This is a musing review of Mad Men Season 5 Episodes 1 and 2 entitled “A Little Kiss”
We were all excited to see what was going on in the world of Mad Men last night after over 500 days of being off the air. So AMC treated us to a two part, slightly over two hours season 5 premiere. I’d say for many people the bar was set high for one of their beloved dramas, mine was not set quite as high (relatively speaking) but Mad Men certainly hit their mark last night. It was a jam packed episode that basically did a lot of catching up for us and was able to set up a lot of storylines that we’re bound to see throughout the remainder of the season. The show looked great, it sounded great, the costumes were great and I think the acting was pretty top notch. I’m going to try and be as spoiler free as possible in this review and I’m going to take it pretty much character by character after a bit of a world intro.
The world was indeed a-changin’. It was memorial day of what I believe to be 1966. The show opened to a picket line of black people (I hope that’s the most politically correct term in this sense) and priests outside of a Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce (SCDP) competitor. The scene had relatively young white employees of the competitor dropping water bombs on the protestors. Its purpose was really to set up the feeling of this time period and illustrate the racism and angst surrounding the civil rights movement. This scene actually becomes pretty pivotal to end of the episode.
Our first look at SCDP shows a healthier version of the company than when we left in season four. They’re certainly not in dire straits but they’re not doing as well as they could be. They’re still somewhat downsized as secretaries are sharing duties on multiple people. The partners are not quite as busy when their calendars are showing up as pretty empty. The company still occupies the same small space and things are a little bit chaotic.
Don had quite an interesting story this week. We opened up the episode to a Don being woken up by Sally, who now looks and sounds all grown up. We saw his new bride, Megan, naked under the covers next to him. He’s in a new house (NYC penthouse by the looks of it) and all of his kids are there. These kids love their dad and we can see how their relationship dynamic has changed. Sally seems a lot more grown up and is not the impetuous little girl anymore. They spend the day together and when he drops them off we can really tell (at least I can) that he’s grown up as a father and really loved his kids. He didn’t bring them to the door to see there mother, maybe he’s gotten past some of the drama and no longer wants to fight with Betty. We’ll see, it wouldn’t be a good season of Mad men without a Don/Betty fight.
He seems very happy with his new bride. They are still very much in love. They travel to work together and can’t keep their hands off of each other. Megan is no longer a secretary and is working for Peggy making coupons. Don gets to review her work (with a little bit of conflict of interest I’m sure).
It happens to be Don’s 40th birthday (not Dick Whitman’s though) and Megan is throwing him a surprise party. Don doesn’t like surprises, we all know that. He’s a very lonely guy. The party gets thrown and Roger happens to ruin it right before they walk in and we can tell Don is displeased. The party looks fun though and is going “well” until Megan gives Don her birthday present. She performs a French “burlesque” song “Zou Bisou Bisou” and does it really well (apparently you can buy it on iTunes). Her singing and dancing was top notch. Everybody loved it but Don, he felt embarrassed. He ends up going to bed, unhappy and is mean to Megan (surprise, surprise) and she of course gets very upset. I thought it was a very sweet thing to do for Don but Megan just didn’t get him in this sense. He’d never had a birthday before and was upset that he was 40 and that he (Dick Whitman) was actually 40 for half a year. This drove her away.
It didn’t help her that most of the office was “making fun of her” or at least now treating her as more of a sex object. Harry Crane was the worst culprit and said very lude things right in front of her. That day she went home very upset after a conversation with Peggy. Once Don found out he went home and fought with Megan. I thought this was going to be another one of Don’s “I can’t relate with you because I’m emotionally immature” moments but I was pleasantly surprised when it didn’t turn out that way. They made some passionate love and had a real heart to heart afterwards. It was a true growth moment for them. At the end of last season I was skeptical of this marriage but now I’m kind of rooting for it. I’m really starting to like Megan. She’s embodying this free spirit that a lot of people are relating too.
Roger seems to be the most out of touch with reality of the entire show. He has nothing to do, drinks a lot, scours other people’s calendars to occupy himself. He throws money around like it means nothing. He is seemingly adding nothing to the company either nor is he happy with his marriage. This episode he really served as some sort of comic relief. He definitely has a role to play, I’m just not sure what it is yet.
