Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Old Friends

I finally caught up with the two hour Mad Men premiere, "A Little Kiss," and it was like catching up with old friends--a bit awkward at first, but it wasn't long before we were back into the swing of things.

The show has been off the air for almost a year and a half.  Too long.  Meanwhile, the characters have only moved foward about half a year--from late 1965 to mid-1966.  Still, in the 60s, the changes from one year to the next could be huge.  I'm guessing this season will move on into 1967, which is a very different world.  We'll be completely into the psychedelic 60s, which feels like a few generations have passed since the first season set in 1960.

Not that social change is on the characters' minds. It's just what happens in the background, and eventually catches up with them.  That's what happened in this opener.  We start with a civil rights protest on the street outside the offices of Young & Rubicam.  Annoyed employees toss down water bombs and the firm is publicly embarrased.  So Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce takes out an ad stating they're an equal opportunity employer as a laugh at Y&R, but a lot of black people figure it's a call for them, and show up in force at the lobby.  Thus, by the end of the episode, it looks like SCDP will have to hire its first African-American to avoid embarrassment themselves.

Speaking of SCDP, they ended last season on dangerous ground, losing their biggest client.  They seem to have stabilized a bit, but are still just a step away from ruin.  Ken Cosgrove lays out how they may grow and mean something if they keep it up, but Pete, who's never happy anyway, is far from sure of the path, and is still unhappy he doesn't get enough respect as a junior partner.  That was the main office plot.  Roger, of course, has been the one in charge from the start, but Pete, as whiny as he is, seems to be doing the most work, while Roger sits back, drinks and smokes, and occasionally poaches Pete's meetings.  Pete demands a better office, and while Roger certainly won't give his up, he gives some money to Harry to give his up (in the funniest scene of the show--Harry is still a mostly comic character; he's also finally looking like he's living in the 60s--must be due to hanging out with all the media types.)  It's not a big victory for Pete, but it is recognition that he's moving up.  I don't know--I'd still rather have my three-martini lunch with Roger than the uptight Pete.  But if Roger seems a bit superfluous, what of Bert?  I've never quite gotten a read on him.  In the old, bigger office, he often seemed to be a zen master, running things while doing little.  Now he just seems out of it. Superannuated, no office, missing meetings, just going through the motions.  Either way, it's great to have Robert Morse around

But the real question everyone had was about Don.  Last we saw him, he announced his surprise engagement to knockout secretary Megan.  Some thought in the interim he'd have realized it was a bad idea and paid her off, of even gotten married and divorced.  Would she even be part of season five?  Looks like she'll play a big part. They're married and have a nice new sizable pad in the city.  The main plot was Megan throwing Don a surprise 40th birthday party.  Don forbade Betty from throwing birthday parties--he never had them as a kid, and besides, why should Dick Whitman celebrate Don Draper's birthday? (Maybe Megan knows a lot of Mad Men's best episodes revolve around parties.) So he's not thrilled, and Megan doesn't seem to know her man. She does a sexy dance, which certainly turns on Harry and Roger (whose marriage to Jane seems to be foundering) but is not the kind of public display Don wants.

It's hard to say how the marriage is going.  I read some critics who felt we're seeing a newer, happier Don, but he seems adrift to me.  The marriage maybe has some of the excitement and novelty of his early days with Betty, but are these two a good match?  Could anyone be a good match for Don?

I also don't know if it's a good idea that they work in the same office.  She's been working in creative under Peggy for a few months, but how do you talk to the boss's wife?  But there they are, coming in any time the like, and leaving early if they feel like it, five days a week.

Speaking of which, Don is still the star, what the firm has to offer, and Peggy is bridling a bit.  She works hard on campaigns (with employees who don't respect her that much) and when they don't sell, Don comes in and agrees with the clients.  The Don-Peggy relationship has been central to the series, and I don't think she's ready to bust out on her own just yet, but it's definitely not going that well at present.

While Don lives in the city, Pete has got a baby and is out in the suburbs.  The other guys on the train complain about their marriage, and Pete feels wife Trudy isn't quite the same as she was, but that's just another minor disappointment in his life.  (Speaking of which, last season, Alison Brie seemed like Trudy who was now playing Annie on Community--but 18 months later I now see Annie from Community playing Trudy on Mad Men.)

Speaking of babies, that's what's put Joan temporarily out of commission.  Her husband is located at Fort Dix so Joan's mom is helping out, which is a mixed blessing. (Many fans hoped he'd die in Vietnam, but that doesn't seem to be where the show is heading.) Joan is also realizing, though she loves her baby, that motherhood isn't everything.  She misses her job--the sense of being needed, and being good at something.  She sees the ad and misreads it as well--she fears she's being replaced, so she drops in the office.  She has the pretext of showing off her (and Roger's) baby.  While the others hand off the kid from one to another, she confronts Lane, and in one of the more touching scenes, he assures her she's irreplaceable.  And that she is.  She's really like Don--a star at what she does--but as an office manager her work isn't as appreciated.

Lane recognizes the firm's precarious position--it'll be months before the get paid for their big projects and they can barely afford to run things as they are.  But it looks like he can hold things together (with the help of Joan soon) until they're on firmer footing.  His marriage is less certain. He finds a wallet in a cab.  He talks to the girlfriend of the owner and hopes to have some sort of fling. There's a picture of her in it, so he knows she's a looker. It's the one thing he keeps when he returns it--the man shows up at the office, not the woman, to Lane's disappointment.

We also see Sally, along with Bobby and Gene.  The kids shuttle back and forth between Don and Betty.  Sally seems to be used to it, but I can't imagine she's happy.  We don't see Betty, however. Or Henry.  Perhaps Weiner is holding them back for dramatic reasons, or perhaps he was shooting around January Jones' pregnancy.  I have no doubt she'll be back soon, though a lot of fans probably wouldn't mind if she were out of the show for good.

Anyway, a good episode, and mostly a chance to reacquainted, and find out where things stand.  We don't know exactly what arcs the characters will have, though there are a bunch new children and spouses, and they always bring about change--probably bigger change than all those protests going on outside.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's the important question: Does a two hour premiere mean a 13 episode season has 12 episodes left, or only 11?

2:42 PM, March 28, 2012  

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