Sunday, April 13 marked the season premiere of Mad Men. Going into its seventh and final season, Mad Men has started on a pretty humorous, though subdued note, with Don Draper, still exiled from Sterling Cooper & Partners, visiting the glamorous Megan Draper in LA, only to be immediately emasculated by having to sit in the passenger seat of Megan’s convertible. Don, ultimately humbled by his suspension from work, has lost his bravado. There was a time he would use work as an excuse to cheat on his wife, now uses it as an excuse to sit in his huge apartment alone and feed pitches to Freddy Rumsen. The man with the false identity, fortified by his occupation, is now in employment purgatory, struggling to maintain his persona.
Yesterday, episode 2 saw Don regain footing in his precarious life through sincerity, by winning back the love of his daughter Sally. A fascinating yet troubling start to a final season. Don continues to live a lie, but this particular lie is forcing him to really take a look at his life and see what’s valuable. Is Don becoming a good guy? Where does Mad Men go from here? Familial bliss? I think not. I sense something dark on the horizon.
Starting today (yeah, yeah I know we’re a week late), we (editor Lauren Bull and I) will do a weekly discussion on the progress of Mad Men’s last season. Enjoy.
The dynamic between Don and Megan:
Sebastian: Episode 1 opened with the sexy reunion of Don and Megan, then awkwardness ensued. A strange dinner with a TV casting agent and then the lack of sexual catharsis upon returning to Megan’s LA bungalow. Apparently Don visits every few weeks, but their chemistry is changing. Megan is getting used to her life of independence, made clear by her negative reaction to Don buying a big TV for the cramped living area of her home. An intrusion. When they finally get to bed, it’s strange. Megan is nervous. Why? Nervous how? Like it’s a first date or like she’s being coerced? What say you Lauren?
Lauren: Isn’t the fact that this relationship has made it this far one of the show’s longest running surprises? We talk about the “journeys” of characters all the time, but seriously, Megan has gone from “single receptionist who’s good at advertising” to “married actress who lives on her own in California” since season 4. Don hasn’t evolved that much. He’s changed offices and women, but that final drop to rock bottom in season 6 showed just how sad and stagnant his life is. Never have these two seemed further apart in age than during those California scenes. I think Megan’s nervous because she’s very much all right without him around all the time, and maybe also because he’s still wearing a fedora. Don was crucial to her ascent and now he’s weighing her down. And like he said to Sidney Prescott from Scream on the plane, “She knows I’m a terrible husband.” There ya have it.
Sebastian: Don and Pete had a pretty hilarious reunion in episode 1. Pete was super tan and way too perky, giving Don a big hug and then extolling the “vibrations” of sunny Los Angeles. He’s banging a beautiful real estate agent and apparently living it large. Episode 2 gave us a different perspective on this bright and sunny Pete Campbell. Luckily he hasn’t changed too much and is still prone to childish tantrums as office politics and the long distance correspondence between the NYC and LA offices begins to take a toll. Blowing off steam he told Ted Chaough they should start their own firm. I think I see something there.
Lauren: I think pairing Pete with Ted in Cali highlights oh so beautifully how Pete’s smarminess is charming and affable, while Ted’s is just annoying and, well, smarmy. Consider this: Pete and Peggy had sex one time, he ditched her, and she had his baby. They are still cool. Peggy and Ted had sex one time, he ditched her, and she is leaving him cryptic messages about flowers he didn’t even send to her. Let’s not get it twisted — Pete is awful. But I’m cool with him, too, I think, because he’s sometimes awful and sometimes slightly-better-than-awful. He is the tides; he works on either coast. Ted, on the other hand, doesn’t have enough backbone to be the guy you love to hate. He’s neither the office jerk nor the office hero. I just don’t like Ted. I SAID IT.
Pretty lady on the plane:
Sebastian: Leave it to Don to show vulnerability to a strange woman. Of course it’s obvious why, because her existence is fleeting. Flings from previous seasons fall off the Earth, replaced immediately by new ones. He’s distributed pieces of himself to women all over, but he’s running out of pieces. There was a time when he could be himself to Megan, but then they got married and that went out the window. Surprisingly, he rebuffed the horny widow’s advances and opted for self deprecation instead. But I doubt we’ve seen the last of this woman and I’m curious to see how she will impact Don’s life. Some believe that Megan will get murdered with apparent allusions to Sharon Tate (murdered by the Manson family) all over the place. Perhaps a widow would be the obvious comfort to a widower. But I honestly don’t buy that whole conspiracy. Either way, I’m looking forward to her return.
Lauren: I don’t really buy the conspiracy either, but I realized something last night as Sally left her friends behind on the train and ran off into the city on her own: I’m always ready for someone to die on this show. It’s just in the air. Sally, Don, Megan, Roger and Bert are my Most Likely candidates.
