Last night, Mad Men returned to television for the two-hour opener of its penultimate season. I think I speak for all viewers out there – nay all of the American television audience – when, after the watching the two hour season premiere my reaction was this…
WHAT THE FUCK DID I JUST SEE?
Please forgive me for dropping the F-bomb right at the top of my review but I figured it was only fitting since it got dropped in the episode as well. And there were many moments that made me swear up a storm: from the unusual opening, to several suggested (and consummated) liaisons, a wedding, two deaths, and some surprising changes to the status quo. All in all, this was a good if divisive episode, with some great pieces and some off-putting moments. To get through this episode, I’m going to have to post it by bullet points.
* First off, it was disconcerting that Don did not say one word for the first ten minutes on screen, and when he did, that was just a voice-over reading from Dante’s The Inferno. That, combined with the scenes in Hawaii, and the opening of someone getting CPR was deliberately made to feel that Don had “died.” That, combined with his encounter with PFC Dinkins, lead to the feeling that soon we will see the end of Don Draper – if not his death, then the death of the construct that Dick Whitman built for himself based off of the identity he stole all those years ago.
* In fact, death was the watchword for the entire episode; from the near death experience of Don and Megan’s doorman (and Don’s subsequent asking him what he saw near death), to Don’s misfire with the Sheraton executives on his Hawaii pitch which makes it look like a man has walked into the ocean to his death. And it’s not just Don who is having death premonitions around him. Roger is saddled with the death of his mother and the death of his beloved shoeshine man that sends him into tears and into the arms of a psychiatrist’s office.
* Speaking of that funeral, it was probably one of the best set pieces I’ve seen in a while, with the return of all the Sterling women (Mona, Margaret, and Jane), Don vommiting, and then Roger throwing everyone out in a huff.
* Meanwhile, the women in Don’s life were having adventures of their own. His wife (Megan) is basking in the fame she’s getting from being on a soap opera, while his erstwhile protégée (Peggy) is basically being the female Don Draper at CGC, dealing with a client’s impossible changes to a slightly controversial commercial, and driving her staff insane. But this is Peggy Olson we are talking about here and while she may have shut off her emotions (describing her Christmas: “Same as the last five. Ruined by work.”), she has found an enthusiastic and complimentary boss in Ted and still has her odd creative friendship with Stan.
* As for the other Draper women, Sally is entering full on teen angst, from bitchy commentary (the tampon line was hilarious) to slamming the door on Betty’s face. And speaking of which, Betty is still a little pudgy but in a very odd place, fixating her attentions on Sally’s friend Sandy (by encouraging her to lie about her bad Julliard to suggesting to Henry that he rape Sandy). When Sandy runs away, Betty scours the West Village for her and runs smack into a group of hippie squatters who inform her that she’s gone to California while they berate her bourgeoisie tastes. Betty does something surprising and actually stands up for herself; refusing to be categorized by anyone she goes home and dyes her hair brown in protest.
* One thing struck me about this episode; while I accurately predicted that this episode would take place in December 1967 and I still expect to watch as everyone deals with the cultural tsunami that was 1968, I am surprised that show creator Matthew Weiner managed to effectively bypass the Summer of Love and is instead showing its aftermath. In addition to the scene in the West Village, it seems that the new hires at SCDP are getting shaggier, Don is referring to a lot of old traditional concepts as Paleolithic, and the marijuana was EVERYWHERE this episode. Like Joan, I could smell it. (And on a side note, there was not nearly enough Joan!)
* Finally, we saw that Don has indeed gone back to his womanizing ways. What struck me as shocking wasn’t so much that he would return to sleeping around; it was practically foretold at the end of last season with that final scene. What was so startling was that his newest liaison is in the same building as he is, which seems risky for a man who was always so careful about covering his tracks with his affairs. Who knows where this will all lead?
Photo Credits: Michael Yarish/AMC