Throughout the fifth season of Mad Men, our writers will dissect and discuss the happenings of each episode. These discussions will contain spoilers from the most recent episode. In other words, read at your own risk.
Vinny Ginardi: Let’s get right into it. As a season premiere, I thought this episode did a great job setting up for the season as a whole. We didn’t get introduced to much of a plot, but it’s clear that this season will focus a bit more on the civil rights movement. Instead, the premiere gave us a snapshot of where all of the main characters are now in comparison to where they ended in season four. I felt that this was an appropriate starting point for the show, especially when you to take into consideration that the series has been off the air for a year and half.
Mike Cresci: Matthew Weiner described this as a Mad Men movie and he wasn’t kidding. It covered just about everyone except Betty, which I found to be an interesting choice. I did get a real chuckle out of Don referring to her as Morticia and we got a glimpse into Sally’s discontent with her mother by how happy she was to be with her father. I also loved the way the show handles major political/social events like the Civil Rights Movement. That is, we always see the small scale effects of these things like JFK’s assassination ruining a wedding and a prank pulled on protesters leading to a room full of job applicants.
A few other things that stuck out as interesting potential plots were Pete’s rising ambition and its parallel to Roger’s rising irrelevance as well as Joan’s conflicted life as a mother. But the elephant in the room is New Don (yes this is sort of a Party Down reference). Other than being a Dickosaurus Rex about his wife throwing him a great party he was, as Peggy points out, unrecognizable in how amiable he was.
George Morris: It was weird seeing a different Don (or New Don). That connects to the theme that stood out the most to me throughout the episode. Even though not too much time elapsed since the end of Season 4, there were tiny, but noticeable changes for the characters. Pete moved on out to the suburbs and commutes on the train, Megan now works at SCDP and Joan did in fact have that baby. Sure, on the surface it appears that the business is still moving forward and becoming more of a factor in the ad industry. However, the emerging struggle between Pete and Roger is something that I am truly looking forward to seeing unfold throughout the season.
Now I have to get to the big elephant in the room here. What did you think of the surprise party/Megan’s ‘Zou Bisou’ song? Holy moly, that was quite the musical number! It showed off how talented Megan really is and certainly got the attention of everybody both at that party and who watched the show. As for the party itself, the main thing I took away was the struggle that Don has internally with getting older. While he has now hit the age of 40, he has to both handle getting older and co-existing with a much younger wife. I look forward to learning more about how this marriage works.
VG: The ‘Zou Bisou’ song was Mad Men yelling at us viewers that while this episode certainly gave us a glimpse at all of the main characters (except for Betty, which is awesome), the main focus of the premiere was to introduce us to Megan, who we still didn’t really know at the end of season four. It’s clear that Megan has brought about this ‘New Don” and that for now, they are both here to stay. The reactions to the song itself, especially the reactions by Roger and Harry, were quite comical which brings me to one of the main points that I wanted to address…
This might have been the funniest episode of the entire series. While Mad Menis nowhere close to a sitcom, I have always been impressed at its ability to incorporate humor into such a serious and realistic show. But the premiere had me laughing throughout. From Roger’s numerous one-liners to Harry’s spoken-aloud fantasy to Peter’s terribly acted trip and fall (George and I were shocked by how poorly that was executed when we watched it live), I couldn’t stop. Did you guys feel the same way?
MC: As I pointed out in my long rant on Mad Men’s premiere and place in television, what’s interesting about New Don is that he might actually be Old Dick. In the flashbacks to his first days as Don Draper (when he is living in California with the real Draper’s widow) Dick Whitman actually seems like an amicable dude who smiles and says nice things sometimes. It’s interesting that Megan, who knows his secret, seems to make him feel comfortable reverting back to a version of that.
I actually think Vinny makes a really smart point about the song’s purpose in showing us who Megan is, a fun young girl who might be a bit too normal for the jaded ad business. This was a “catch up” episode but ultimately it was a big time intro to Megan (for the record I LOVED her musical number and had it stuck in my head forever) who has put our protagonist into a place we really haven’t seen. That whole party kind was so unDon that it really highlighted how shocking it was that, despite his annoyance with the party, he is still very happily married. To George’s point, I don’t know if it’s getting older that bothers Don so much as this sort of clash of the person he’s been all these years (classic hammered womanizing Don) and the new life he’s sort of slammed in to and semi-embraced. Don even kind of shakes off the notion of being forty by saying “I’ve already been forty for a month.” Kind of gets back to the mix of who he says he is, who he really is and what everyone else is seeing.
