It’s so good to have you back, Mad Men. After a year and a half of waiting, we get a two hour Season Five premiere. Penned by series creator Matthew Weiner and directed by Jennifer Getzinger (who gave us some of last season’s best episodes), here is “A Little Kiss.”
Last season’s finale “Tomorrowland” left us with a whole bunch of changes that we now get to see play out. The grandest one (in terms of affecting every character) is the agency’s existence itself. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce lost the Lucky Strike account, a major chunk of their business, but Peggy and Cosgrove came through with acquiring the small Topaz Pantyhose account and everything was coming up millhouse. It seems that SCDP has survived since, and the same company that told them they’d wait eight months to see if they were still around is now hearing ideas from creative. Peggy pitches Heinz a commercial using the latest photographic technology, a hip and elegant display of beans dancing in a ballet across the screen. Heinz doesn’t go for it, and when Don comes in and takes the client’s side instead of Peggy, she’s not too pleased. This Don is kinder, more patient, and not as determined as usual. This is not the Don Draper we’re familiar with, and Peggy doesn’t like it one bit.
This brings us to the other major event from last season’s end: Don and Megan’s engagement. One of the few times we see Sally is in an early scene, when Don greets her from his bedroom door in his boxers, Megan sleeping nude in the bed behind him. He doesn’t seem to care, and Sally doesn’t seem surprised. It’s most definitely a different Draper household. The two are now married, and they arrive to work together (often late), and they leave work together (often early). Mrs. Draper is now a junior copywriter, working directly under Peggy. She’s decided to have a surprise party for Don’s 40th, and when they arrive to their apartment on Saturday night, Roger and Jane are arguing about how to enter. Poor Don. He just wanted to get some, and now he’s hit with a rush of anxiety. That anxiety hits its peak with one of the best scenes of the night, Megan’s “gift” to Don: a boozy, sexy rendition of “Zou Bisou Bisou.” It’s uninhibited, playful and impulsive – everything Don loves about Megan – but in a room full of his colleagues, it’s pretty damn awkward. There’s also this great clash of generations, with Megan and her friends on stage embracing the emerging hippie style and the agency crowd seemingly stuck in a late 50′s/early 60′s state of mind. After the party, Don is especially grumpy for a few reasons: 1. That very divide which caused him such embarrassment, 2. He hates surprises, 3. He doesn’t like to mix work with his outside life, and 4. He hates his birthday because it reminds him of the pre-Don years he’d like to put in his rearview. A few choice words give away that he’s confided in Megan. He says he’s really been 40 for six months. She says, “Nobody loves Dick Whitman. I love you.” I’m pretty sure at this point everyone at home gasped and screamed, “SHE KNOWS!” Even Megan’s overwhelming positivity can’t change his mood though. She stands out on the balcony, looking into the distance, much like how Don looked out the window in the last shot of “Tomorrowland,” probably second-guessing these rushed decisions.
The next morning, the couple arrive to work a little less chipper than the first time around. Megan’s song-and-dance is the talk of the office, whether it’s Don getting teased by Roger or Megan overhearing Harry talk about all the dirty things he’d do to her. By the time Megan gets around to Peggy, she just can’t hold it in any longer, bringing up a snide remark Peggy made at the party to Don about being overworked. Peggy is all excuses and no apology, and Megan lets loose, “What’s wrong with you people? You’re all so cynical!” Her Canadian tendencies get the best of her, and she cries and leaves for the day. Don finds out and comes home to an angry Megan, who strips down to her underwear and gets down on all fours to clean the filthy living room. Don, being the red-blooded man that he is, gets turned on and makes some advances, but Megan denies him, saying “You don’t get to have this. All you get to do is watch.” All I can say is, I think I like the new direction Mad Men is headed in. So of course, they’re both riled up by this power struggle and end up getting it on. Afterwards, Megan says she doesn’t feel liked and isn’t sure she likes them either, I guess referring to just about everybody. Don ensures her that these problems didn’t just sprout up upon her arrival. “You think you’re a splinter. You’re not. The foot’s been infected for years.” It’s why he didn’t want the party, not wanting these outsiders to disturb what he has with her. Don wants Megan to have everything she desires, white carpet and all, even though it may not all be practical. Don’s always been something of a dreamer, and for once, it seems like he’s met someone like-minded. He wants her at work not because he cares about work, but because he cares about her. It’s a whole new side of Don we’re not used to seeing, one who’s not looking elsewhere for happiness… at least for now.
