Photo: Mad Men
After a 17-month dry spell, “Mad Men’s” season five premiere went down like a smooth Old Fashioned.The big questions we’ve ruminated over since October 2010 (that’s right, the last time there was a new “Mad Men” Amy Winehouse was still alive and the Democrats ruled the House of Representatives) were answered in minutes: Yes, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is still in business; and yes, Don Draper married his beautiful secretary, Megan, who got what was surely a merit-based promotion to copywriter. Peggy is less than pleased.
Although the two-hour episode got off to a slow start as viewers re-adjusted to the show’s unique style—little background music and no zombie apocalypse sequences—it was great to get pulled back into “Mad Men’s” nuanced dialog, characters, and long, cinematic shots.
Rather than opening with cataclysmic character revelations (which were disappointingly lacking this week, anyway), the premiere began by addressing a phenomenon that the show has been accused of ignoring: the civil rights movement. A mini-scandal erupts when the good old boys at Young & Rubicam, a real-life agency, are caught throwing water out their windows at black picketers down below. Fun fact: Forbes reports that inspiration may come from a more recent scandal when Y&R employees were fired for spreading a racist email around the office.
Never one to miss an opportunity to publicly embarrass the 'enemy'--remember Don's anti-tobacco manifesto in the New York Times?--SCDP takes out a joke newspaper ad announcing that the company is 'an equal opportunity employer' whose 'windows don't open.' Well, it turns out that the joke is on them when dozens of people turn up at the office hoping for a job.
Roger Sterling tactfully observes, 'Is it just me, or is the lobby full of Negroes?'
It's potentially an exciting new era for 'Mad Men': one in which African Americans play a significant role in the program, not just as housekeepers, activist girlfriends, or Playboy bunnies.
That 1966 Memorial Day weekend, seven months after we left off in season four, marks another historic event, too: Don Draper's 40th birthday. While his true identity, Dick Whitman, technically hit the big 4-0 six months prior, Megan (who shockingly knows about his secret past … it must be love!) decides to throw him a surprise party. Considering how much Don loves surprises and being out of control of social situations, this is obviously a terrible idea, but Megan invites the whole SCDP gang to their swanky New York City apartment for the party anyway. Don tries to hide his grimace behind a smile but is mortified when Megan stages a sexy song and dance in front of the whole crowd, to the French song 'Zou Bisou Bisou.'
Roger and Lane mock the dance around the office the next week, and Megan becomes the subject of lewd office gossip. Don coldly reprimands his wife that night--he really was obnoxious about it--causing the first tension we've seen in their marriage.
The tension gets broken with a crazy sex scene on their post-party, dirty living-room carpet, rivaling the time Don got slapped in the face by a hooker last season. Megan also knows Don is kinky, apparently. Perceptive!
Don was once the young, new, driving force behind his agency, fighting against conservative norms. But as far as last night's episode was concerned, 40 signaled the beginning of the end.
Partygoers divided into two groups: the conservative 'elders' and the pot smoking, mini-skirt and turtleneck wearing beatnicks (including a gay, black man--a diversity first for 'Mad Men'). As Roger gives Don advice on keeping up with a young wife, one thing became undeniably clear: Don's out of touch, and his heyday is coming to a close.
Now here's a breakdown of what our favourite characters were up to this episode:
If we are to believe that Don is now a distinguished 'older' man, then Roger must be careening towards dementia, mere episodes away from going to work without any pants. Roger and his wife are at odds (when Megan sings for Don, Roger asks 'Why don't you sing like her?' and she replies, 'Why don't you look like him?'), and he's losing his mojo with the clients. The sneaky silver fox has begun flirting with secretaries so that he can catch glimpses of their boss' schedules and crash their meetings.
Having brought in a number of big-name accounts, Pete has finally earned the right to act whiny and entitled. He's pissed that Roger is swooping in on client meetings and is gunning for his office. (Stay tuned for an after-work duel). Unfortunately for Pete, the more established he becomes, the more he begins to look like an adult version of Stewie from 'Family Guy.' It appears as if the new father, now living in Connecticut, gained sympathy pregnancy weight with Trudy, and Roger's wife noticed that he's starting to go bald.
Megan catches Harry Crane in the act of making crass remarks about her seductive dance for Don at the party. He is now in constant fear for his job, which leads him to agree to switch offices with Pete when Roger demanded it. (He was also paid $1,100 to switch).
Joan's baby was born, and it looks like her quasi-abusive husband, currently deployed in Vietnam, has no idea that Roger is the baby daddy.
Joan's development as a working and essentially single mother is sure to be one of the most compelling storylines of the season. While she is clearly a loving mother, smiling as she does everything from changing a diaper to riding the elevator with her infant until the vibrations lull him to sleep, she feels empty without SCDP. After seeing the agency's ad in the New York Times, unaware that it is a jab at Y&R rather than a listing for her job, she storms into SCDP, baby in tow, to secure her spot as queen of the secretaries (official title: office manager).
The touching nature of his conversation with Joan, reassuring her that she is the glue that holds an agency of 'imbeciles,' didn't quite make up for Lane's complete and total weirdness this week. Sad old Lane, who is having unexplained money issues, finds a wallet in the back of a taxi and, keeping up with the racism theme, refuses to leave it with the cab's black driver. The wallet has a picture of a buxom girl named Dolores who Lane disturbingly tries to have phone sex with. Knickers are discussed.
Joan's visit to the office created two could-have-been family portraits: Joan and Roger with their child ...
When Roger sees Joan he announces, 'There's my baby,' referring to Joan rather than his child.
Once in a blue moon you remember that Peggy did, in fact, have Pete's child.
She approaches the baby as if it were venomous, passing him along to the first pair of free hands.
Poor Peggy is still under-appreciated and under-dressed. She's also pretty bitter that Megan is working as a creative, making constant digs that the boss' wife is getting shortcuts. On the bright side, Peggy's also still dating that political writer, Abe Drexler, so at least she has an outlet to relieve work related stress.
Peggy starred in one of the night's winning sequences: A meeting with funny man frenemy/art director Stan Rizzo in which they pitched a 'Bean Ballet' to Heinz. Although the idea gets nixed, Rizzo humming 'The Blue Danube' under Peggy's 'Art of Supper' voiceover is hilarious.
Although Don mentioned Betty and her husband when dropping Sally, Bobby, and whatever his third child is called off at their house ('Give Morticia and Lurch my love) there was no Betty cameo. Matt Weiner revealed that Betty appearances will be sparse throughout the season due to January Jones' real-life pregnancy.
In spite of his annoyance with his birthday party, Don actually appears to be happy. Eerily so. Peggy observes, 'I don't recognise that man. He's kind and patient.' Rather than having that fiery passion for his job, he is completely content being a weekend dad to his kids (who had the shortest cameo ever) and jumping his hot young wife at work, in the hall outside their apartment, and on the living room's soiled rug.
And then there's Megan ...
Megan, Megan, Megan.
Both a wholesome stepmother who teaches the baby Drapers' french lullabies and a sexpot who uses arguments as a form of foreplay, the new Mrs. Draper is hard to figure out.
Did she throw Don's surprise party because she thought he'd enjoy it (even Peggy warned it would be a bad idea), or was it an excuse to put herself on display? She did predict 'Everyone's going to come home from this party and have sex.'
A significantly more substantive character now that in her early appearances, Megan both resists Don's nasty side and reveals her fragility.
I hope I'm wrong, but her forlorn balcony scene looked as if it might foreshadow darker things to come. Is there a chance Megan won't make it through the season?
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