Monday, April 14, 2014

Men's End

Didn't watch Game Of Thrones yet, so please, no spoilers.  But I did check out the debut of the seventh, and final season, of Mad Men.  The episode was called "Time Zones," and was set equally in California and New York--and it seems likely the season will follow that bicoastal (which is how Pete describes Don--was that term in use back then?) approach.

It's January of  '69, not too long after last season, and we spend most of our time catching up with all the old characters.  And the first is a blast from the past--we see a sober Freddy Rumsen, cashiered from Sterling Cooper a few seasons ago for drinking (and when you drink too much for Madison Avenue, you've got a problem), making a pitch to Peggy.  Shocking, but the pitch is great.  Peggy, now in charge of creative, is impressed.

Meanwhile, Roger's at the end of some orgy, or whatever his new deal is, when his daughter (I think she's estranged, but then, just about everyone's estranged in this show) calls to set up a brunch at the Plaza.

Peggy and her team go into the meeting with their new boss Lou, and he doesn't seem that impressed with Peggy. Last season left Peggy in charge, but is she really?  Upstairs, Joan meets with a disturbed, one-eyed Ken. With Pete kicked out to L.A., he's in charge of everything and needs help.  He demands Joan meet with the head of marketing at some footwear account, because it's beneath him.  Joan still seems competent, but, even as a partner, not entirely respected.  Hey, it's 1969.

All along we're asking where's Don? He's on the outs at Sterling Cooper, and with his wife, Megan, so what's he decided to do?  To the tune of Chicago's "I'm A Man," (or was it The Spencer David Group) he's flying out to Los Angeles. He takes the moving walkway, just like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, and outside he's met by Megan, who's trying to establish her acting career out there.  She takes him straight to a restaurant where they meet her flamboyant agent (I think it's her agent) who thinks she's going to be cast on Bracken's World (which will only last a season if she does).  He also mentions in passing fixing her teeth, which has been a subject of conversation since Jessica Pare was cast.

Back in New York, Ted isn't happy (after a trip to L.A.).  And Peggy's not happy about Ted. In general, it's awkward between them.  Joan's meeting doesn't go too well.  The marketing guy wants to fire the firm and work in-house.  She's good enough to hold him off, but we now see why this meeting was meant for Ken.

Don goes up to wife's place in the hills (in the days of Sharon Tate).  She just wants to go to sleep. He watches Joey Bishop on a black and white set with poor reception.  Hey, it's 1969. Next morning, after Megan goes off the class, Don meets Pete for lunch at Canter's (which still pretty much looks like it did then).  Pete has gone native, embracing, as best he can, his new city. Sure, it doesn't have good bagels, and the air is horrible, but there's nothing left in New York anyway, with his failed marriage, so why not go out to the place where America is heading. He shows Don the California office.  Will this be a new, regular set where we spend a lot of the season? It may be Siberia, or maybe it's the beginning of something big.

Over the weekend Joan meets a professor at a business school to come up with arguments against an in-house agency.  He's nicer than she thinks and she's smarter than he thinks.

Back at Megan's place she's preparing coq au vin. Don has a nice new, huge color set delivered, even though she thinks it's too nice--people around the neighborhood have a lot less.  But he's going to be staying long enough to have a big fight over it, so we know this relationship is still on the rocks.  Later, they watch the opening to Lost Horizon, but she's so tired they just go to bed.  The next day, he's got to leave.  When he flies home on the red eye, he's seated next to a woman played by Neve Campbell.  Mad Men has a penchant for hiring old TV stars.  The two get on quite well (which happens when you look at good as Don Draper) and it looks like Don's ready for yet another conquest.  Amazingly, he turns her down.  Is this a new Don?

He's headed to New York, but before we get there, we see that Peggy, who now lives by herself and is the landlady of her apartment in a not-so-great area, has to deal with unhappy tenants.  And back at the office she's still failing with Lou.  Later she practically has a fit in front of Stan--is she the only one who actually cares about quality any more?  Roger meets with his daughter, and maybe she's fallen in with some sort of new-age religion, but she's forgiven him. Not that he thinks he needs to be forgiven.  He goes back to his place where his woman waits, along with whomever else is hanging around.  Joan discovers the guy she met has gone behind her back to schedule a meeting with Ken where presumably he'll fire the firm.  Still no respect.  Joan calls him and makes a good argument, but it's pretty uncertain if she can save the account.

At Don's apartment--a lot emptier without his wife--he watches Nixon's inaugural on his beautiful color TV.  Guess who's there?  Freddy Rumsen. It was Don's campaign all along. I knew it was too good for Freddy. (The surprise echoes the pilot, when we finally see Don's home and find out he's married.)  So I guess Freddy is out there doing Don's business.  Don can't because he's still receiving a paycheck from Sterling Cooper.  Even though no one ever calls him. He's still as talented as ever, it's just his attitude. How long can this state of affairs last?

Back at Peggy's depressing place, where she's still dealing with tenants' plumbing problems, she falls down to the floor and cries.  Things aren't going so well, are they. Meanwhile, at Don's fancier pad, while we hear "You Keep Me Hangin' On" by Vanilla Fudge, Don can't close his balcony door. So he goes out into the cold night air and sits there, depressed.  Don't jump Don, it's just as bad for Peggy.

Missing in action?  No Betty, no Sally, no Harry (always fun to see Harry), no Bert.  I'm sure we'll catch up with them soon.

It did seem last season that Mad Men may have already peaked. Or at least interest had.  It wasn't winning all the awards anymore, or even being nominated.  Could six seasons of a guy who can't talk about himself finally gone too far?  Well, we've got one more season to find out.  True, there are new, shiny series that caught the critics attention--Downton Abbey, Homeland, Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones.  And most of those have a lot more action.  But after about half an hour, this episode reminded me of why I liked the show in the first place. It's moodier, and not filled with too much action (or something any action except for someone writing something), but once you get into the rhythm, with smart dialogue and well-defined characters, it is like no other.

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