“A Little Kiss” for the season to come
Less time has past in the Mad Men world than the real world since we last got a new episode. But who cares now that the denizens of SCDP and their friends are now gracing our televisions again? After Matthew Weiner’s moratorium on premiere spoilers, we were presented with no large surprises; in fact, everything is as you would have guessed at the end of season four. Mad Men is the rare show where I honestly don’t care how much plot is moved in any particular episode. I’ve missed these people and just hanging out in their lives for two hours was good enough for me. And what better way to appreciate us fans than to stage an elaborate surprise party where (mostly) all of those characters are in attendance. Especially one where we can peel back all the layers of interaction utilizing four seasons of knowledge. At this point the road to the finale is paved with many surprises and twists but I have teased out a few points that I am going to continue to watch out for as the season progresses:
The unsettling nature of a changed Don: Like we glimpsed in “Tomorrowland,” Megan’s effect on Don has now officially changed him into a shiny new Draper 2.0. Like Peggy, I don’t like it. I don’t trust it to be permanent, and Don’s happiness is always ephemeral. I have spent seasons lamenting Don’s abusive emotional treatment of others, but his current personality has the potential of wrecking the stability of SCDP when it inevitably blows up, especially as the star employee (whose phone is ringing off the hook), he doesn’t care about work. The greater the happiness Don finds probably means the harder disappointment and dissatisfaction will come down on him later.
Joan and Lane: how natural they both seemed to be in conversation. Two deeply lonely people that find some respite together? More please. Actually more Lane in general, I love Jared Harris. The way in which Lane described the surprise party (“I saw his soul leave his body”) and the way it delighted Joan was one of the most purely lighthearted moments of the premiere. Mad Men has a tendency to shine the brightest when it micro-focuses on relationships (like in “The Suitcase”) so I hope that the odd, yet charismatic bond between Joan and Lane will be explored again in later episodes.
Pete, King of the Smirk (and the Pout): Bert is so irrelevant no one invites him to meetings; Roger’s only client, Lucky Strike, is no longer at the firm; and Don doesn’t care: enter Pete and Peggy, the hardest working members of the SCDP team. Pete is, overwhelmingly, aware of his contributions. But unlike in season one, Pete’s entitlement is justified: he has a large client base and maintains the stability of the firm. And his signature pout even has a place in a world where he tirelessly works while Don leaves early to get home to his wife. Yes, a pouting Pete is still irritating and he goes about trying to get what he wants in the most annoying way possible. And yet, Pete is the Don of yester-seasons: he looks dissatisfied with life, especially with his new home and Trudy in general, but is succeeding at work. When Megan criticizes SCDP employees for smirking rather than smiling, Pete is the main character guilty of this. Best smirk of the night? Pete, now relocated to Harry’s former office, self-satisfied with his own dirty trick on Roger (scheduling an insanely early, fake meeting in Staten Island for Roger to poach). The season seems primed to put Roger and Pete in a cycle of one-upmanship and I am not sure where it leads, but right now I would not be surprised if only one is left standing. And if the firm is smart, it will be Pete.
Accountability for Mistakes: The season opens with Young and Rubicam committing a pretty extreme faux pas by dumping water on the protesters beneath their building. As a joke, Roger (clearly not thinking about consequences) posts an ad for SCDP, claiming it an equal opportunity employer. This little twist of the knife to Y&R leads to two unintended consequences: Joan’s concerns over her job being replaced and, more importantly, the civil rights movement marching right into the lobby of SCDP. Loads of men and women show up with résumés, ready to be interviewed. This little misunderstanding has no easy fix: hiring an African American is not the main issue; the fact is SCDP has no budget to do any sort of hiring. However there is no way to side step the implications of turning away the applicants, and risk a reporter pouncing on the story. The only immediate solution was to dismiss the men (awkwardly) and collect resumes, with the potential solution of firing a secretary in favor of a new hire. I am curious to see in what direction the show goes with this: will SCDP actually hire a black secretary? For whose office? And where will she sit? What treatment will she receive? Will this little mistake be a boon for the firm or lead to controversy in the press? And on the macro-level, how many little errors in judgment (like the one Roger made in printing the ad) will lead to repercussions for the characters? The personal worlds of our characters are built on a foundation of secrets. Each person should be held accountable for something they have buried. Maybe this season we will see more immediate repercussions for hasty decision-making. Another ultimate accountability? Roger fathering Joan’s baby.
Roger: I think one of the most exciting things about this season will be the next evolutionary step in the life of Roger Sterling. Without Lucky Strike his position at SCDP is precarious and he is well aware of his predicament. Pete is outshining him at every turn and has a valid reason for wanting Roger’s office. But when Roger gives Pete a concession without the ultimate one (his office) by having Harry trade down and switch offices, he proves that the fight is not over: he can still play the game even if he has no cards. Similarly, while it is true that showing up to Pete’s meetings (where Roger is a more effective man’s man charmer) is harmless in the long run, these are the actions of an increasingly desperate man. What will his next steps be to ensure his viability? And should he care this much? New battle lines are being drawn at SCDP and Don is MIA.