Monday, April 14, 2014

Mad Men Season 7, Episode 1: Time Zones

What a way to start. Almost ten minutes before we see the centerpiece of the show.  And the agonizingly long wait to find out what's going on with him post-Hershey meltdown. Don's story unfolds slowly, then spreads out over the entire hour.  Don getting off the plane and gliding through the airport greeted by his toothy bi-coastal actress wife. He can't stay long in LA, he has to get back to work. He cuts short his time with his tan preppy former co-worker Pete, he has to get back to work. He doesn't take up his attractive widowed seatmate on her offer for a little tryst, he has to get back to work.  It isn't until  Freddy Rumsen walks into Don's place that the pieces all fall together. Freddy's brilliant pitch.  Hell, even his new look - hair slicked back, dark suit, skinny tie - was so Don.  He was Don.  It gave me chills.

"Are you ready? Because I want you to pay attention.
This is the beginning of something."
How ballsy, I thought at the outset, starting with Freddy.  But we were fooled. That may have been Freddy we were looking at, but that really was Don Draper we were seeing.  But then, Don's been fooling us all along and he never was what we thought we were looking at. 

Freddy's pitch was good, really good.  It was surprising that Freddy had such a great approach - even if rude of Peggy to point it out - and aggravating that Peggy felt compelled to tweak it. But then when you see what Peggy is dealing with back at the office it all makes sense. The Peggy we saw last season, taking her place in Don's office and his seat, hit her head on the glass ceiling and is now working for a less talented, less charismatic, and less motivated boss. She should have listened to the lyrics of that other Joni Mitchell song ("Big Yellow Taxi") - Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?

Don't know what to say about Roger and his experimentation with walking on the wild side.  Is it an existential crisis brought on by his mother's death or his own aging?  And the brunch with Margaret as they take turns forgiving each other was beyond awkward.  Margaret seems to have begun to practice some form of Buddhism (which I remember we all seemed to dabble in during the late sixties, early seventies) in her quest for spiritual peace.  Step one, let go of anger.  Roger doesn't register his daughter's search for meaning and meditation and is extremely suspicious.

Roger needs to pull it together, get back with Mona (if she'll have him) and stop acting like an idiot. I wonder if part of his problem is feeling guilt over what the firm had to do to Don?  Roger has been rudderless for a long time.  A spoiled, overgrown baby forever searching for fulfillment and happiness externally.  Maybe cheating on the wife with a spunky redhead will do that? Maybe ditching the wife for a young hottie will do that?  Maybe dropping acid and getting in touch with his true self will do that?  Roger is as lost as Don.

Joan is coming into her own and she smartly has her own Cyrano to feed her info that she can use at the office.  While it was disheartening to see, even in 1969, that she was still overlooked and undervalued by that young exec, still not taken seriously.  But she's a fighter and Joan will not be pushed around.  Ken Cosgrove's frustration and exhaustion may open the door for her to take a more hands-on role as an account exec at the firm.   

Megan has a convertible, a funky pad in the Canyon, a new agent and her career seems to be taking off.  She thinks her bi-coastal arrangement with Don is because he's still working at SC&P - notice how she offers to drive him to the office when he's in California.  Don's still keeping secrets from her.

Pete is on top of the world and for a character I'm so used to loathing it was actually nice to see him - or anyone on this show - happy.  In a show about a man adopting a new identity, only to see that cause him unending misery, it seems the "new" Pete is not just a temporary fix but a real, positive change.  He has found his place and it's not the place of his birth or his history.  The man with deep ties to the East Coast, whose name there can open doors, is actually happier in the new, wild west where who your family was doesn't matter.  He has completely gone LA. 

As content as Pete is with his new life, that's how desolate Peggy is with hers.  Post-Abe, post-Don, post-Ted she's not the powerful career woman she envisioned.  Free of her lovers and her mentors, she's now free to rise...but only so far as society will let her.  SC&P brings in Lou Avery to be her new boss and he shoots down her ideas, and, worse, tells her that caring about ideas is a waste of time.  All the sacrifices she's made, all the pleasures she's postponed, all the pain she's suffered, were for naught.  She has nothing.
But, as it always does, it comes back to Donald Draper.  He still cleans up nicely and can convey the image he created years ago.  But inside?  As Nixon says of the country in his inaugural address, "we are rich in goods, but ragged in spirit."  So too is Don.  Don tells a stranger on a plane: "I keep wondering, have I broken the vessel?"  It is both an understatement and the profound statement of the show to say that Don Draper is not himself.

