I find that lately I sense the changing seasons is not by snow turning to slush or football turning to baseball, but by my DVR switching over from one TV obsession the next. "Downton Abbey" has packed up for the winter, and the appearance of Don Draper’s snappy gray fedora means spring — and "Mad Men"— is finally here.
Though it’s been ten long months since viewers witnessed Don breaking down and learning it’s not a great idea to mention whorehouses when you’re in a meeting about how to sell candy to children, only two months have passed in the world of SCDP. Some of the Mad Men have moved to Los Angeles, some have stayed in New York and some are sharing their bed (and, even worse, their vest!) with their very young girlfriend and her very young boyfriend — while the Mad Women mostly seethe quietly at the unfairness of it all. Here’s what’s happening in January 1969:
• Good old Fred Rumsen kicks off the episode by looking straight into the camera and saying: “Are you ready? Because I want you to pay attention, this is the beginning of something.” We’re all ears, Freddy. It turns out he’s pitching an idea for the Accutron watches campaign to Peggy, who stares at him with a look that says, “Holy shit, Freddy, you’re a nice guy, but this is so way above what I expect from you.” The pitch sounds vaguely like something we’d hear from someone else on this show, but let’s hold that thought for a moment as we check in on …
• Don, who is first seen floating serenely through the L.A. airport, looking exactly the same as he has through all six seasons (and the entirety of the 1960s). Viewers are not quite sure what he’s doing there, since he was exiled from SCDP at the end of last season, and his marriage to Megan seemed on the brink of collapse after she quit her job to move to California with him, and then he said, “Nah, decided not to go after all.” But some of our questions are answered when Megan emerges from a tiny convertible in an even tinier babydoll dress and gives him a slo-mo kiss. So, apparently, they’re living apart, but still married — even after he slept with the neighbor, dissed her career, acted insanely jealous and faked her out on the big move. But, you know, he does look an awful lot like Jon Hamm and I guess that counts for something.
• We now digress to catch up with Roger, dear ridiculous Roger. Isn’t it every father’s dream to have his grown daughter call and invite him to a fancy brunch when he’s passed out on the floor among naked hippies, beer cans and cigarette butts? Oh Roger, don’t ever change.
• Pete, divorced and looking resplendent in sideburns, a tennis sweater and madras pants (now that’s how you change with the times, Don!), is living in Los Angeles to oversee the Sunkist account, though he clearly misses New York, as he rhapsodizes about bagels while eating pastrami on rye in a faux-New York diner. All that sun has also apparently softened him, as he goes in for an awkward hug while Don stiffly offers a handshake.
• Ken, still wearing an eye patch after getting shot in the face by a crazy Chevrolet exec, has reached the end of his patience, screaming about hierarchies and clearly wishing he could time travel to 21st-century Williamsburg so he could sit in a coffee bar writing his sci-fi novel. Oh, and Ken, formerly smart, sensitive, and enlightened, calls Joan’s ideas “dumb.” Wait, what?
So let’s move on to the Mad Women, because, boy, should they be pissed off in this episode. After being yelled at and insulted by Pirate Ken, Joan is sent to have dinner with the baby-faced marketing director of Butler Shoes, who pulls out his Cliff notes from B-school to lecture Joan — who has a couple more decades experience than him — before blowing off the meeting. To top it all off, Joan visits a business school professor, who assumes that this clearly very capable woman, who is the fricking managing partner of her firm, doesn’t know the difference between fees and commissions.
Then there’s Peggy, brilliant Peggy, who should probably be running her own agency by now, but who has to deal with Don’s humorless, decidedly non-brilliant replacement, Lou. Remember those brainstorming sessions Don would lead that would sparkle with creativity? Lou’s idea of a meeting is to smile awkwardly and then choose the slogan with the least number of words. He even dares to say to Peggy, as she chases him down the hallway trying to sell him on Freddy’s rejected Accutron pitch, “I don’t know Peggy, I guess I’m immune to your charms.” Them’s fighting words, Lou.
Also in this episode, the return of Peggy’s former flame, Ted, who dumped her and escaped to the sunny land of Sunkist with his wife. Ted and Peggy have a tense conversation in the coffee room, which Stan astutely points out seems unrelated to coffee. Peggy then astutely points out to Stan that she is the only person left in the office who is not a talentless hack. Considering that Peggy’s other major plot point this week is to handle a tenant who keeps flushing things you shouldn’t flush down the toilet, it’s no wonder she ends the episode in a crumpled, weeping heap on her apartment floor.
And then there’s Megan. Her agent tells Don, “I’ll say one thing about this girl. She evokes strong feelings,” which I took as a nod to all the love-her-hate-her Internet buzz about Megan and her teeth. Megan has also left her huge modern penthouse apartment in New York (perfect except for one very symbolically stuck terrace door) for a cheap, dumpy rental up in the Hollywood hills, surrounded by howling coyotes. As Don says, “Wouldn’t you rather live somewhere more populated,” I couldn’t help but think of those articles predicting that Megan will soon meet a Sharon Tate-like ending. I’m hoping Matthew Weiner’s read those same articles and is just messing with our heads. Right, Matthew, right?
Meanwhile, Don catches the red eye back to New York, where he is conveniently seated next to an attractive young widow (played by Neve Campbell) for two distinct reasons: The first is so "Mad Men" can complete the trifecta of making dark, brooding love interests out of former teenage TV icons (Linda Cardellini and Alexis Bledel came first), and, the second is so Don can act out that TV cliché of a man full of secrets opening up to a complete stranger. Neve tells a story of her husband who was “always thirsty and died of thirst,” then Don confesses he’s a terrible husband, and he knows Megan knows. But, when Neve offers to “make him feel better,” he takes a pass so he can get back to work. Wait, he’s working?
And that’s where that first scene with Freddy comes back. Turns out, Don’s been Cyrano to Freddy’s Christian, feeding him the lines he’s been pitching not only to SCDP but to other agencies as well. He’s apparently more addicted to work than he is to sad, sultry brunettes.
In the end, nothing major happened in this episode — it was sort of an amuse-bouche, giving us a taste of what’s to come in this final season. After watching Joan, Peggy and Megan get disrespected, left alone on the floor sobbing and basically dangled over the edge of cliff, I can only hope Weiner is setting us up for some major comebacks. Those women are going to rock the rest of this season — not to mention the '70s, which are just around the corner.