Friday, September 25, 2015

Mad Men Season 5, Episode 1: A Little Kiss

You're walking in a circle.

Donald Draper is turning 40.  Well, Dick Whitman is turning 40, Don Draper is somewhere in Pennsylvania turning in his grave while someone else celebrates his big day.  Sally, Bobby, and Gene are settling in nicely to their father's new life in a snazzy apartment with his beautiful young bride (she's 25, young enough to be Sally's older sister if we're doing the math).  And Don looks positively cheerful.  Quite the contrast from last year's sad drunk who fumbled his way to his dingy, lonely apartment and poured himself into bed each night.

Megan Calvet Draper is now a copywriter at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce but as the boss' wife, her job comes with certain perks.  Not surprisingly, her co-workers resent her—her rise in the ranks, the special treatment, the fact that she's untouchable.  The happy couple is upsetting the status quo at the office and, worse, Don is oblivious to the fact that not everyone is as deliriously happy as he is.  Don doesn't care about work anymore, all he cares about is alone time with Megan.  And her working with him makes this distraction everyone's problem.

If Peggy was not already upset about having Don's wife as her underling, which puts her in a very awkward position, she's even less happy with how her pitch to Heinz Beans went.  The client hated her inventive idea of the dancing beans (wonder what he thought when he saw the dancing raisins commercial) and she felt that the old Don would have fought harder for the idea.  She notices that Don doesn't seem as invested in the quality of the work and getting a yes from the client; he just cares about spending time with his new bride, preferably away from the office.

The old Don would not have given up so easily.  He would have worked his magic and convinced the Heinz executives that this was a brilliant idea.  Heck, he might have convinced them at the end of an hour that it was their idea to begin with.  But Don can't be troubled to work that hard, or to care that deeply.  It's only one idea, he tells her.  Peggy can come up with more.  It won't cut into his day, after all.  Not to overstate it, but Peggy feels a little betrayed and a lot undermined.

Outside, on the streets of Madison Avenue, the burgeoning Civil Rights movement is exemplified by a march for equal opportunity and equal wages.  The lily white ad execs at Y&R drop impromptu water bombs on the protesters which backfires, resulting in damage to their lily-white reputation.  SCDP, the upstart agency always looking to poke their competitors, looks at this as an opportunity to embarrass them.  Don and Roger decide to write something up for Ad Week and Lane, who unlike them is not an impetuous child, says he wants to see it first.  Which means, of course, that they'll hastily put something together and submit it without clearing it with the only level-headed person at the company.

Ever since he lost the Lucky Strike account, Roger Sterling has been a name on the door at SCDP but not a major mover or shaker.  Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove are busy pounding the pavement and bringing in new clients, but Roger is just walking around the halls trying to look busy.  At least we can give Roger grudging credit for being at least upset about how irrelevant he is and trying to do something about it.  Even if it is a bit underhanded.  Roger snoops on Pete's calendar so he can run interference at an upcoming meeting (with previous client Mohawk Airlines) and worm him way back into power at the firm.  It's a sneaky move, yet it's hard not to see that Roger has a certain charm that Pete lacks that can be good for business.  It would be nice if these two could put aside their differences and work together.

Even with his new baby, partnership, and idyllic life, Pete is not happy.  Trudy has the nerve not to have immediately lost the baby weight and not to care about her appearance the way she used to.  He expresses his dissatisfaction with a colleague with whom he shares the evening train to the burbs and this also unhappily married exec welcomes Pete into the cheating spouses club by telling him that the next step after you find your wife wearing her dressing gown all day is coming home later and later and ultimately not making it home at all.

Pete is fed up.  Far as he can tell, he's the only one working at the office.  He worries about the firm's future and wants it to succeed.  But it seems to him that everyone else is just fine with how everything is, not hungry, not eager, not clawing for more.  The lack of drive, the lack of forward momentum is driving him crazy and the last thing he wants to do is worry about Roger trying to interfere with one of his potential clients.  By contrast, Ken is fine with the way things are and the firm's slow progression.  He's less reliant on big success for his happiness.  He's still happily married.

