Don's on the mend. Sort of.
It was an admittedly slow yet steady start to the new season. That's how it should be with recovery.
There was no jumping into massive transformations or profound moments of clarity. It was more of a catch-up to see how the dust has settled – or kicked up – in the past two months (in "Mad Men" time, of course).
Are Don and Megan still together? Have SC&P; rehired Don? Are Peggy and Joan this close to starting their firm to prove those chauvinists wrong? Did Roger join a hippie commune? We got those questions answered, tied in with few jaw-droppers.
Times have gotten dire for Don. He hasn't just changed the conversation; he's changed the speaker. But it's not like he assumed a new identity, like Dick Whitman to Don Draper. This go-around, he's enlisted an unlikely ally to do the talking for him.
Freddy Rumsfeld's pitch sounded familiar. The rhythm and imagery were reminiscent of Don's pitches during his heyday, when we were mesmerized and eager to empty our wallets at the drop of his feather-trimmed fedora. This time, we were pulled in and listening to Freddy.
"It's a homerun," Peggy tells him.
Freddy's always been a scout for great talent. First Peggy, now Don. I was hoping he would be more of an AA sponsor to Don than a mouthpiece for his timepiece pitch. But if it gets Don on the path to a spiritual awakening, or at least a full-time job, then he's on the right path.
A severance package isn't something you can put a resume, assuming that's why SC&P; are still paying Don. Otherwise, why else would he have to pitch ideas – solid ideas – through this backdoor channel? And who would have guessed a few seasons ago that Freddy had more clout than Don?
Weird guy, that Don. He has no reason to stay in New York when he has no job there and a wife in California. If Pete put him in touch with a relator, then he could easily put in a good word for Don at a California ad agency.
Maybe Don hasn't uprooted himself just yet, because he wants to win back SC&P; more than he wants to fix things with Megan. But let's not forget that proud attaboy moment when he turned down the chance to join the Mile High Club with his seat buddy (played by Neve Campbell).
Usually Don's sexcapades are what make the show, but it was refreshing to see him focus on himself and not the smokey-eyed brunette (his weakness) sleeping on his shoulder. That's some serious restraint right there.
Don might be a "broken vessel," but he does seem fixable. We're ready and we're paying attention, Don. Show us what you've got.
Wham, bam, thank you gams! Megan greets Don at the airport in the infamously sultry "Zou Bisou Bisou" frock that's gone from NYC chic black to California cool blue.
Don strolls up to his leggy lady driving a forest green convertible. Bold, dashing and equally as stylish as his starlet wife, this is the man we missed so much in the past couple seasons.
You can tell Megan's missed him too, even if there is a little hesitation in her body language and in the bedroom. But the hesitation is rooted in the foundation of her house and new lifestyle.
"My next house is going to have a pool," Megan gleams, before correcting herself, "Our next house."
She's not fooling anyone with that backpeddling. From the paisley curtains to the crochet throw blankets, nothing about this joint says Don Draper. A Don Draper hook-up place? That's a big old yes. He does have a thing for boho, artsy girls. But a Don Draper residence? Not so much.
So he orders a wide-screen, er, just really wide TV set to add that Don Draper swankiness. Megan protests that she doesn't want her acting friends to judge her, but it's almost as if she doesn't want any evidence of Don being there. If she keeps pushing away, he won't keep coming back much longer.
Career wise, Megan seems to be on a roll. She's up for a part in "Bracken's World," which, based on her elation, sounds a notch above the Velveeta-esque "To Have and To Hold." But Wikipedia tells me didn't last through its second season. On the bright side, at least we know her flamboyant manager isn't sending her to the casting couch.
With booze-soaked Don gone and citrus-and-sunshine-adverse Ted in California, Peggy's the only creative with guts or talent.
Lou Avery, Don's replacement, dresses like Mr. Rogers, but stings worse than Don's hangovers. "You're putting me in a position where I say, 'I don't care what you think,'" he tells Peggy. How can you not be Team Don with a charmer like that?
Sure, sobriety and general having-your-life-togetherness is crucial for a creative director. And this isn't the first boss Peggy's had with an overinflated ego. (It probably won't be her last, either.) But Lou should be fired for thinking "Accutron is accurate" is the best pitch. Snore.
As much as she would hate to see her old mentors-turned-monsters, Don or Ted, at that meeting, there's a part of her that desperately needed them there. At least they know good work (it doesn't hurt when it's their own). At least they care. At least they take her advice. You could see the how much Peggy needs them when she crumples to the floor of her ratty apartment, sobbing, all alone.
She's alone in that bitter defeat against complacency at the office; she's alone avoiding eye contact with pasty Ted in the coffee room; she's alone standing up to her tenant's bratty kid (Really? Who sends their kid do their biddings for them?).
Knowing Peggy, she'll push through whatever he dumps on her and still churns out gold. That hack Lou Avery won't make it past the end of this season. He can always fall back on chopping firewood.
Roger picked up where Don's downward spiral left off. Sex. Drugs. Orgies. He's turned his apartment into a sex commune in the span of two months. How much longer until he's placed on indefinite leave?
His bratty and entitled daughter calls him to make amends. Just as she pointed out in the finale, he did have to sift his way through a heap of girls to talk to her.
"Anger can be vanquished with love," she tells him about his incensed-infused transgressions. Where did she find this newfound optimism? She said it wasn't religion or a hippie commune. Did she start seeing a therapist, like her dad, or join a cult, possibly like her dad?
It's all very sweet and noble of Margaret to forgive Roger for his laundry list of faults. Especially when he didn't ask for it or seem to want it. "What the hell do you want?" should be put on a greeting card.
But the father-daughter relationship I care most about is Don and Sally's. Did Don's confession inspire her to dial back the "like father, like daughter" path to Boozeville? Will she, also like her father, put down the bottle and freeze out her addiction on a porch at night in the dead of winter? Let's hope not. She's not that weird.
MORE HIGLIGHTS FROM "TIME ZONES":
BEST ROGER ONE-LINER: "I thought we hated all things domesticated." – Roger to his live-in girlfriend/partner/concubine (not sure what else to call her)
BEST ONE-LINER THAT ISN'T FROM ROGER: "You really put the 'free' in 'freelancer.'" – Peggy to Freddy on his second cup of coffee
MOST TACT RESPONSE TO A RACIST REMARK … IN THE '60S: "Who do we have here? Gladys Knight & the Pips." – Lou Avery to Dawn bringing in the creative team
"That's … very hip, Lou." – Michael Ginsberg
BIGGEST HISTORICAL FORESHADOWING: Nixon on TV setting his sights on the moon. I'm not sure what series creator Matthew Weiner and his writers have in store. But if they're hinting this early on, the moon landing will leave a giant mark on the show.
BIGGEST WARDROBE TRANSFORMATION: California's been good to Pete. The plaid pants, polo and sweater tied around the shoulders still scream East Coast prep. But that's about as laidback as you're going to get from Pete Campbell. Thankfully his tan is distracting us from his ever-receding hairline.
NON-EXISENT WARDROBE TRANSFORMATION: Shouldn't Ken's eye have healed by now? Looks like his eye patch and poor depth perception are here to stay.
BIGGEST POWER MOVE: Joan meeting with that sexist twerp Barnes, then collecting research data from a marketing professor to use as leverage to keep Butlers as an account. What MBA?
MOST APPROPOS LOCALE: Bob Benson's in Motor City. Makes sense. He knows how to work a stick shift.
CORRECTED PREDICTION: We'll see Roger, not Sally, at Woodstock. He's got the sex and drugs down. Now all he needs is the rock 'n' roll. Play him off, Jimi.