"What's wrong with you people? You're all so cynical. You don't smile, you smirk." — Megan
Through all the years, through all the Peggy Olson working-girl iterations and Betty Draper mood changes and Don Draper bed-mate changes, one thing about "Mad Men" has remained the same: the show's about identity, how people cope with changes, roll with the punches or duck and run for cover. Society is there, too. Changing. In it's super-changey 1960s way.
And in the eagerly awaited "Mad Men" Season 5 premiere, it's right there in the viewer's face and on faces of the characters: Cultural upheaval! Race equality! Sexy parties that almost seem to become a swingers thing!
It's as though co-creator/executive producer Matthew Weiner is screaming from the rooftop, "The times, they are a-changin'! CHANGIN'!" I half expected the Bob Dylan tune to play over the closing credits (too obvious? A bit.) Plus, that song is from 1964 (where we were last season) and we start Season 5 smack-dab in the middle of 1966.
See, change. It's clear from the first scene of the two-hour premiere, which was also written by Weiner. We're placed right in the middle of a group of protesters picketing for equal employment opportunity for African-Americans. They're right outside rival ad firm Y&R, where three young (and white) employees are not too happy about the spectacle. "You're walking in a circle!" one yells. Then come the water bombs (for some reason poured in a bag, not in a balloon. Maybe that's how people rolled in 1966?).
Later, a group of protestors run up to the office to complain. "Is this what Madison Avenue represents?" one asks. The answer, sadly, is yes. African-American characters — and race struggles — have always existed on the "Mad Men" periphery, a representation of the cultural times. It's clear this season, with this pivotal race-riot-filled year of 1966, that's about to change.
Later, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce will run an ad touting them as an "equal-opportunity employer." Something that's just a jab at Y&R. But it leads to unexpected consequences.
MEGAN AND DON
But really, this episode wasn't all about race-relations. To answer the question on many fans' minds: yes, Don Draper is married to Megan, his young (really, really young) former secretary-turned-nanny-turned random fiancee in Season 4.
They live together sexily in a sexy Manhattan modern apartment which will soon host a surprise birthday party for Don that goes from fun to sexy to hilarious to super-sexy to sad in one fateful night.
The episode is built around this party. Don is turning 40 (Well, Don Draper is. Dick Whitman turned 40 a few months back, and Megan, it is revealed, knows all about Dick Whitman), so he's even more moody and self-analytical than ever. Middle-aged! The beginning of the episode, it's all sunshine and happiness with Don and Megan. They arrive at work together late. Megan, currently doing grunt work with the creative department (creating coupons!), finds time to steal a kiss or two from Don in his office and even flash her cleavage. It's all very risqué and sort-of cute.
Don actually seems happy. Everyone notices, even his new homely secretary (Don — no longer allowed to have cute assistants). So Megan wants to extend the happy time with a surprise bash for Don. "Men hate surprises," Peggy tells Megan. And really, she mentions this because Peggy still wants to be the only woman who fully understands her mentor.
"Everyone's going to come home from this party and have sex," Megan notes to Peggy, almost as an aside. People, apparently, talked like this in 1966.
Weiner devotes much time to the sexy party, not just because it's well, sexy. But because in about 20 minutes or so, he's able to convey what surely will be a theme of Season 5: the aforementioned change, the new generation's ways versus the old generation's ways.
We get a taste of everything old vs. new going on in the "Mad Men" word: Party-goers chat casually about the Vietnam War (for the record, Bert Cooper doesn't seem very concerned about it and the soldier there on leave thought more girls would be at the party), Peggy introduces her "underground journalist" boyfriend, Abe, to the Campbells, and Pete Campbell's wife, Trudy, doesn't seem to understand what in the world can be bad or controversial enough to warrant such a profession as "underground journalist."
Don seems particularly flustered by Megan's group of friends, who are all artsy and beatnik-y and non-white (they're in a band that performs at the apartment, alternating between swinging jazz and Burt Bacharach-y pop). There's even — shock — a friend who is black AND gay! "My god, is he queer!" Harry notes, reminding us how stuck in the old ways of life Harry and the rest of SCDP remain about some things. However, Harry says he's "going to smoke tea with Megan's friends," so apparently he's OK with that part of society changing.
The party features some of Weiner's best writing of the show. His humor consistently crackles and pops. Example: When Harry gives Don his birthday present, a silver-handled can that's the "Steinway of walking sticks." Roger comments: "You can stick it up your ass and have a concert."
Anyway, nothing — I repeat, nothing! — prepares you for what eventually comes. With Don seated in the center of the room, Megan gives her love his birthday present — a musical performance. Well, to be more specific, a musical performance that practically oozes sexuality (and leg). Singing in French, Megan coos "Zou Bisou Bisou" over and over again (yeah, I had to look it up, too), with French words as well that seem unimportant, lifts up her legs to levels I assume were illegal in 1966, and earns catcalls and shocked faces from the party folks.