Joan may not realize it but she is representing a new path for the working woman.  Back in 1960 when she was showing Peggy around, she spoke of the office as a place to work until you are lucky enough to get married and move to the suburbs to raise your children and tend your garden.  But now, having just had baby Kevin, she's thinking about getting back to work.  Her more traditional mother scoffs at this and lets Joan know that, like any good husband, Greg won't let her work now that they have a child.  "Let me work?" Joan snaps.  She bristles at the idea that this is anyone's decision but hers.  She is not going to give up her job any more than she was willing to give up that child.

For Don'ts 40th birthday his new bride arranges a fairly last-minute surprise party.  This despite the fact that Don is not the sort to go in for surprises or parties for that matter.  Of course, thanks to Roger and Jane's bickering, there was no real surprise.  There is a bit of office political intrigue assessing who made the cut (Harry) and who didn't (Joan who we later learn was invited but didn't attend).  Peggy dances with her boyfriend Abe, Harry came solo and is on the prowl, Stan is there with a friend on leave from the war who lucks into the middle of a conversation about Vietnam and how he's just an expendable casualty.  It was the stereotypical moment—the (safe) affluent in the highrise having idle party chatter about real life and death decisions that affect others but not them.

The party debate on the war, with Bert espousing the Domino Theory that said that if Vietnam were to fall to the Communists, the rest of Southeast Asia (and eventually the world) would, and Abe and Stan voicing the war is just big business' way to make more money would be a typical generational clash were they speaking in the abstract.  But having a young man in uniform, about to return to the conflict, made the conversation both awkward and painful.  And his plaintive interjection—that he thought there'd be women there—was sad and comical simultaneously.

But just as you thought this was going to be the most awkward thing to happen at the party,  it only gets more cringe-worthy.  Megan has a present for Don and it's not a bottle of rye or tickets to a Mets game nor even a pony.  Nope, she decides to serenade him with a seductive song and dance in French.  And so she launches into two of the most painful to watch minutes of the show, Megan doing Zou Bisou.

Don is all smiles, good-naturedly reacting to what was obviously a very embarrassing moment.  Beautiful, leggy wife or no, the Don Draper we know is a private person who prefers keeping his work and personal life separate.  Indeed, the Don we know is not really Don and keeps his true personal life separate from his faux personal life, so it gets complicated.  And when his wife wants to bring his coworkers into his home, into his personal space it's not enjoyable, it's the exact opposite.  If she knew him at all, she'd realize this was the last way he'd want to spend his birthday or any night.

But Megan won't let it drop.  She wants Don to admit he had a good time, which he didn't, and to admit that he's happy she threw him the party, which he isn't, and to thank her for putting it all together, which he won't.  He's tired, probably drunk, and worn out from pretending he was having a good time and all Don wants to do is go to sleep.  But Megan wants him to stay up and be happy and love the party and her present and talk for hours about how great it and she was.  These two competing goals will and do clash.

While they're bickering in bed, we learn that Don has embraced Faye Miller's advice, even if not with her.  He has told Megan everything, she knows about Dick Whitman.  It's jarring to realize that the big dark secret that has hung over Don's head like a scythe is now just a punchline to his new bride.  What kind of a husband will he be with nothing to hide, what will it mean for him going forward to no longer be hiding who he is?

Megan wants to keep the night going but Don is not interested, telling her specifically that she can do what she wants, but he's going to sleep.  And since Megan isn't much of an actress, we can see all over her face just how disappointed she is in Don's reaction.

Pete continues to be the one hard worker at SCDP who keeps the clients coming in, whether or not he gets the respect (or offices space) for it he deserves.  Lane continues to be a sad and elusive figure, barely paying attention to his conversation with his wife while he goes through a strangers wallet and pines over a mysterious woman.  Joan's mother continues to butt heads with her daughter and is the one who shows her (and us) the quarter page ad that Roger and Don ran to tweak Y&R.  Her mother thinks it means that Joan is being replaced but Joan knows that her position at the firm is on solid ground.  And Roger continues to fallback on his family name rather than making any real contributions to the firm.

