When Is Everything Going To Get Back To Normal? Taking A Look At The Upcoming Season Of 'Mad Men'

Television
by Cory Everett
March 27, 2012 3:42 PM
22 Comments
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Megan Draper (Jessica Paré)
Many speculated that the marriage would not last long, while others thought the whole relationship might implode in the span of time prior to the season premiere and we might not see Megan at all. On the contrary, Megan’s birthday dance to Don became the talking point of the two hour premiere, and in many of her scenes with Don, she was the focus. As we speculated above, the working relationship between Don and Megan is bound to end badly, and that’s something that she seems to recognize during this first episode. She suggests that it might not be a good idea, but Don insists he doesn’t care.

An interesting aside for her character, which we had barely picked up on our first viewing comes a bit earlier in the party sequence: A friend of Megan’s tells Don, “You know, she’s a really good actress,” which could mean nothing, and just stand as an interesting parallel to his ex-wife Betty, a former model. Or you could take a much darker read, that Megan’s marriage to Don might be a big act in itself, so she can climb the corporate ladder: She’s already made it from secretary to copywriter, and though she certainly seems to love Don, it might be in the service of greater ambitions. Weiner spoke to NPR about the Don/Megan relationship: "What's wrong with it? All I can say is, 'You know already. You've been told. But it's not what you think.'" While it seems like a long shot, especially considering how genuine and open she is, anything is possible with this show.

Sterling Cooper Draper Price
As Weiner told EW, “the survival of the agency is still at stake” and from what we saw in the premiere, that appears to be the case. The partners of the agency are forced to share secretaries, Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) is scrambling to hold the business together, and while Roger tries to bribe Harry with a bonus to switch offices, Harry says “there’s no bonuses, we have no money.” With the crew already having survived a corporate merger and layoffs, going out of business seems unlikely, but where else could this be headed? Don gets his act together in episode 11 and lands a big account saving the day for the finale? Sure doesn’t seem like the show’s style.

Social Change
Fans may have been puzzled in the opening of the episode to notice the “Goldwater ‘68” election banner hanging in the window of the Y&R offices, thinking that the show may have exceeded the “healthy time jump” promised by the creators, by going straight from the October 1965-set finale, directly to the election year depicted on the flyer. But thankfully, we haven’t missed quite that much time, as the first episode picks up just after Memorial Day 1966, about seven months after the finale of season 4. As you can see, the civil rights movement has landed on the doorstep of the agency, but Weiner says it may not be as big of an undercurrent this year on the show as you might expect.

He told TV Guide, “I'm never going to rewrite history and it's out of respect. I'm not going to say, 'Oh, now civil rights is a big deal to these people.' It's not. As you can see, this comes into their house and it's totally a practical joke. What I love is, change is happening and they can't do anything about it. They don't even know it, and that's part of the entertainment of the show.” Martin Luther King Jr. isn’t assassinated until 1968, so that likely won’t make an appearance on the show until season six. And aside from the Summer of Love in ‘67 (in San Francisco) we’re not sure if there are any other major historical events to keep an eye out for, like the Bay Of Pigs or Kennedy’s assassination in previous seasons. It is clear from Don’s birthday that the out-of-work fashions have come quite a long way, as we’re now entering a groovy, “Valley of the Dolls”-era '60s which is not the buttoned-up era in which the series began.

Final Thoughts
The premiere episode was a lot of catch-up certainly, and while most seemed to love the episode, a few have expressed a disappointment they can’t quite put their finger on. It can’t be that “nothing’s happening,” because there are, without a doubt, tons of new developments with these characters, but instead might be just what those developments are. If the premiere was a disappointment at all, it was purely a personal one. It was disappointing seeing Don admit he didn’t care about work. It was disappointing seeing Joan, so strong and confident at the office, trapped at home with her baby. It was disappointing seeing Pete living in the suburbs, and seeing how Harry Crane has turned into kind of a dick. It was disappointing seeing Don and Roger looking older and out of place at Don’s party. During earlier seasons, Don could take a trip down to Greenwich Village and put the beatniks in their place, but we’re not sure he could do that now. Don is getting older and he’s losing his edge. And this appears to be where the show is headed (for now, anyway).

Creator Matthew Weiner has spoken about the perils of giving fans what they want, saying they only think they want more of something, but 'you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t' provide those thrills. We’re resistant to seeing our beloved characters in these positions because we don’t like change either. If it was up to the audience Don would always be the coolest guy the room, but that would be a far less interesting show. The audience (and hell, the advertising) may have built these characters up, focusing on the glamorous aspects of the show: drinking, smoking, cool-looking suits, mysterious pasts! But the show has never been about those things and Weiner is following a truer path, one that has rarely been traveled in television.