Don seems a little taken aback as well. When the party is over, he falls right into bed — without Megan. "Party's over. I don't want to talk. I just want to go to sleep."
He thoroughly embarrasses and insults Megan, who appears on the brink of tears or anger or wanting to shoot Don in the face. "Don't waste money on that," Don says of the surprise party. "Don't use it to embarrass me again."
A "thank you" and post-party sex seemed appropriate here. It appears that not all is well in DonandMeganland. As usual, Don finds ways to self-sabotage his life. We're now pretty sure Mr. Draper can never be fully happy unless he's at work and taking names and being tough on Pete.
Later, Megan, who leaves work early to clean the house in her underwear (as one does), confronts Don about this jackass behavior. "Stop looking at me," she says. "You don't deserve this. I don't want people to think you're getting this."
"You want this," is Don's reply. And she does. As angry as Megan is, she does. They have angry-sex on the dirty apartment floor, followed by Megan offering to quit SCDP to, presumably, save their marriage. "I want you at work because I want you," Don replies.
But it's, per usual, not clear what Don wants. At all. In marriage. At work. Whether to be in control or not be in control. I didn't expect Don and Megan's marriage to be totally awesome. Honestly, I wasn't even sure if they'd still be married in the season premiere. But to be this complicated says something deep down about Don Draper. He's a man who no one still knows fully. And he's a man who still doesn't know everything about himself.
Moving on from Don and Megan, everything, we learn, is "stable" at SCDP. Business is just steady, neither good nor bad. Clients seem to come in, but they aren't major (unless you call Butler Shoes "major"). Here we, again, see conflict between old and new ways of thought and behavior. Pure generational stuff.
Let's start with Roger, who it appears has moved beyond being such a sad-sack in Season 4 and back to his good old randy, funny self. He's still holding on to the patented Sterling rule of inappropriate flirting with secretaries. In this case, Pete's secretary. Part of it, surely, is Sterling horniness, but part of it is finding out what meetings Pete has set up so he can weasel his way in (Roger's still looking for his own accounts after losing Lucky Strike).
After arriving early (and unexpectedly) for a meeting with Pete and Mohawk Airlines (the most punkish airline ever!), Roger gets the clients drunk ("You're just one behind, but it's nuclear," Roger says, coining a phrase I plan to use on a weekly basis), Pete gets himself hammered, hits his head on his office door and gets a bloody nose.
I would have liked to have seen someone actually punch Pete, but this was close enough.
Weiner has also set up a Pete vs. Roger showdown this year. Sniveling Pete whines and complains about everything this episode, from his wife's post-baby behavior ("There was a time when she wouldn't come out of the house without a robe on") to Roger butting-in on his clients and, generally, SCDP not having enough clients. Plus, he complains about the size of his office and the general look of the entire SCDP offices.
Eventually, Roger caves and offers Harry $1,100 to switch offices with Pete. I doubt that will make him happy. Pete looks like he's even more stressed out than usual (at one point, someone asks if he's balding). He also seems to have moved in to Don and Betty's suburban nightmare home from the first two seasons, where Trudy greets him in a striped muumuu.
What might make Pete happy? Going to the rival firm that courted him last season? It seems to be a distinct possibility.
Meanwhile, when Peggy's not busy dating the cool journalist dude, she's still working as hard as possible to prove herself to Don. Her next project: Heinz baked beans. And Peggy, ever-striving to modernize advertising, has created a "bean ballet" ad.
Seriously. Bean. Ballet. Beans dancing into a can. "Spinning in air with bean perfection," Peggy explains.
Even with Don coming in to try to seal the deal, the Heinz dudes aren't having it. They want something simple (again: old-fashioned!), like beans sitting on a hot plate or people holding picket signs that read "We want beans!" (the Heinz folks didn't get the memo about the real-life protests going on outside the door).
Peggy seems utterly upset when Don doesn't try to convince Heinz to accept her artsy beans. At the party, she sarcastically reminds Don that she'll be working this weekend on the new bean ad, and both Don and Megan shoot her daggers.
At work the next day, Megan confronts Peggy about her what she said, implying that she was the only one working on the project. Peggy clearly resents Megan for multiple reasons — she still can't believe Don married her (earlier, Peggy noted that she didn't buy them a wedding present) and that Megan is working with her. At the height of the fight, Megan says to her, "What's wrong with you people? You're all so cynical. You don't smile, you smirk." Oh, to be young in 1966 and not hardened by the advertising business.