Harry and Stan do what boys do, titter and giggle about sex, only they make the mistake of doing so (1) at the office where the butt of the joke works and (2) at the office where the butt of the joke is also the boss' wife.  It is very fortunate for both of them that they are good at their jobs, this is the 60s before anyone cared about sexual harassment, and Megan is not a tattletale.  But that doesn't mean she doesn't internalize it all—Don's rejection, Harry's crass comments, even Peggy's suggestion that Megan has an easy ride since she's the boss' wife.  Megan has had enough and leaves work in tears.

Coming back to work after a short absence is Joan, bringing baby Kevin with her.  She gets an amusingly individualized reaction to the baby, from Megan's motherly embrace to the ice cold fear that rushes through Peggy's veins at the mere thought of holding a baby.  Joan learns that much has changed in her brief absence and she is immediately immersed back into all the financial woes the company continues to deal with.  But her worst fear—that they could get along without her, that she wasn't needed back—was not realized.  Lane was overjoyed to have her back and let her know just how important she is to him and the company,

After an awkward exchange with the man whose wallet he found in the taxi, Lane's dreams of meeting the beautiful Delores and her falling in love with him go up in smoke.  And as uncomfortable as that moment was, it only gets worse.  Don heads home after hearing that Megan went home, upset, from work. He doesn't know about Harry's inappropriate remarks, he still thinks Megan is being petulant about him not enjoying her surprise party.  Megan is angry, rightly, but takes it out on Don by baiting him and, without understanding the context, appearing to be a little off her rocker.

She gets on hands and knees, in her underwear, and ferociously cleans the party detritus while Don looks on.  She knows he's aroused by the sight of her, but she punishes him, telling him he can look but he "doesn't get any of this."  Again, having felt her sexuality come under attack from Harry, she's understandably trying to wrench control back by taking the power away from Don.  But to him, this must be a crazy scene.  Regardless, they make up, have sex and seem no worse for wear.

Pete has won the battle against Roger  He has his larger office (Harry had no choice but to count his lucky stars that Megan didn't tell Don what he had said) and he takes his new-found power to set up Roger.  He tells his secretary to pencil in an appointment—6:00 am across town—with Coke.  That will get Roger up early on a wild good chase and get a little poetic justice for Pete.

In the last scene, the reception area of SCDP is filled with Black men and women, applying to work at the firm.  The "humorous" ad that they placed to mock their competitor, "backfired" and now they have to seriously consider hiring one of these applicants or look even worse than Y&R.


The show gives us a helpful time stamp, Memorial Day fell on May 30, 1966.

One might question how Mad Men was able to use the name of a read advertising agency, Young and Rubicam, in such a poor light.  Turns out that truth is stranger, and sorrier in this instance, than fiction.  According to this New York Times article, dated May 28, 1966, there was an anti-poverty march going on outside the offices of Y&R (which was were the Office of Economic Opportunity was located) and some Neanderthals from the ad agency decided it would be funny to pour water on the protesters.  A nine-year-old boy among others were pelted with water-filled paper bags.  The boys mother and others went up to the Y&R offices to complain and one did utter the line, "And they call us savages."

Bert Cooper had walked out of SCDP after Don wrote the letter regarding the tobacco industry.  He is back, sans shoes and sans office, and pretty much out of the loop.  His scene at the conference room waiting for the meeting, and asking Pete to make sure the meeting doesn't start without him, is priceless.

Ralph Nader was a consumer safety crusader whose target was the American automobile industry.  Read about his book "Unsafe at any Speed" and his Congressional testimony here.

Pete jokingly refers to Don and Megan as "Masters and Johnson" after that sexy performance at the birthday party.  They, as anyone who watches the Showtime series "Masters of Sex" know were the groundbreaking researchers behind studies on sexuality in the late 50s early 60s.

