I started to re-watch Mad Men in order in August 2010 and write about it on this blog, probably because I was drinking a little bit more than I usually do and that made me feel like Don Draper. I don’t think my obsession with the show has diminished since I began watching it. I wish I could talk about it the way I want to talk about it—make big sweeping statements like “At its core, Mad Men is about the plasticity of identity” or “…the sham of the American dream as it’s projected by advertisers” or something about sweeping social change. It’s all of those and more, but I can’t get the words out the right way. Perhaps the more I write about the show, the more I will be able to formulate these thoughts into something intelligible. Here’s what I thought about last night’s premiere.
I thought overall this episode was good but not great. I think mostly I was relieved that I have Mad Men back. Of course, when Season 3 came out, I waited impatiently for it to appear on the internet and we would have watching parties in our living room. In the town where I went to college, a local bar would project the new episodes of Season 4 on a wall. I introduced many of my friends to the show (INDIE CRED ALERT WHOOP WHOOP), so watching the show could become a shared experience whenever I wanted it to. I have moved home after college, where, if I get my act together, I can find people who will watch the show with me, but I watched the premiere in my PJ’s with my parents on their giant TV. But I digress. A lot. And it was a long fucking episode.
I’m going to start with my least favorite plot line because it had the least bearing on the show: Lane finding the wallet. I like Lane in general, but when he gets awkward I have to look away. Particularly, in 4×03, “The Good News,” drunk Lane stands up in a restaurant and puts a steak on his crotch and does the cowboy thrust. I have to look away from my screen every time I watch this. And that was how I felt watching Lane having borderline-phone-sex with Delores.
I really liked Lane and Joan together, though. Joan’s baby is good all around, really, and I didn’t expect it to be. Joan’s tearful outburst was also very well done. Plus, without the baby there would have been no awkward remember-Pete-and-Peggy-had-a-baby-together moments, because those are like my favorite moments ever. I live for them because I know it will never progress to anything more than horrendously awkward shared glances.
Okay, then the whole Civil Rights bookends to the episode. A friend I spoke to said it felt awkwardly tacked on, and I agree with it to some point. I religiously read The AV Club’s reviews of Mad Men and yesterday’s is another great one, so I suggest everyone read it. In a nutshell, so much of the episode does Mad Men‘s usual dance around social issues of the day (Kennedy’s assassination being one exception). But at the end, the partners at SCDP realize they’ve really stepped in it and they have to deal with it or deal with the public relations fallout like Y&R. Season One made it seem like the impending Civil Rights movement was just around the corner and it became more and more subtle until now—I can’t think of a moment in Season 4 that really deals with Civil Rights (whereas in 3 we here about the murder of Medgar Evers and listen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio). I am really interested to see how this plays out, although much of me thinks that nothing will come of Lane accepting the resumés from the African-American women in reception.
Alright, NOW the Draper party and the Draper marriage. I liked the party, but I love all Mad Men parties. “Nixon vs. Kennedy” and “My Old Kentucky Home” are two of my very favorite episodes, and I like “Flight One” a lot. There’s also the exquisite public humiliation of “Christmas Comes But Once a Year.” More low-key events like “The Marriage of Figaro” and “A Night To Remember” are satisfying in this regard as well. Simply put, I love to watch the people of Sterling Cooper (Draper Pryce) mingle. My favorite parts of Megan’s swingin’ over-the-hill bash for Don were the band leader (no doubt the 1960s predecessor to True Blood‘s Lafayette) and Peggy’s main squeeze going toe-to-toe with Bert Cooper on Vietnam. And, yes, of course, “Zou Bisou Bisou” happened. In fact, I watched the premiere twice in a row and most of the third airing, so it happened to me three times in a single evening. I think I had the same look on my face as the rest of the guests. Namely, “Okayyyyyyyyy….?” It wasn’t the worst thing ever, but it made me think, “Megan is crazy.” I don’t think Don will ever re-invent himself to the point where anyone who spent any significant time around him would think, “This man needs a giant surprise party.”
