Mad Men is back! AMC’s series that revolves around Don Draper and his colleagues at a 1960’s-1970’s advertising firm. Despite coming in to it’s 7th season, it’s amazing to me that this popular drama has remained so consistent through out its run. That’s not to say that the show hasn’t had ups and downs over the years, especially when it comes to the story lines, but the production and performances from all the characters almost never cease to meet expectations.
As the lead in reminds us things are in kind of a weird place after the last season. Don has been forced to take a leave of absence, Peggy has had a failed in-office romance with a married man, and things are kind of up in the air with several other characters personal and professional lives (but what else is new). Roger is trying to mend the broken relationship with his daughter. Pete’s wife has been kicked out of his house and he’s decided to move out to firm’s branch in California to escape. Then there’s Joan, who’s started to do account work, despite that not being her position. As usual, there’s other things going on but, the lead-ins usually only show us what’s relevant to the current episode.
The actual episode opens with Peggy hearing a compelling read through, from Freddy, of an advertisement for watches. This immediately reminds us of one of the best things about the show: the advertisements. Some of the best monologues and performances of the series have come when we’re hearing characters pitch ad ideas. This is no different and is a great lead in to the series. After Peggy ends her meeting we cut to our lovable silver haired rouge, Roger Sterling. He gets a call from his daughter to meet for breakfast. Roger’s clearly just waking up from some kind of drug fueled party (very possibly and orgy). Showing us that while he does want the relationship with his daughter and grandchild, he’s probably not changing anytime soon (and would we really want him to). When he does finally meet with his daughter he’s met with a bit of a surprise. She meets him to tell him that she “forgives him” in a very disturbingly tranquil way. It’s apparent that she’s been doing some kind of soul searching or seeking and Roger asks if she’s been going to church or something. I’m really hoping that we’re not going to find out she’s in a cult or something later.
Back at SC&P (Sterling Cooper and Partners), work meetings are heading in to their regular flow. Ken, still sporting his eye patch, is blowing up about not having an assistant and his perceived position at the company. This leads him to him blowing off a meeting with a footwear company by telling Joan to reschedule the meeting at the last minute. It’s obvious at this point that 1] Ken is making a bad decision and 2] Joan is about to take matters into her own hands again.
Eventually, we get back to the show’s two most beautiful people: Megan and Don Draper. Complete with slow motion and a funky reunion soundtrack (“I’m a Man” by Spencer Davis Group) the two are reunited at an airport. Don’s back in town and just in time to hear that Megan is about to get a big role on a new TV show. He also gets to see Megan’s new California home. I’m sure the secluded, creepy location of the home is going to only further encourage the Megan = Sharon Tate theorists out there. The couple is still together, although it seems like Megan is becoming more and more independent of Don, which is probably a good thing for her. Later on, the two actually get into an argument and Megan further re-iterates her detachment from Don when she says, “You’re not here long enough for a fight”. Megan’s even more nervous about her role than she is about their relationship. This seems like a different kind of way for a relationship to fall apart for Don, but it does still seem like it’s falling apart.
We get to see Pete for the first time in the season when Don meets him for breakfast…or maybe lunch. The two have a conversation about how things have been going in their respective lives. Pete mentions that Ted doesn’t seem to be too happy about being out in this great environment and also suggests that Don may have timed his trip out there to coincide with Ted’s trip to NY. He later goes back into his normal whining when he suspects that his achievements aren’t being lauded back home, only to be reminded that Don’s not actually back at work yet. Pete seems to be doing very well in his life out west, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him falling apart later.
Back in NY, Joan is handling Ken’s meeting with Butler Footwear, unbeknownst to him. As it turns out, the young man she’s meeting with is the new head of marketing for the company. He has set up the meeting with Ken to inform him that he’ll be recommending that the company bring all of their advertising in house in order to cut down on the overhead that he perceives comes with employing SC&P. Joan’s obviously not ready to handle this and seeks out some extra assistance (first from whiskey and then from a Professor).
Joan’s still in a state where she’s constantly being underestimated. Not only does the marketing exec not really want to deal with her, even the professor speaks to her with a certain amount of condescension. It’s really interesting to see how Joan reacts to these different hurdles. She’s gained a kind of quiet determination that allows her to push through it and ultimately succeed. I feel like she’s hiding her indignation but, if she is, she’s hiding it so well that she doesn’t seem to be feeling any at all. Rather, it seems like she’s just taking it all as an expected part of her work process (maybe it’s an attitude of the era thing). Ultimately, she’s able to trade her knowledge of SC&P’s changing financial structure for some business knowledge regarding “The Four P’s” and uses that to essentially bully the young marketing executive into keeping the account at SC&P. Good for you Joan, good for you. Now let’s see if she gets any credit for it going forward.
Things aren’t going that great for Peggy either. After hearing that great pitch in the initial scene she fails to get Lou (who is kind of her new boss) to bite on it and gets chastised for giving him ideas that she wasn’t happy with to begin with. Later, she has an uncomfortable reunion with Ted in the offices as they awkwardly talk about coffee before Ted excuses himself from the situation. She’s even getting it at home as one of her tenants has sent her child to yell at her for not fixing the toilet plumbing in their apartment, leading Peggy to respond with a borderline racist outburst about not being able to understand her Hispanic tenant. In the last little shot at her in this episode, Lou responds to her trying to push another idea by saying, “I guess I’m just immune to your charms”. Although it’s hard to tell, that seemed to be a dig at her relationship with Ted. It all comes to a head when Peggy blows up at her coworkers and later drops to her knees in tears in her apartment. I’m wondering what this season will hold for Peggy as she does seem to get bounced around more than any other character.
Things seem to wrap up in California, Don’s leaving on a plane to get back to NY and, apparently back to work at SC&P. In what I think was the 2nd best scene of the episode Don meets an attractive widow (Neve Campbell) on his plane. In the kind of thing that could only happen to Don with his woman-charming magic, the two hit it off and she invites him back to her place. The whole time, I was just thinking “Don, no. That’s a bad Don, you literally just left your wife.” Because the whole conversation he has on the plane is just an admission that his current marriage has failed (or is at least failing) and he seems completely okay with that. Surprisingly, he declines and the invitation and, for the second time in the episode, repeats the line “I have to get back to work”. When he gets back to his place we find out that he’s actually been working the whole time by sending his ideas through Freddy, including the one that we heard him pitch to Peggy at the start of the episode.
After playing like a simple reintroduction, the last scene of the episode shows us that this lead in is really showing us characters (specifically Don and Peggy) in despair. As Peggy collapses in her apartment, Don sits dejected on his balcony both to the backdrop of Vanilla Fudge’s rendition of “You Keep Me Hanging On”. This episode suggests that this last season of Mad Men may be taking us into some darker territory than I would’ve expected for a final season. But if Mad Men has proven one thing in the last 6 years, it’s that it is anything but predictable.