Take last season’s pivotal episode “The Suitcase,” for example, where a drunken Duck Phillips (Mark Moses) shows up at the offices to find Don and Peggy working late. He mistakes it for an illicit affair, calls Peggy a whore and Don takes a swing at him. If the show had any interest in making Don look “cool” or “heroic” he would have decked Duck and the audience would have cheered. Instead, he swings drunkenly, misses entirely and get’s quickly pinned to the ground by Duck. He surrenders. And that is why the show is great. It doesn’t pander to its audience, instead it follows a more honest path, where the plot is in service of illuminating character and not the other way around.

Television
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22 Comments

  • Stefano | January 14, 2013 7:53 PMReply

    my girlfriend family, they didn’t like me at all. Then I started reading The Playlist and life changed!

  • Geraldine Gill | January 10, 2013 7:27 AMReply

    My Name is Geraldine Gill I will never forget the great work you guys have done here.

  • loveth | December 28, 2012 7:58 PMReply

    just want to share my experience and testimony here.. the Playlist rules and they are better than all spellcasters.

  • moreen silver | December 17, 2012 4:50 AMReply

    I'm so happy for Mad Men!

  • andy sowers | September 13, 2012 6:55 AMReply

    when will I be normal?

  • Blessing | September 13, 2012 4:46 AMReply

    what a wonderful world we are living.

  • raprio | September 13, 2012 12:59 AMReply

    spell casters are from a cult!

  • andy sowers | September 11, 2012 2:27 PMReply

    when will I be normal?

  • Edward Davis | August 13, 2012 9:24 AMReply

    Amazing.

  • Tamara | August 10, 2012 9:25 PMReply

    spell casters are frauds.

  • anon | March 29, 2012 5:12 AMReply

    megan is probably a little on the crazy side...

  • Digital ? | March 28, 2012 11:02 AMReply

    I also had that odd feeling I couldn't put my finger on, the characters perhaps - but visually I wondered if they've switched from 35mm to digital?

  • Lucy | March 27, 2012 11:42 PMReply

    I agree with Danielle wonderful recap and analysis! Keep them coming! You made me want to watch it all over again to look at things maybe I missed. Favorite show on TV, the writing is impressive. The only complaint I have is commercials. I wish AMC was like TCM. No commercials! cheers to you.

  • Danielle | March 27, 2012 8:26 PMReply

    Great recap and analysis, Cory. Please keep 'em coming for the rest of the season!

  • db12345 | March 27, 2012 5:39 PMReply

    Did anyone else have the unpleasant experience of watching AMC and having them air part of episode one then jump over several scenes to episode 2? The script kept making reference to things we hadn't seen. I watched the double episode on demand and noted that what was aired was 25 min of episode one, then episode 2. I wondered why it seemed hard to understand and they cut out the cool party scene to boot!

  • Darb | March 28, 2012 8:57 AM

    When did you watch it. I watched it live on the first airing at 8:00, and it had the party scene in, and wasn't just twenty five minutes for the first episode.

  • neologism | March 27, 2012 4:43 PMReply

    Great article!

    Oogle - that statue was a racially insensitive statue from Y&R with a joke resume attached to it. It was basically their reply to the ad that SCDP took out in the newspaper.

  • Oogle monster | March 27, 2012 6:03 PM

    Gotcha. Thanks!

  • Oogle monster | March 27, 2012 4:13 PMReply

    Also, I have a ques- at the very end of the episodes, when the front desk sec brings in that giant statue- what was it and why is it significant? Is it b/c they cannot accept gifts?

  • oogle monster | March 27, 2012 6:02 PM

    Ohhh ok, gotcha. I couldn't even make out what it was. Thanks!

  • Cory Everett | March 27, 2012 4:18 PM

    Great points on the 'actress' angle. The racist statue was sent to them by Y&R as a joke. Because it's offensive they decided not to send the lobby full of applicants away, since they likely saw them bringing that in and don't want the bad PR.

  • Oogle monster | March 27, 2012 4:11 PMReply

    A few things to add to the "Megan is an actress" bit: Joan's mother warns Joan that Megan is manipulative yet Joan may be the only one who sees through Megan from the beginning (Megan is a little apprehensive to approach Joan when she comes for the surprise office visit)... the scene between Megan and Peggy at the end where Megan essentially yells at Peggy and then snaps into a damsel in distress mood (and asks to go home) coupled with Megan deciding to clean the house in her bra and panties while Don watches and then quoting a line from Don earlier- "You can sit there and watch me" (not verbatim but something along those lines) are perfect examples of how strategic and "actorly" Megan may very well be.

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