Pete has been on the rise for quite a while and from what they showed us this week he is the reason that SCDP has been doing as well as its doing. He’s been signing clients, working hard and is really pissed at Roger (seemingly for not doing anything). He’s a dad now and lives in the suburbs too. He’s got himself a little gaggle of other commuters that he commiserates with on the train. I don’t think fatherhood is working out for him like he’d thought. Maybe that’s why he’s been working so hard. Trudy doesn’t want to leave the house and all of it is making him disenfranchised.
I’m guessing that his quarrels with Roger will be a lot of his storyline this season. They’re always making snarky remarks at each other. They’re pulling pranks. I hope it doesn’t get too ridiculous cause it’s so easy to go overboard. Pete even made a play for Roger’s office. Of course Roger didn’t give it up but he did make a deal with Harry to have him switch offices. Roger may not like Pete (although I’ll say that is to be determined) but I’m pretty sure he does understand Pete’s value to SCDP. I think Pete will shine, but will make mistakes along the way. He’s still a relatively young man and hasn’t learned all the tricks of the trade that Don Co. know.
Lane has always been a character of interest for me. It must be because he’s British and loves America so much. (I also happen to love British TV shows – e.g. Doctor Who.) His wife is back in America, at least for now, and he seemed to have it together. Then we saw he had some money troubles and he started fawning over a woman he’d never met. Yeah, weird. He found a wallet inside a taxi cab and decided to return it to the owner himself. When he went looking through he found a picture of a very pretty lady named Dolores who in fact called him to get the wallet back. He was goo goo eyed just from hearing her voice and would have practically slept with her right then and there. Don’t think it didn’t cross his mind. I think he’s going to step out on his wife this season. In addition to that he’ll continue to serve as the voice of reason amongst the partners and ensure things are held together.
Peggy didn’t seem to have changed much. She’s still a workaholic, perfectionist who is driven to success. She’s also bitter. Bitter over the way she feels she’s been treated. She snaps at Don after a pitch goes bad then she snaps at Don again at his party. She feels like she’s the center of the universe. I think she resents Megan who started on Peggy’s track because she married Don, not because of her own merits. I also think she’s jealous of Megan because she wants Don to focus his attention on her. I liked that she still had that same boyfriend, it showed continuity of her character. I’m actually not sure where her storyline will go (yet) though I’m sure it’ll cause some drama in the office.
In contrast to Peggy Joan’s life has really changed. She had her baby and is raising him by herself. Her mother is there to help though it’s causing much strife in the household. Note that the baby was really cute. Joan resents the fact that her husband is serving in the army and that she’s not working. She really loves SCDP and the family it brings her. She freaked out when she thought that she was being replaced at the agency. The scene where she finally went into the office was great in so many ways. You could really see how much she missed the place and in turn how much the place needed her. Lane went on to say how she was the “glue” that really held the place together and that they’re barely getting by. I loved how they just passed her baby around. It was most awkward to see Peggy and Pete have exchange of baby custody. My forecast for her is that she’ll go back to work, have strife with her husband and be a kick ass woman.
I’ll just lump everyone else together. Basically Bert Cooper could have been a dog this episode. I think he had 6 lines and served no purpose. Harry and Ken were also pretty irrelevant though they did get some screen time. Other than Harry’s office swap they had no significant additions to the story. I have no idea what will happen to the three of them. Trudy only showed up as arm candy at the party and one other scene so not a whole lot out of previous girl of the week crush Alison Brie. We didn’t even get a glimpse of Betty and her husband this episode. I think they’re going to want to bring back Betty in a big way and this episode was just too ful to do that. Anything’s game when Betty comes back.
So to end this review on the note it started (with race) I tell you how Roger and Don played a prank on the competing agency by placing an advertisement calling SCDP an equal opportunity employer. It was a jab at the other agency but a number of black applicants showed up to apply. One of the final scenes had the partners discussing what to do with the applicants. Roger didn’t wanted to kick them out (he’s just sort of your grandfather’s racist – not that it was hate filled – but it was his norm), Cooper was scared and Pete was just unsure. In my opinion Don really stepped up in the moment when he said “why don’t we just hire one?” It was just so matter of fact, it wasn’t a civil rights crusade, or anything like that. Don just didn’t see the difference in skin color. That wasn’t the norm of the 60s and that can tell us a lot about how we should all act today. I love how Don acted that way.
After writing that whole review I’ll still say I liked the episode. A lot went on and a lot has been set up for the season. The visuals were great. I’ll add that I loved the SCDP logo. I look forward to the next epsidoes.
Watch Mad Men on AMC Sundays at 10:00PM. You can try and catch up while available on AMCTV.com.