Lane Pryce is having issues, too. With Joan on maternity leave, a slew of replacement Joans (if there ever could be such a thing) have not been handling expense accounts well. Per a phone conversation with his wife, Lane seems to be having trouble paying for his son's schooling.
But it's tough to feel bad for the man when, in the phone conversation with his wife, he practically molests a photo of a girl, Delores, he found in a stranger's wallet that was left in a cab Lane took to work. When he calls to locate the owner, apparently Delores' boyfriend, he basically has 1966 phone sex with her ("Oooh, do you work in a big building?" she asks, which gets Lane all hot and British bothered). Later, when he returns the wallet to Delores' boyfriend, Lane holds on to the photo.
JOAN'S MAMA DRAMA
I think I missed Joan the most during the 17-month break. Yes, she had a baby boy. No, she didn't tell Roger the baby is his. And Greg's still off in Vietnam. So Joan's meddling, awful mother (guest-star Christine Estabrook, recently seen playing a similarly awful/meddling real-estate agent on "American Horror Story") is there to help annoy/be a bad person.
It's sad to see someone as great as Joan come from someone as bad as her mother. It's not that she's apparently an alcoholic (when her mom takes $10 to buy formula for Joan's son, Joan asks her if she's getting his formula or hers. Ouch. Joan burn). it's more because her mom says stuff like Joan's "not at her fighting weight" and implies that she's going to lose her job when she spots the SCDP "equal opportunity employer" ad.
Late in the episode, Joan decides to visit the office with her child to scope things out. The front-desk receptionist doesn't even open the door for Joan when she struggles with her baby carriage, and Joan should have, with good reason, slapped her. There's a bit of tension between Megan and Joan (look, she's Joan. Don loves her) before she goes in to talk things over with Lane.
Lane puts her to work immediately on the books, which leads Joan to cry about worrying that they're looking to replace her. Lane reassures her immediately that no cadre of secretaries could do what she does, which leads to the one moment in the episode where I actually liked Lane. They laugh a bit about the birthday party Joan missed.
Wondering what happened when "Uncle Roger" meets Joan's baby? He says, "Let me see that." He holds the baby, with cigarette in mouth, as Joan beams next to him. Sigh.
We don't see Betty Draper Francis in this episode, but when Don drops the three kids off at their mom's house, which looks like some sort of Gothic castle, Don tells Sally to "give Morticia and Lurch my love," which was probably the funniest line of the episode.
So the "joke" ad about equal opportunity employment seems to have worked, as a group of black applicants show up in the SCDP lobby looking for work. Y&R sent the SCDP gang a wooden African statue, just to prove how racist they really are.
And yet, the office itself doesn't seem quite ready for this. Or willing to hire any of them, and not just because "we're not hiring anyone right now" (Roger even mutters something about "those Negroes in the lobby"). Eventually, they agree to interview each (female) applicant with the intention of hiring just one secretary.
The times they are a-changing. Slowly.
MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM 'A LITTLE KISS'
RANKING MEGAN: When it comes to "Mad Men" musical performances, Megan's has been the sexiest by far. But for randomness scale, we place it right between Sal's dancing/singing the "Bye Bye Birdie" song for his wife, and Roger's black-face routine.
BERT? What's up with Bert Cooper, who seemed to bolt the agency last season when Roger lost the Lucky Strike account? It's not explained, but he's back at the office, so I guess he re-thought that game plan.
PRIORITIES OUT OF WHACK: Lane's wife, Rebecca, who asks him for the name and number of Megan's interior decorator, even though they got a warning from their son's school along with an overdue bill.
BEST DESCRIPTION OF THE RESULT OF MEGAN'S PARTY: Harry says he "came home after and Jennifer didn't know what was coming." However, Megan overhears and things are, um, awkward afterward.
MOST DEPRESSION DESCRIPTION OF BEANS: From the Heinz suits: Beans are the war, the Depression, bomb shelters. We need to erase that."
BEST TRICK: When Pete finds out Roger is spying on his day-planner, he tricks him into thinking he has a 6 a.m. meeting withCoca-Cola in Staten Island. "What time is it?" Roger's lady asks as he gets ready in the morning. "Shut up," he snaps.
OH, ROGER: When Roger's upset that he's splitting secretaries with Don, he insults the woman by offering her "$50 to buy a fancy hat or a mask or something."
MOST UNNECESSARY CLOSE-UP: Joan's baby's butt as she applies diaper-rash cream.
KEN COSGROVE'S GOOD — AND BASICALLY ONLY — LINE: On Roger: "There's no one better at turning a meeting into a bender."
MOST ACCURATE DESCRIPTION OF DON'S REACTION TO MEGAN'S MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Lane: "I saw his soul leave his body."
What did you think of tonight's season premiere? Post your comments/questions below!Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun