Prepare yourself for the seven most glorious weeks of television that ever bestowed itself upon us. Biased much?
“Mad Men” is my favorite show – there I said it. In truth it’s always been a tie with “Breaking Bad,” but I can’t favor one over the other because of their vast differences. I always take the first episode of the season as a chance to get reacquainted with its characters. A lot has changed in the two months that time has passed in the world of “Mad Men” since the season finale, but as elusive as Creator Matthew Weiner is about show advances, it’s safe to say that despite the changes, at the end of the series these characters won’t end up where they currently are. “Mad Men” is a show about growth and recession with its characters, and a season’s structure or theme isn’t fully realized until the very end. It makes no sense trying to outsmart Weiner and the gang. I can only focus on this week, and with that, to start you off: Here’s a brief rendition of this week’s highlights that is part of a recurring comic series I’m making to accompany my reviews.
This Week on “Mad Men” … Sort Of
California is rock ‘n’ roll and New York is all jazz, or Sinatra, for Don. The handsome protagonist walks out into sunny California and cinematically so, his hot wife, Megan, pulls up in her new two-seat convertible, sporting a pale blue baby doll dress and matching eye shadow to greet her Gary Cooper.
But California isn’t all it’s propped up to be. We quickly figure out the word “bicoastal” has become a frequent term used to describe Don and Megan’s marriage, and her focus on her career and becoming success has Don feeling like quite the schmuck. Megan is distanced from her husband, not only physically for most of the year, but emotionally. Her move to Hollywood has given her a freedom and independence she never had with Don in New York. She’s all work and no play, at least around Don who continues to be shown in the light of a father figure rather than a husband. When Megan hears the news of her callback on the “Bracken’s World” pilot on NBC, Don leans in for a kiss – Megan offers her forehead.
She calls her new home in the canyons exclusively hers, before correcting herself and meaning “ours.” When Don buys her a congratulatory expensive, but impractical TV reminiscent of the décor back in their Manhattan apartment, Megan complains about the size. She’s been avoiding sex too, blaming it on nerves until the point where she can’t fake being tired or busy anymore. Her demeanor toward an act that gave her so much (temporary) power in her marital relationship makes me think her sunshine independence has found her a California paramour.
Don isn’t the only who’s not loving his California experience. Ted returns to the New York offices of Sterling Cooper and Partners to catch up on business, and everyone expects the West coast to have changed him. Two mentions of his lack of a tan are brought upon in an office that’s supposed to be against clichés, but California is the dream and for everyone else, this man is living it. Apparently not as much as Pete Campbell, who does have a tan, and what I think is a growing hairline. Good for you, you smarmy sonnofa…
Pete’s the exact opposite of Ken Cosgrove, who’s Chevy accident proved to be much more permanent than what we were led to believe. There’s an patchy joke to be made here, but I’ll leave that up to an asshole’s interpretation. With Pete in Los Angeles and a staff of menial account men under his belt, Ken IS UP TO HERE WITH ACCOUNTS I TELL YA. So when Butler footwear starts heading toward ~**the future**~ by moving all of their accounts in-house, Ken sees this meeting as a waste of his time and sends Joan, still portraying some version of a secretary albeit a partner, to meet with Butler’s new head of marketing. Being a woman and all, she can’t gain the guy’s respect and he breaks the news. She tells him to hold off on his recommendation for a couple of days so at least he can get the dinner he thought he would have, and he agrees. In the meantime, she goes to a business school to seek advise from an professor on what to say to steer the account in the right direction. Joan’s smart and looking to finally make a true name for herself in the company. Earlier in the episode, she walks into Ken’s office holding the Avon account she helped bring in last season, expecting Ken to talk business. She knows that the advice she needs is not going to come from any pretend-ally in the office, but was taken back when she thought the professor asked to trade sex for knowledge. Luckily, the world is not such a crass place and the professor just wants the inside scoop on the future of advertising and SC&P, and Joan will gladly give him that information because it’s the one place her knowledge is valued.
Although the show is inching near the end of the 60’s, and the feminist movement started to gain traction, women still have an inferior place in the presence of men in society and especially in the office. The most puzzling change in this episode was the unexplained demotion of Peggy being creative director back to her old job in equal footing with Stan. My guess is that Ted had something to do will putting Paul Avery in charge, which is an added reason why Peggy meets him with such hostility in the break room when he brings up Paul.
And Dawn, still a secretary, this time to Paul, is treated poorly by Funny Man Paul. He calls her and the creative department Gladys Knight and the Pips, then Nurse. She can’t do anything but smile, because in addition to being a woman, she’s also psychologically and culturally part of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement and has to deal with jerks like this all the time I imagine.
Back when Dawn was first introduced, critics tried to pin her as a young Peggy, and while that’s hopeful, it’s not the direction I really see her going in. Dawn is looking to blend in, not be “the black voice” so many critics wish her character to be, and that makes her, and the show, more realistic.
Peggy is the strongest female voice in the show by far, but her strength is becoming more foreign to her as it’s built up only as a façade. At the end of the day, she kneels on the floor of her noisy Brooklyn apartment and cries. She once had the promise of it all, and this season is hers to tell where it all went and where it’ll go.
When her former mentor returns to New York, we see that Freddy Rumsen’s freelance work was really coming from Don trying to snake his way back in the company. While it’s been two months since his leave, and the partner’s are still paying him, Don starts off the season with the least amount of confidence we’ve ever seen him portray. His portrayal in his mod apartment, unable to get the porch door shut in the winter of New York, hearkens back to his sad bachelor pad in Season 4 (the alcoholic season) before he met Megan.
On the flight back home, he’s seated next to a woman who’s just his type. A mix of Megan and Sylvia, and she knows it. Though her melancholy revelation of releasing her husband’s ashes in Disney land changes the tone of where the episode once thought it could lead us. Don doesn’t kiss her, just confesses Megan knows he’s a terrible husband. Back at home, with apparently nothing left, he punishes himself in the cold, winter night. If he can’t feel success or the touch of a woman voluntarily, he might as well feel something.