

Ryan Pait

Sunday’s season six premiere of “Mad Men” opened with some grave words from Dante Alighieri’s “The Inferno,” delivered by none other than Don Draper himself.

“Midway through our life’s journey I went astray from the straight road and awoke to find myself alone in a dark wood.”

It may sound like pretty heady stuff, but it’s par for the course for “Mad Men,” one of TV’s finest and deepest dramas.

Aired as a two-hour, supersized episode, the premiere, cleverly titled “The Doorway,” was all about openings and closings.

The premiere checked in with most of the show’s sizable cast and even introduced a few new faces, although some were scarcely seen and sorely missed — I can always use more Joan (Christina Hendricks).

Don (Jon Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) take a Hawaiian vacation, where Don ruminates on death, paradise and hell.

And while Don and Megan seemed happy on their trip, it’s obvious when they return to New York that they’ve hit some sort of a stall in their relationship.

A swift twist near the end of the episode more than confirms this.

It’s obvious from the premiere that Don will have a lot of personal issues to deal with this season, per usual.

Roger (John Slattery) is also working through some problems — a post-post-midlife crisis, if you will.

It’ll be interesting to see the parallels between Don and Roger’s existential journeys this season.

The former Mrs. Draper, Betty Francis (January Jones) also had a heavy presence in the premiere, and she and daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka) are just as sassy as ever.

Betty deals with Sally’s wayward friend, which takes her on a journey of self-discovery not dissimilar to Don and Roger’s.

Much of the episode is mired in death and afterlife imagery, but things are much brighter for Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), who we pick up with at her new job at Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough.

No longer a copywriter, Peggy serves as creative chief for CGC: basically, she’s the new Don Draper. Unlike Don, however, Peggy seems to have most of her issues figured out.

She deals with a public relations crisis much like the old Don would have, but without the self-destructive behavior.

In two hours completely steeped in morbidity and crisis, it was nice to see one character have it all together.

The rest of the premiere was as sharp as ever: “Mad Men” is one of the best-looking shows on TV, and it has a supremely talented cast.

There was some obvious strain from the two-hour running time. I can’t think of a show currently on TV that would benefit from a supersized premiere, and “Mad Men” is no exception.

Inevitable pacing issues aside, “The Doorway” served as a solid, if not particularly cheery return for “Mad Men.”

I’m sure the best is yet to come, and I’m absolutely looking forward to journeying further into the inferno.