GM: I thought it would be cool if I gave my thoughts on what characters stood out to me during the episode. Here’s my “Three Up, Three Down” segment
As for the ups…
1. Megan Calvet/Draper- Stunning musical performance. It really was her episode all to herself and I feel that she cemented her place both on the show and in Don’s life. She is such a fascinating character because as Cresh said she is far too normal for the office. She gains extra swag for singing in French. It made me melt.
2. Ken Cosgrove- Solid performance as usual. Did an excellent job escorting the Heinz people out of the office after their confusing meeting with Peggy. Also coined a marvelous phrase at the party…him and the Mrs. were thinking about “smoking some tea”. Nothing negative to report this week.
3. Joan Harris- She’s certainly grown on me as the seasons have passed. Her visit to the office really showed how vulnerable she is without her husband around. It certainly was an awkward scene with Roger and the baby….I really look forward to seeing how that scenario plays out.
Honorable mention: Crane- He was noticeably slimmer and made me laugh alot during the episode. His exchange with Roger about switching offices was priceless.
As for the downs…
1. Pete Campbell- Takes the top spot for the week for the fall into the support beam. Outside of that he really turned me off by challenging Roger so much. If you’re going to take Crane’s office at least have the decency to thank him. Classless. He would have made the ‘up’ list had it not been for that since I think his boldness is becoming more of a strong point for him.
2. Dolores- For not showing up to get the picture from Lane. She gave him some serious blue balls there.
3. Peggy Olson- I want so much more for her. She deserves the respect of her peers in the office but is sadly always low on the depth chart. Just a rough episode for her. She made a weak pitch to the Heinz folks, was rude at Don’s surprise party, and made Megan upset and caused her (and as a result, Don) to go home from work early and upset. Moves down a peg (haha) to #3 because she allowed the Drapers to have wild dirty white carpet sex.
VG: Great segment George. I agree with most, but disagree on two accounts. First of all, Ken Cosgrove should always be #1. He’s just the coolest guy on the show. Second of all, I was really into the Pete Campbell story line and have always been interested in his character. With New Don in the picture, Roger stumbling to make an impact, Bert Cooper continuing not to do much of anything, and Lane Pryce being more focused on his family situation than work, I’m sensing a big rise to the top for Pete Campbell.
While I agree that his trip was atrociously executed, he’s always been ambitious and outspoken about his ambition. It just feels like everything is falling into place for him to become one of the faces of the agency. He is right to attack Roger in this instance because Roger’s contributions have become…limited. He’s almost completely useless now and is trying to steal clients from Pete, his own coworker. Why wouldn’t Pete attack him? I don’t want Roger off the show because he brings such a comedic element to it, but I wouldn’t be surprised to seem him fired by season’s end.
MC: I’ m with Vinny on the Pete thing. I think his ambition combined with the status of the other partners opens the door for an interesting story. In a lot of ways it parallels the social events hanging over the show. The youth movement of the 1960’s is playing out with the partners happy to have a stable business so they can deal with domestic issues and mid life crises while Pete represents the changing times. His ambition could end up make for a great story despite his inability to pull off fake falling.
Ken Cosgrove changed my life with the phrase “smoke tea” so he’s maintained his spot in my heart. I also like your point about Joan, George. Her vulnerability is an interesting new side to her though I disagree with your assessment that it’s related to her husband. I think she’s lost when thrust into the “traditional” womanhood role. She’s a strong independent person who takes a lot of pride in kicking ass at work so she feels lost and out of touch now that she’s under a kind of maternal house arrest. I loved the baby scene with Roger and their confusing relationship has always appealed to me. They are a perfect couple in many ways and the timing and circumstances really never let it happen. Mad Men takes that sort of maudlin story line and makes it a subtle character study. Got to love this show and this episode; It reminded me of the quiet, contemplative glory of 1960’s drama. Welcome home, Mad Men. You’ve been missed.