Last season Dr. Faye, Don Draper’s (initial) love interest, told him that he only liked the beginning of things, just after she had been dumped. And oh my, did we ever see just how little Don Draper, the resident Mr. Enigmatic, hates the middle of things. There was a constant look of displeasure on his face throughout the whole two hour season five premier, filling the audience in on everything that we’ve missed over the last year.
It’s fitting that Mad Men is premiering a week after The Walking Dead finishes, given just how tired everyone looks. It’s almost like they’re zombies! Only very arrogant ones, as exhibited by Roger’s rather scurrilous behavior, bluntly telling his wife Jane to “shut up,” with an absolutely astounding amount of contempt and loathing behind those two words. We knew that Mad Men wouldn’t be coming back happy, especially after such a faintly optimistic ending a year and a half ago. God forbid Matthew Weiner lets anyone be happy for more than a second.
The good news is that the premier has good continuing energy, even over two hours of fairly connected plots. There’s a minor subplot about Lane returning a wallet that is isolated to only the second hour, but other than that the two hours were consumed with establishing the tone for the upcoming season. It will be, in a word, bleak. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is in a bit better shape than it was at the end of last season, but they still operate on a shoestring budget (even sharing secretaries). Joan is out on maternity leave, Don and Megan are coasting out of their honeymoon phase, and Cooper is just kind of around, sitting in the conference room even though no one showed up for the meeting.
The centerpiece of the episode is a surprise party that Megan throws for Don. It does not go well, of course. Megan has become privy to many of Don’s secrets, but she still doesn’t know her man. I can’t imagine a time that Don would ever express interest in surprise parties, but Megan throws one anyway, under the assumption that everyone likes surprise parties. Only roughly fifty minutes into the premier and already we’re being shown that the newest Draper marriage won’t last a season (at least that’s what I’m guessing).
Also, Don told Megan about his past life as Dick Whitman, which is major! Undoubtedly spurned on by how such knowledge destroyed his previous marriage, Don probably told Megan to strengthen their relationship, but how much did he actually tell her? Given how much is still to be revealed about the man who was Dick Whitman, I have a sneaking suspicion he didn’t tell her very much. Since this is really the only mystery Mad Men has going for it, I expect that Matthew Weiner is going to stretch this one out for a looooong time.
For a Mad Men episode, there was a surprising amount of plot, culminating in three A-plots: Don’s dissatisfaction, the struggles of Pete and Roger, and the continuing adventures of Joan the Mother Figure. The conflicts between Pete and Roger was fairly well done I thought, bringing in most of the characters that Don’s plot hadn’t dealt with. Namely, Pete wants more respect since he does seemingly everything, and Roger does nothing. It seems all Roger does is lounge around his office, spy on Pete’s secretaries, and carry a massive amount of cash around. Pete makes a play for Roger’s office, and instead he gets Harry’s office-for those curious, Harry still falls well on the bumbling side of the douche-bag line, but he’s always getting closer and closer to becoming a full douche-bag. Pete’s been on the up and up for the last four seasons, and I’m really hoping he finally gets some of the respect he deserves, even if he does fall well on the extreme side of the douche-bag line.
Finally, there’s Joan, who’s still off on maternity leave with the most adorable baby! It seems she’s managed to retain her figure after child birth, but thankfully it’s not put on to a distracting display. Seems that Joan is feeling detached from the going ons of the office, where she thrived and felt most alive. She gets a rather poignant scene with Lane about how lonely they feel, and it’s this scene, amongst all the other immaturity and anger at SCDP, that demonstrates just what tone Mad Men should try to achieve. It was very much of its time, while still tapping into modern concerns of being tied to your job, and how to deal with your child, as the at this time unknown threat of ‘Post-Partum Depression’ looms over Joan. If her scenes continue to crackle along like this, I really hope she becomes more of a major player this year.
Speaking of sidelined characters, there was no Betty in this episode! Yippee!
Overall, this episode excelled at setting the table for the rest of the season, while still moving everything forward, especially on the Don front. After four seasons of playing around, I think it’s finally time to really get a number of plot heavy episodes into this season, to keep up momentum and to keep up interested. The snail’s pace hasn’t done Mad Men many favors, at least not in my mind, but now things can really start heating up!
As always, you can catch this episode of Mad Men at the AMC website. Also, come back next week for another review!