After an unendurable 17 month hiatus, “Mad Men” returned Sunday night with an epic two hour season premiere and its biggest ratings ever. If you have somehow shielded yourself from the buzz, the four-time Emmy-winning Best Drama takes a look at the lives of employees of an advertising agency in New York throughout the 60s amidst social and political upheaval. After binging on 10 episodes Sunday afternoon as a refresher, this writer is convinced it’s easily the best show on TV and probably one of the finest dramas ever forged. (If you have yet to watch this somehow. it’s on Netflix Instant. You’re welcome.) The show is the creation of former “The Sopranos” writer Matthew Weiner, whose uncompromising vision extends to every aspect of the show, including the way it’s marketed. In order to preserve the experience for fans of the show, Weiner won’t allow any spoilers prior to the season premiere. This includes incidental details like the year it takes place, or which characters will be returning, and means that commercials feature only footage from previous seasons and interviewers have to find clever ways to get even the vaguest hints about what might be coming up on the show.
The juiciest nugget revealed by Weiner to the NYTimes prior to the premiere was a line from the upcoming third episode of this season where a character asks, “When is everything going to get back to normal?” which is a question that many fans were asking after Sunday’s premiere. Every season has a thematic throughline, and many of the story threads that pay dramatic dividends in the later episodes are all being quietly placed on the board at the very beginning of each season. So with the first two hours of season five behind us and many of the pressing questions answered -- When does this season take place? Did Joan have her baby? Did Don really marry Megan? -- we thought now would be a good time to dive into the premiere (which you can watch below in its entirety) and look for clues as to what might be in store for the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce office this season.
When we last saw Don, he had impulsively ditched his intellectual equal girlfriend Doctor Faye (Cara Buono), and proposed to his secretary Megan (Jessica Paré). This came as a shock not only to his co-workers but to the audience as well, who had never seen their brooding lead appear so happy-go-lucky. When we check in on Don in the premiere, he’s still very much in the honeymoon phase of his relationship with Megan, who is now officially Mrs. Draper. The former bachelor can barely keep his hands off of her which leads to some kinky interplay between the two both at home and at the office, where Megan has been promoted to copywriter. Mixing work and relationships is almost always a recipe for disaster, and signs of strain have already begun to show with the couple showing up late and leaving early to deal with personal issues.
There was a lot of online chatter about how Don is supposedly happy now, and while we definitely saw a side of Don that was a bit different than we’re used to, we wouldn’t exactly call it “happy.” He’s certainly getting very frisky with his new wife but he’s also incredibly distracted at work: "I don't care about work" is a thought that would have been unthinkable to the old Don, so it’s a clear sign that his priorities have shifted drastically in recent months. Hamm spoke to TV Guide explaining, "Don is seemingly becoming a little bit disengaged at work. What happens when you have it all? What happens when you're satisfied? Maybe you lose some of that fire." This comes at an especially troublesome time considering the shaky financial ground that SCDP is on, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Another milestone during the episode was Don’s 40th birthday -- though technically he turned 40 a few months earlier -- and it appears aging is going to be a big theme this season. Megan playfully calls him “a dirty old man” and Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) gives him a “walking stick” (basically a cane) as a birthday present. Prior to his birthday, Don asks his 10 year old son Bobby, “So when you’re 40, how old will I be?” to which his son replies, “You’ll be dead.” If this isn’t a sign of changing times, we don’t know what is. Weiner told EW, “He is coming into middle age, which was closer to old age back then” which never seemed truer than it did at Don’s surprise birthday party. Sitting in his groovy new penthouse apartment amongst the younger, hipper, guests, he has never looked like more of a square. The times they are a-changin’.
Roger is a character who never seems to be without a good line. (Highlight from the premiere: “There’s my baby. Now move that brat out of the way so I can see her,” he says to Joan, referring to their love child.) But things are not going well in his marriage with Jane, who had made him so happy last season, and they’re going even worse at work. Since losing Lucky Strike, he’s taken to peeking at Pete’s schedule and elbowing in on his clients. Weiner described Roger’s current state as “disenfranchised,” and said, “Roger is someone who lost Lucky Strike and is struggling. He's still president of the agency. He's obviously still financially well off. He's pulling money out of his pocket to get things done, but he's using Pete's leads. He doesn't have a secretary. That's not good.” Whether Roger’s marriage or business will survive the season is anybody’s guess.