Don was not amused by Roger's impersonation of Megan, but Roger wasn't making fun of her.  He's jealous of Don, who now has the newer, better version of what Roger has.  He was deliriously happy himself not that long ago, but eventually the luster wears off and your new bride doesn't know who Mussolini is and you regret your decision just a little bit.

Lane does understand what it is to feel alone, more than Joan knows.  It's why he's engaging in this silly game with the girlfriend of the owner of the wallet he found in the cab.  He's built up some fantasy about the young lady and she's helping fill whatever vacancy there is in his heart.

Is this episode about wish fulfillment or happiness?  Is it about getting what you want and whether that's enough?  Don has it all now, the beautiful young talented wife with whom he shares everything.  Pete has it all as well, the bigger office and the head of accounts on the ropes.  Joan has it all, the husband and the beautiful new baby.  Or is it about emptiness and unfulfilled dreams.  Lane's search for love.  Roger's search for respect.  And how does the story that book-ended this part of the season premier factor into the narrative?

It started with protesters demanding fairness, equality and what is right.  How were they dealt with?  They were scoffed at, ridiculed, physically attacked, and made the butt of jokes.  They were standing up for themselves and received nothing but derision and hate.  But despite this, there was hopefulness. When they saw the ad, they weren't cynical or suspicious.  They believed that something good could still happen.  And they showed up, eager and prepared to get what they deserved—a fair chance.  Searching for equality.  And maybe taking a step in that direction.


Bobby:  How old are you gonna be?
Don: 40.  So when you're 40, how old will I be?
Bobby:  You'll be dead.

Don: Give Morticia and Lurch my love.

Pete:  There was a time when she wouldn't leave the house in a robe.
Howard:  Listen, there's a point when you go from going home on the 5:25 to the 7:05.
If you finally learn how to drive, you can push it to 9:30.... Or not come home at all.

Roger:  What's Don up to today? I see a lot of napping and pillow talk.
Caroline:  That's your schedule.

Pete:  How was everybody's weekend?
Ken:  Great.  We all went water-skiing together.
Stan:  Made a human pyramid.
Peggy:  I was here.

Pete: My office is 30 yards away.  So when I hit that buzzer, I'm trying to save myself a trip through the miracle of telephonics.

Lane:  As tempting as it sounds, I don't know if we need to be spending money to further their embarrassment.
Roger: Look, if there's no line item for humiliating the competition, Don will write it and I'll pay for it.

Peggy:  The clients are right all of a sudden? I don't recognize that man.  He's kind and patient.

Trudy:  Dissatisfaction is a symptom of ambition.  It's the coal that fuels the fire.

Roger:  Why don't you sing like that?
Jane: Why don't you look like him?

Roger:  As a wise man once said, the only thing worse than not getting what you want is someone else getting it.

Megan:  Nobody loves Dick Whitman.

Lane:  It's just a matter of time before they find out I'm a sham.

Stan: Where's Harry?
Pete:  Who cares?

Megan: You don't like presents.  You don't like nice things.

Jane:  What time is it?
Roger: Shut up

Roger:  Is it just me, or is the lobby full of Negroes?

Spoilers (Don't read until you're caught up):

Roger starts his speech with "je m'appelle Roger." By the series finale, he's learning to speak French.

Lane says, to the girl on the phone, "I'll be here the rest of my life."  And that is, sadly, prophetic, as we learn in Ep. 5.11.

At the 26:40 mark, we meet for the first time what will be for some of us one of out favorite characters ever.   Meredith the receptionist.  She later becomes not just Don Draper's secretary, but his strength.  All hail Meredith.

Pete lures Roger to the docks for the early morning meeting by mentioning the biggest client of them all—the golden goose—Coke.  By series end, they are now working for that very client and Don creates its most memorable ad campaign.


  1. It's been nearly three months since your last Mad Men recap, so I hope you haven't given up on them! Looking forward to your review of "Tea Leaves" when you get around to it!

    1. Sorry for the delay! I'm almost finished with Tea Leaves and I'll get on finishing Season 5. Thanks for reading!