Another power struggle takes place in the form of Pete Campbell, who last we saw had to break it to Trudy that they’d have to downgrade from their Manhattan residence. We first see Pete on a train, commuting from the suburbs and having to be chauffeured by Trudy because he can’t drive a car. At work, he’s thriving – the only partner truly working his ass off and getting results – but Roger’s being Roger, hitting on Pete’s secretary only to get a look at his schedule, beating him to meetings and trying to get in good with his clients. Pete doesn’t even have an office sufficient enough to entertain client meetings. For once, I have to say I feel for Pete, although the feeling goes away once he opens his mouth and speaks. After threatening to take Roger’s office, and with the reasons to back up that transition, Roger convinces Harry to switch with Pete through intimidation tactics and a cool $1,100 in cash from his pocket. Pete also sticks it to Roger pretty good, scheduling a fake appointment in Staten Island at 6am that he’s certain Roger will attend. It’s a small victory in what’s sure to be an ongoing battle throughout the season. There’s still nothing better than seeing Pete Campbell not get what he wants, despite his work ethic being better now than it’s ever been. Is it fucked up to feel that way? I think what makes it all so satisfying is that he’s not in on the joke, unaware that people will never take him seriously.
This episode opened with a bunch of people we weren’t familiar with, African Americans picketing outside of another agency, and some employees of that agency throwing water balloons out of their windows at them. This served a few purposes. Time period is so crucial to this show, and with the year being 1967, it’s pretty clear that the Civil Rights movement will be a major focus. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in early 1968. Perhaps this season is working toward that point, much like Season Three did with the JFK assassination? This opening also served as a reason for Don and Roger to put a witty ad in the paper for their agency, belittling Young & Rubicam by saying that SCDP are equal opportunity employers. This sets a few different things in motion. The first is a postpartum Joanie getting the wrong idea and thinking that she’s being replaced. This culminates in a scene that’s way past due, where Lane ensures Joan of how valuable and loved she is. It’s some of the best work I’ve seen from Christina Hendricks. It also sets up the ending, where Don and Megan walk into a lobby full of African Americans ready to apply for jobs. After receiving a racist African statue and a note from Y&R at that very moment, the partners have no other choice but to accept resumes. I don’t think there’s been a black person in the office since Kinsey’s girlfriend was at a party in Season Two, so it’ll be interesting to see how the new secretary plays out.
This episode isn’t your typically focused Mad Men, but that doesn’t mean it’s without purpose. It’s a little more narrative than usual, but that’s necessary when we need to catch up on what’s happened in the past eight months. There’s also a real examination of each character’s contentment with what’s occurred of that period of time. We first see Pete complaining to a fellow commuter on the train, and at the end, he’s playing cards with him and talking about installing a pool. He goes from getting shit on by Roger to getting the best of him. It’s a complete transformation, though we’re unsure if it’s permanent or not. Joan runs a similar route, going from being uncertain about her future at SCDP to being reassured that there will always be a place for her there. Roger is discontent, and it’s amplified by everyone else’s paths, specifically Don’s. Both married their beautiful young secretaries, but while Don chose a woman so different from Betty, Roger chose someone who is exactly like his ex, and now he’s realizing the error of his ways. Also, we all know he’ll never be satisfied until he’s with Joanie for good. Lane goes through an interesting tale in the second hour, discovering a lost wallet in a cab and tempted with the possibility of returning it to the man’s “woman,” Dolores. Even though his wife is in the states now, perhaps Lane dreams of having a second go at life much like Don did? And of course, there’s Draper, a seemingly changed man with his swanky new digs, smokin’ hot French wife and a different outlook on life. Dick Whitman still lurks underneath all of that, as evidenced by his post-party mopes. I think that Megan’s realization of the negative energy around her is a turning point for her, and I’m curious to see where it leads, both individually and in terms of how it affects Don. It seems as though for the first time, Megan is questioning the man she’s married to after seeing a glimpse of his past self. It also led to some pretty freaky shit, too. Prettay, prettay freaky. I ain’t mad.
From the notepad:
- We’re now on Bobby #4! Just this past week, Slattery had some words for those child actors.
- Sam wins for best line of the night: (after the Heinz presentation) “I have tickets to the bean ballet and the curtain’s about to go up.”
- Roger was a close second: (approaching Joan and her child) “Well, well, well. There’s my baby!” Classic Sterling, and a phrase that’s as layered as the show is.
- I’m not sure how necessary the Lane story was in the second half or how it will play as the season goes on, but I really enjoyed it. Slightly confused about his reasons for keeping the wallet in the first place. Was it because of the Dolores photo right off the bat? Or because the cabbie was black and he was skeptical? But wasn’t he really into that black Playboy bunny? Does. Not. Compute.
- Can Megan clean the house in her underwear every episode? Please?
- This episode was Betty free, and I rather enjoyed it.
- Of all the people that made fun of Megan’s little performance, Lane’s little dance in front of Joan was easily the best.
- Best ad of the night: Google+. I don’t know if it’s been out for a while, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it. Still have no interest in using Google+ though.
I’ll leave you the same way “A Little Kiss” left us, with this incredibly fitting Dusty Springfield tune. See you next week for the season’s second episode, “Tea Leaves.”