The bar I mentioned above had a special event for the Season 4 finale. It was attached to a movie theater, and they threw a shindig where everyone dressed up and we got to watch it on the big screen. The whole audience groaned when Don asked Megan to marry him. I groaned not because I was a champion of Don and Faye, but because Megan was pretty much nothing but pretty and maybe interesting (I do judge other English majors harshly) and looked good smiling at his kids. She was a nothing character, who had been showing up all season to do things like talk about her mother’s skin or clean things up or be eye candy for Joyce. So Season 5’s Megan really surprised me when she had opinions and was assertive. At first the domestic bliss stuff was boring, the insecurity was irritating, but then she lost her fucking shit at Don and Peggy and her insecurities became really irritating. I think it’s great when people have opinions and are assertive, but not in the way that Megan is.
Okay, so “Zou Bisou” was uncomfortable a little bit, but entertaining. Megan’s tantrum, from her snapping at Peggy to the sexual power struggle, was unbearable. It was Betty-like. Much more interesting than Betty because Megan seems to lack the ability to self-censor, but Betty-like nonetheless. For example, in “A Night to Remember,” Betty’s line “You embarrassed me” is scary because you can tell the fuse is lit but you can’t see the bomb. Megan is a mine-field until Don grabs her and instigates Bizarre Powerplay Floor Sex. Of course, they’re very different marriages; as Don points out, he forbade Betty from throwing him parties. Megan is unpredictable and headstrong enough that I don’t think he can forbid her from anything, and furthermore, I think she’s more interested in being Don’s partner, whereas Betty was Don’s wife. I don’t think Megan would ever call Don and say, “Don’t come home.” I get the feeling she’d make a scene in the office. Personally, I value subtlety, or even subtlety to a point. Take, for instance, Allison enduring Don’s missteps after their one-night stand in Season 4. Allison eventually throws something at Don and storms out in front of the whole office, but only after a good period of stewing. I like small explosions that have been a long time coming, or even big explosions like “The Suitcase,” but not big sloppy ones over something that I see as kind of whiny (boo-hoo! creative doesn’t like me! call the wahhmbulance). Furthermore, I’m unsettled because I have a hard time believing that party-loving, “Zou Bisou” singing Megan was underneath the awkward exterior of “well….my mother is French extraction so let’s just do it once in your office nbd” Megan of Season 4.
I didn’t like Season 3 of the show because too many things got better and not enough things got worse. I disliked Betty even more, so her and Don’s divorce was more of a relief. I disliked Don hanging around Miss Farrell because she was annoying. I disliked Conrad Hilton because that proximity to a historical character felt Forrest Gump-y to me and I didn’t think he brought that much to the show. I complained that the finale felt like a sports movie. And then in Season 4, everything just got worse and worse until Don hit rock-bottom in “The Suitcase.” Basically, unless everyone is miserable, I am not happy with Mad Men, and Don and Megan are too happy together. Don saying he doesn’t care about work with Megan in his arms? Fuck that shit. Don Draper is best when he’s frustrated. The drama of Season 4 was extra addicting, plus cranky Don delivers some of the best one-liners. Also, where are all those spell-binding pitches going to go? I think they’ll continue on, but I worry they’ll lose their sizzle. Episodes like “The Wheel” and “Ladies Room” show significant crossover between Don’s personal life and the products he pitches in those episodes. And in Season 4’s “Waldorf Stories,” the same nostalgia platform that made Harry Crane cry in “The Wheel” fails through Don’s drunken slur and egotism (he won the Clio making a commercial about being a kid—nostalgia strikes again!). I can’t help but feel like with Megan in the picture, those “Draper” moments are in danger. Keep in mind that while Don was going gaga over Megan in Disneyland, it was Peggy who broke SCDP’s no-business streak. Peggy says 5×01: “The client is right all of a sudden? I don’t recognize this man. He’s kind. And…patient.”
And on a final note, Roger made me feel better because he’s goofy and pathetic and imitates Lane’s secretary. And Pete smacking into the wall and throwing a tantrum made me feel better. To borrow a phrase from Midge wayyyy back in Season One, I’m most excited to see those two go to the men’s room and poke it out.
I welcome your thoughts on the premiere.