Time Zones || Mad Men S7 E1 || A-
I’ve always felt that Mad Men is the type of show that ought to be studied, like one of the short stories or novels in my American Lit class. Whether it’s the characters or the symbolism or the historical and political context, there’s always so much that can be mined from each episode. If Mad Men were a college course, however, I probably wouldn’t be one of those in the front of the class who raise their hand for every question and talk more than the professor does. I’ve only been watching the show for about a year now, so I haven’t been living with these characters for years and years as most viewers have. But neither would I be one of those in the back of the class who tune out and surf Facebook the whole time. So where do I fall? I’m not an expert, so anything I write here will inevitably only scratch the surface of the show’s seemingly endless depth. Neither am I totally ignorant of the show’s genius. All of this to say that, while I am very much familiar with the show, this post is nothing more than an honest attempt at putting my thoughts into words to share with my readers.
With that disclaimer out of the way, this week’s premiere is a great way to jump back into the lives of Donald Draper and Co. From the very first scene, the episode doesn’t waste a moment rewarding us for the wait between seasons. In what is perhaps the most fun stylistically the show has ever had, Don Draper’s pitch to Peggy—via Freddy Rumsen, talking directly to the camera—grabs you from the beginning and doesn’t let up. Similar moments, such as the slo-mo shot of Meagan greeting Don at the airport, were just downright fun to watch. Underneath all the flash, however, is a constant reminder that paradise is still far out of reach for these characters.
Roger is at the lowest point we’ve ever seen him, living in a filthy house where the bed is “open to all” and the floor is littered with cigarette butts and naked bodies. To make matters worse, he has his daughter passive-aggressively “forgiving” him for every way he’s wronged her. Maybe passive-aggressively is the wrong way to put it—even if she means well (which is dubious), it’s clear that she’s doing more damage than good. Roger definitely has a hard time forgiving himself, and to hear his own daughter forgive him for his wrongdoing is a huge cut to his pride.
Peggy—who you’d think would be the most well-off of anybody, judging by last season’s finale—actually isn’t doing too well either. She clearly wanted Don’s position after he was forced out, and it’s a little weird that she didn’t get it. In his place is Lou Avery, who is way worse at his job than Peggy and seriously limiting her potential at SC&P. In addition, she still isn’t free of Ted, who returns from LA without a tan and eager to continue working. Their encounter in the office is awkward to say the least, and it clearly takes a toll on Peggy. “Buck up, chief,” says Stan in a moment of sensitivity. In spite of his encouragement, Peggy later tears into him over something office-related. As seen in the next to last scene, where she collapses on the floor in tears, she just can’t take it anymore. The job, Ted, her annoying tenants—it’s all becoming too much. It’s not a very happy start to the season for Penny.
Other stories in this premiere such as Joan and Pete were not quite as interesting. Joan is struggling with the same issue since season one—although she frequently takes responsibility and does her job well, she is constantly held back by the fact that she is a woman and therefore is not taken seriously. And Pete … Pete seems to be the only character who’s happy where he is (aside from his complaints about the LA bagels, that is). He dresses preppier than ever, rebuffs Don’s handshake in favor of a hug, and cheerfully orders an iced tea. Whatever is going on with Pete, it can’t bode well for his character—it can only go downhill from here.
And then there’s Don. It’s almost ten minutes into the episode before we even see Don. He doesn’t seem to be in the pit of despair that he found himself in last season, but things still aren’t perfect. He and Meagan are still together and hanging in there—but just barely. The long distance is definitely not helping their relationship, and Meagan seems to be doing everything she can to distance herself from Don. There’s the obvious fact that she puts off having sex with him, and claims to be “nervous” when they finally get around to it. But there are also more subtle things, like her statement, “My next house is gonna have a pool,” before correcting herself—“Our next house.” Or when Don buys her a bigger TV and she gets upset. Is it that she doesn’t want anything around the house that she associates with him? Does she not want him to invest in her when she’s just going to cut off their relationship anyway? Even worse is when she tells him, “You’re not here long enough for a fight,” which essentially translates to, “You’re not worth it to me anymore.” Things are shaky, and it’s not clear if the two of them will last much longer.
Despite this (or perhaps because of this?), Don decides against sleeping with the woman he meets on the plane. Everything about their conversation screams a warning to Don concerning his destructive tendencies, and the woman’s story about her deceased husband seemed to be something of a wakeup call for him. He doesn’t join her because he’s scared that will be him. After all, that’s what happens to “all of them,” right? If he keeps on this road, he’ll end up dead in a year—maybe even next year as in 2015, when the curtain falls on the show.
To top it off, it’s no coincidence that Don is drinking on his couch in the final scene. He has this sort of “what am I doing with myself?” moment before stepping out onto the balcony in the freezing cold. He knows he’s staring down the barrel of a gun, and it’s almost as if he’s waking up to the cold reality of his situation. The juxtaposition of New York with the dream-like LA is an obvious one, but it’s up to Don which one he’ll choose. If past seasons are any indication, it’s going to be another rough one for Don.
On a side note …
- From the way Pete described LA bagels, I will never not be grateful for my New England bagels.
- Don: “I keep wondering … have I broken the vessel?” Woman on plane: “If you did, what can you do about it? It’s done.”
- Don uses the excuse “I’ve got to get back to work” for both Meagan and the woman on the plane. What work is he referring to?
- That quote from Nixon seems to sum up everything perfectly: “We find ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit; reaching with magnificent precision for the moon, but failing into raucous discord on earth. We are caught in war, wanting peace. We are torn by division, wanting unity. We see around us empty lives, wanting fulfillment. We see tasks that need doing, waiting for hands to do them. To a crisis of the spirit, we need an answer of the spirit. And to find that answer, we need only look within ourselves.”
- Speaking of Mad Men being a college course though, I totally stumbled across this Slate article after writing that intro. Isn’t that awesome?! Now if only my school would offer classes like that …