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Monday, March 26, 2012

The Televangelist: 'Mad Men,' Season 5, Eps 1/2

1966: The year Don Draper smiled
  • AMC.com
  • 1966: The year Don Draper smiled

Zoo be zoo be zoo my darlings! It's 1966 and you don't have to tell me you love me, I already know.

"A Little Kiss" started out with a definite lack of love for protesting African-Americans outside of the Y&R building, a theme that ran throughout the episode and finally gave voice to a movement that "Mad Men" had previously more or less ignored. Will Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce get a secretary of color, or will Lane "accidentally" misplace those resumes? Though SCDP has a long way to go in terms of understanding and accepting their brethren fighting for equality, last night's episode was in its own way quite progressive.

Season Five didn't make a huge time jump like some prior seasons of the show, but the characters feel very changed all the same. For those wondering how Don's impulsive marriage to secretary-turned-nanny-turned-sexpot-wife Megan was going, the answer is: Don is happy! Or as close to happy as Don can be. Holding hands with Megan in the halls at work, rushing home when he finds out she's upset, attempting to have sex with her 24 hours a day (unless after a party) — this is an openly freer Don than we've ever seen. And Megan handles Don in a partially giggly, partially petulant way that seems to work most of the time. Despite Don's annoyance at the surprise party (and having "his soul leave his body," as Lane put it, during Megan's song), he made things right with his wife first by grabbing her by the hair and having sex on their dirty carpet — which is a very Don thing to do — but more importantly afterwards he used his words, and actually communicated with her on the issue. Bravo. See? Progress!

I read in some fan forums last night and also heard from friends that there was a disappointment in the lack of action in "A Little Kiss." But "Mad Men" has never been about getting from Point A to Point B, it's about immersing us in a world and enjoying the sense of being a fly on the wall while these familiar faces interact. One of the reasons the first season of the series was so slow-going is because we didn't know our principle cast well enough to care, necessarily, about one of them wanting a bigger office. But as every face appeared on screen last night after a 17-month absence, it was a joy to pick up with them where they left off. "A Little Kiss" was like a peck on the cheek, a "welcome back, doll" before the inevitable, "now let's get down to business!"

On the business end, the Old Guard appear to be feeling their age and, moreover, not feeling any urgency in their work. Bert Cooper is almost mute and kept out of most of the business proceedings while Roger traipses around doing almost nothing but bogarting Pete's account lunches and ratting Don's cage. Presumably Lane has been doing some kind of work when he's not attempting to have one of the most awkward attempts at phone sex - with a stranger whose photo he found - ever to be witnessed, although he later admits to being completely lost without Joan. Don is too satisfied in his personal life to seem to care much about work (much to Peggy's unending annoyance), which leaves Pete holding all of the accounts and running around trying to keep things afloat.

Has any character undergone more of a transformation over the years than Pete? Did anyone not hate him Season One only to come around and classify him as a sneaky favorite by the end of Season Two? He's a weasel, there's no doubt, but there's also something relatable, if not likable, about him at times. At other times, he laments about Trudy leaving the house in a robe and we are forced to throw him the side-eye him again. But that's Pete, and later when he runs into the support beam in his office and then calls a meeting to angle for Roger's office (and calls Roger out for being useless), it's hard not to cheer for him.

Show creator (and writer of this episode) Matthew Weiner told us before the season began that this would be the year Don is behind the times and really knows it. He's 40, and as he watches Megan interact with her young friends, he seems to consider for the first time that he's closer to Roger's path than Pete's (who seems in some ways to be following Don). Will Dick Whitman start to emerge more as Don stops trying to fake so many aspects of his life? Megan is the anti-Betty, which Don has always been attracted to in the past when conducting his affairs. Betty was the perfect set-piece for the created world of Don Draper, and his rejection of her seemed more about his inner Dick Whitman acting up than anything to do with her (although Betty of course has her own innumerable issues). Megan gets along fine with Don's kids (even the blank-faced Sally who I swear is going to take them all down Lizzie Borden style one of these days), but as Don lets the brood off at the Francis' home, does he look wistful for the life he gave up? Is he realizing that, like Roger, he chased youth to make himself feel young?

There were so many elements to "A Little Kiss" that my pen was racing across pages of notes to try and keep up. Perhaps the most sweeping story from start to finish was Joan's, who has had "Roger Junior" and has her mother live with her to help take care of him. Spurred by the catalyst of the SCDP "joke ad," Joan pulled herself together and goes into the firm, realizing that she must reclaim her throne. Despite her icy and very typical attitude with the girl at the front desk, Joan was, to her delight, met by kisses and exclamations as soon as everyone else sees her (even a hug from Peggy and some pretty gleeful flirtation from Don), including an incredibly grateful Lane who briefed her on all the news and sets the path for her return.

And was there any moment more heart stopping than when Roger strolled up and announced, "that's my baby!" only to finish "... get him out of the way so I can see her." But Roger did have an affectionate demeanor with the little guy, and one wonders if that secret will ever publicly come to light. Of course, speaking of babies and secrets, how about the scene where Pete walked up to where Peggy stood with the baby carriage? Memories...

"A Little Kiss" brought us up to speed on what has been happening since we last left our group, but it also set up a myriad of story lines for the upcoming season. Babies, relationships, civil rights, money troubles, power struggles and worsening fashion with every single day.

Next Week: Though "Mad Men" is famous for its cryptic promos, it does look like we will finally be seeing some Betty!

Musings and Miscellanea:

— How far as Harry Crane fallen? He was somewhat likable in early seasons and now he's just a total knob. I loved him at the party in that feather boa, and later with his embarrassing moment with Megan and the fallout from that (all of his own creation). The scene with Roger was similarly hilarious. "Why do you keep so much cash??" - Harry

— I really am looking forward to more Lane and Joan interactions. They're both married but lonely, and take total solace in their work. They are logical and practical when it comes to business, and could be great allies.

— "Stable is that step backwards from success to failure!" - Pete

— Could Don's birthday party have been any bitchier? I couldn't keep up with all of the quotes and interactions, but they were all zingers.

— Roger: "Why don't you sing like her?" Jane: "Why don't you look like him?"

— Rebecca: "My mother always said to surprise your husband every day." Lane: "That's why they had no lock on the WC!"

— Did Peggy seem particularly cold, hard and cynical in this episode? Megan was right to call her out on it, everyone did seem pretty miserable (except of course Ken Cosgrove, Accounts!)

— Joan's Mother: "You're not exactly at your fighting weight." Joan: "Try me."

— I got immense pleasure out of Pete's prank to send Roger to Staten Island at six in the morning to "meet with Coca Cola." Brilliant.

— Harry: "It's the Strativarius of walking sticks." Roger (to Don): "Why don't you stick it up your ass and have a concert?"

— Poor Peggy didn't get her ballet beans.

— "She doesn't speak French. She doesn't like me" - Roger, about Jane.

— Abe is really cute. And historical note, the first hipster! "I work at an underground paper ... you've probably never heard of it."

— Were you satisfied by the premiere?

— Is it Sunday yet?

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