We've seen Don puke at a funeral, cry over the loss of "the one person who truly knew me," hallucinate a murder, be caught in the act by his minor daughter, and have a mental breakdown in a client pitch and yet this was the lowest we've ever seen him.  Alone on the balcony in the cold, he was a sad, lost little boy.  Welcome to rock bottom, Don.  Truly tragic. 


The Vanilla Fudge cover of Keep Me Hanging On was an inspired choice. But who in the show really wants their freedom? Does Don want to be free of Megan?  He hasn't told her the truth about his work situation and he's staying 3,000 miles away from her for a reason. Peggy's been cut loose by Ted and she's not happy.  She's free of him and now free of any hope of career fulfillment.  What is keeping her at SC&P? 

I keep coming back to Don being no different that he was in the pilot. He's still deceiving everyone around him, pretending to be something he's not.  We thought he hit rock bottom last year, perhaps he still has to fall farther. 

And yet ... Don didn't run this time.  He's staying put. He's miserable and lonely, but he's there.  Weathering it. Not hiding in a bottle or on top of some girl.  He's alone with his misery and feeling it.  Maybe that's progress?

“Haven’t you ever dreamed of a place where there was peace and security, where living was not a struggle but a lasting delight?”  The Lost Horizon (with its Shangri La endgame) reference can be a call back to Rachel Menken in Season 1 discussing utopia or it could be nirvana but it's something that is currently escaping most of our characters. 

Continuity! If you get shot in the eye, that doesn't fix itself in a couple months.  Looks like the eye patch is here to stay, along with Ken's newly-discovered lack of depth perception.  Remember the Ken who didn't care about work, who was just working at Sterling Coo to make bank while he fulfilled his real desires as a writer?

Matt Weiner reads your emails!  Did Joan ever get the Avon account we asked, yes she did!  Gawd I hate Megan most of us said, her agent discusses how polarizing she is!  Those teeth we blog about endlessly, her agent mentions getting them fixed!  Will Megan be caught up in the Tate murders we ponder, look she's living IN THE CANYONS and it's sure spooky there!  Will we see Bob Benson we wonder, Ken gives a BB shout out.

Meta!  Freddy starting out the final season: "Are you ready? Because I want you to pay attention.
This is the beginning of something."

How much do I hate Lou Avery?  His horrible attempts at humor, his mediocrity, his stupid sweater.  Mad Men has been good and not giving us one-dimensional bad guys before, but I fail to see anything redeeming about this guy.

Did you catch Megan's slip up? "But my next house is gonna have a pool. Our next house."

How out of touch is Don to think that Pete is a hippie?? 

The woman on the plane, telling Don the cautionary story of her alcoholic husband.  It was a little too on the nose, and a little too cute (he was thirsty, he died of thirst), but it gave Don a rare opportunity for honesty ("She knows I'm a terrible husband.").  He seems deeply hurt by his own shortcomings and wonders if he's managed to irreparably destroy everything in his life, but the stranger extends a faint glimmer of hope that there's still time to fix what's broken.


Peggy: That is not what I expected.

Freddy: There's a nice way to say that and there's the way you just said it.

Pete: The city is flat and ugly and the air is brown, but I love the vibrations.

Lou (to Peggy): I guess I'm immune to your charms. 

Margaret:  I've come to understand that anger can be vanquished by love.

Don: She knows I'm a terrible husband. 

Megan: Everyone I know here is starving. 

Peggy: I'm tired of fighting for everything to be better.  You're all a bunch of hacks who are perfectly happy with shit. Nobody cares about anything

Lady on the plane: He was thirsty. He died of thirst.

Don:  I keep wondering have I broken the vessel?

Freddy: You’re making quite a name for me out there.

Freddy: You don't want to be damaged goods. 


Since I was ten in 1969, I thought I'd make a playlist of the songs I remember from that year:

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