Sebastian: I can definitely relate to that. Mad Men has an ongoing sense of dread. We expect the worst. Remember in the Season 6 premiere when they did the POV shot of the doorman having a heart attack? Myself and probably everyone watching assumed that was Don. An obvious foreshadowing of things to come. I mean, just watch the opening sequence and try not to think about all the structures in NYC to choose from that Don can jump off of.
Peggy is on her own:
Sebastian: Peggy is a lonely, lonely woman. Having always been fiercely independent in spite of the people in her life, Peggy is now actually alone. Lou Avery doesn’t respect her or her passion, which exceeds his own, and Ted left her in the dust of empty promises and infidelity. Her loneliness and desire to show strength conflict with each other in episode 2 when she discovers the flowers which of course are not her’s but her secretary’s. It being Valentine’s Day, she wants male attention, but the idea of Ted sending her flowers repulses Peggy for the very reason that she wants that. So she lays on the couch in her office drinking and smoking (much like Don) stewing in pent up wrath and takes it out on her secretary.
After trying to escape him so many times, Don is officially out of Peggy’s life, though they have become mirror images of each other. They both seek validation in their work, but no longer find any as their personal lives flounder. Episode 1 ends with them both in despair; Don subjecting himself to the cold in stoic masochism and Peggy throwing herself to the floor in cathartic sobbing. They both feel the same things. Fact is they need each other. Will they find each other once again? I hope so.
Lauren: Don’s method of work-life balance seems to be to throw all of his weight to one side or the other, and usually at the last minute before everything bursts into flames. No one wants that for Peggy, but girl is struggling right now. She’s weeping in her apartment, screaming at her secretary, and trying to get along with her new boss Lou-cifer, who happens to be boring and racist. Perfect. Peggy’s rise to the top during the first few seasons was a loud, long crack in the glass ceiling, and now I feel like she’s got shards in her eyes. It’s a bummer.
Our girl will figure it out, though. This seems to be a trip down Harsh Reality Lane, and I’ll be interested to see, too, if Don is waiting at the end of it, asking for her help on a pitch.
Shirley and Dawn, Dawn and Shirley:
Sebastian: Shirley and Dawn’s friendship is really great since the show has been generally superficial with respect to African American culture. It’s always been through a rich-white filter. I liked the way they referred to each other interchangeably, poking fun at their white co workers who are bound to mix them up. With this intriguing relationship, I hope that African Americans are finally getting some dimension on this show, especially since it looks like Dawn will be taking over Joan’s position. Plus I love how Dawn tells off that insufferable oaf Lou.
Lauren: Oh, that was all so awesome and on point. I love Dawn. Her smile when taking over Joan’s office felt like a small victory for someone who’d suffers through an average of ten big stresses before lunch. Lou’s dismissal of her indirectly led to a promotion — with Joan’s blessing. Speaking of Joan! How amazing was her encounter with Roger before heading into her new upstairs office? She was carrying a moving box filled with flowers, a few files, and a big get-the-f*ck-out-of-my-way-thanks.
Sebastian: Joan deserves all the success. She’s still trying to wash off the lingering odor of that fat creep from Jaguar. Avon was a good start and thankfully Cutler sees her potential. She’s always been the Queen Bee anyway.
Sally Draper following in Don’s footsteps:
Sebastian: “I’m so many people” Sally said at dinner with her father. Like him, she has become a chameleon. At a young age, she’s been confronted with the reality that most people aren’t who they say they are, that lying is standard practice. Housed in a boarding school with spoiled teenagers, Sally does her best to act superficial. When she catches her father in a lie, she does her best to just play along. She’s been caught in the undertow of adult bullsh*t, that she can’t keep her own selves straight. She’s already exhausted and Don finally gets to see how his lies have affected his daughter.
Lauren: Remember Anna Draper? The wife of the real Don Draper whom we met in Season 4 during new Don’s California trip? Anna found out that Dick Whitman/new Don stole her husband’s identity, and somehow, they stayed close friends until her death. Anna tells Don during that final reunion: “I know everything about you, and I still love you.”
Sally’s “I love you” may be the closest to the real deal that Don has ever heard from a woman other than Anna. They are both smart, cool blondes with pretty unimaginable capacities for understanding. Sally has seen the horror show of the house Don grew up in (dad has a weird past); she walked in on Don “comforting” downstairs neighbor Sylvia (dad is a cheat); and she’s the only one in his personal life who knows the truth about his employment status at SCDP (dad’s in trouble at work). She’s also smart enough to know that those things only scratch the surface of the lying, scheming, and generally scummy, un-dad like behaviors of his life. And still: “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you.”
One of Don’s biggest problems (and he’s got them in spades!) is that he knows Sally is a lot like him and he can’t dump her. When she tells him to just tell the truth in her absence note for school, she’s really saying, “Please show me this one time that it’s not OK to lie, so I can stop, too.”