Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mad Men Recap - Time Zones

Ok, here goes my wild attempts at a little Mad Men recap action.

I'm trying to block the idea of this being the final season from my mind, because I always feel that the season premieres of this show keep you on your toes as a viewer in such an exciting way. I love figuring out what has happened in the time since the past season, what's changed, and picking up on all the tiny hints the writers drop for us. This season is no exception with Sunday's premiere offering some changes, yet maybe not as dramatic of season premieres of the past. It was a very well written episode, doing what Mad Men does perfectly: combining the events of the office seamlessly with the lives of the characters.

This episode's opening scene was perfect, Freddy Rumsen is back and narrating an elegant, dramatic, even profound, new tv ad for Accutron watches. I love Freddy; he's such a hapless character that you enjoyed laughing at in his less than sober moments, but felt so sorry for when he lost his job a couple seasons ago. We then see that Peggy is on the receiving end of his pitch, alone in her office. Does this mean that Peggy is finally the head of creative while Don was forced to take a leave of absence?

Alas, no. Peggy is still down the totem pole answering to a new head of creative Lou Avery. He seems completely complacent, rocks a Mister Rogers cardigan, and is happy to go with what's easiest while not shirking the creativity Peggy pesters him towards during the morning meeting. He is patronizing and rude to his secretary, the wonderful Dawn. (I'm so glad Dawn is back, I love her a lot.)

Next in the office we see Joan and Ken. Joan looks perfect as usual, gorgeous deep purple suit that is both very workplace appropriate, perfectly tailored, and is obviously a little more expensive than past wardrobes reflecting her upward move in the company as of late. Ken -- poor, patch-sporting Ken Cosgrove, has become in charge of most of the accounts in New York thanks to Pete's departure, but the job is sucking the life out of him. He's cranky, angry, disgruntled. He's come a long way from his earlier poetry writing days of less responsibility and the clarity to see the hypocrisy of the ad game. The scene where he throws Joan's earring at her missing wide left was the funniest of the episode.

Joan though, hasn't moved into an official accounts position yet even though there's a huge need according to Ken. Boo! Joan gets sidled with a meeting with Butler Shoes for Ken which she jumps at, we then see her at the hotel where she meets a very young head of marketing (the son from Cougarland no less!). It's this meeting at the hotel where we realize how hard this job is for a woman. It feels awkward, and you can tell Young Butler Shoes thinks it could be borderline inappropriate to be seen with a woman at a table having dinner. He also wants to see Ken because he wants to fire them. Joan handles the awkward situation perfectly as only she can, even though it's really a disaster. Joan is so obviously the smartest person in the whole company, as well the most hardworking one. She quickly picks up on Young Butler Shoes wanting to flex his business degree chops and heads to meet with a college marketing professor whom she ends up schooling with her advertising and marketing wisdom. I love how Joan keeps looking at things from new angles all the time, learning everywhere she looks, and stacking experience for the future.

This episode's title, "Time Zones" is clearly speaking to not only the new bicoastal nature of the business, but also the disconnect of the various characters. No one seems to be united, or understood. Everyone is disconnected from everyone else in sad ways. There are many layers of this idea of disconnection and loneliness, but in no one is it as serious as Roger. Carefree, hedonistic Roger has rode the free love train full of psychotropic drugs to it's horrible conclusion; despair. We see Roger for the first time this season lying asleep naked in a room full of other naked people answering the phone of his daughter calling. He later meets her for breakfast where she offers him forgiveness for his past transgressions. He is non-plussed and unaffected and clearly doesn't care for this new age-iness his daughter is tossing around. When he returns home drunk to the naked woman in his bed he listlessly gets into bed next to her exhausted, while nonchalantly acknowledging the other naked man lying next to her. Roger's past of blatant sin has led him to the point where even the most shocking sins cannot shock him. He's in despair, yet he does not even seem to know it.

Finally we see Don Draper about 7 minutes in. The epic slow motion shot of Don outside the airport in the land of La La, followed by the bombshell Megan driving up in a sexy little car, slowly glamour-pussing her way to him in the mini-est of mini dresses was pure Mad Men glamour. We see a happy looking Draper couple -- what is going on here?! We go on to see Golden Girl Megan and Don meet her agent for dinner and the news of her getting a role on a NBC tv show, (because everything she touches turns to gold!), then Don helps her stumble home drunk to the house she has rented in the Hollywood Hills. I thought the little house creepy and dark and so opposed to the clean, cool, and minimally decorated New York apartment. The difference between early sixties and late sixtes decor, but not a change in the right direction. Megan remains the epitome of the "modern woman" and everything Don was previously trying to escape in his marriage with Betty. Megan even throws an issue of Playboy to Don before leaving for her acting class while telling him to not rip out ads from her magazines. But I thought this quick scene a perfect example of how the Sixties, with all it's promises of happiness by just casting off the shackles of morality, leave people empty. Don shows no reaction to the magazine being thrown at him. Not only has he followed the path of lust and immorality exemplified by Playboy and it's societal acceptance, but he knows fully that it brings no happiness at all, only loneliness and self-loathing.  As Don's experience shows, simply shaking off moral absolutes doesn't change the reality of what committing those sins does to one's soul.

But, all is not perfect with the Draper marriage despite appearances. Don has clearly let Megan believe he's still working, and that he's in LA for work. Megan feels that there is something wrong, and mentions that she's "nervous". Don stoically let's her believe all this. He has been lying to everyone for so long it is a natural state. I'm not sure if Megan still thinks he's the honest man she made him to be, but she's definitely not bent on finding the truth about him and their marriage. The bicoastal nature of their marriage cannot be helping and obviously they are not in the same time zones physically or emotionally as husband and wife.

Don meets with Pete in LA who is wearing sporty plaid pants with a sweater tied around his shoulders in what must be a laughable costume for 1960's California outside of a golf course. Don thinks he looks like a hippie, which only speaks to Don's refusal to bend to the era. Last season was an impetus for change for most of the show's characters and as Don knows he must change but hasn't come up with the answer of how to do it, Pete clearly, has refused to change. Pete is in his idea of heaven. The shallowness of LA is just what he's been looking for, while the the morals which require nothing of him, feed his lack of integrity to a tee. He shows Don the LA offices while a very perky blonde real estate agent/Pete-girlfriend comes in and talks neighbourhoods with them both. I can picture the tacky McMansion Pete is looking for already.

Don flies back to New York while chatting up Neve Campbell who wears a stunning wrap-around dress. And can we all just revel in the dream that is finding yourself sitting next to Don Draper on a plane for a moment? Ok, moving on. Don has a couple tender moments with this stranger on a plane who also admits to loneliness after losing her husband the year before to "thirst". As they land the woman casually mentions her car coming for her and some tawdry proposition, but Don shoots her down, unwilling it seems to pursue adultery like the good old days. Don may be realizing that the mistakes he keeps repeating are sins that pull him down further and further.

We then see Don in his apartment watching the Nixon inauguration with mentions of war and piece which harken back to the few glimpses of tv Don was watching at Megan's house mentioning Utopia and paradise. One can't help but sense that Don is beginning to understand that he's at war with himself. He desperately wants to live a life of truth but finds himself reverting back to past habits of sin unable to free himself and experience genuine happiness.

The best twist of the episode comes as Freddy Rumsen himself walks into Don's apartment and lets us know that Don is really behind his epiphanies of advertising genius. Don has his creative juices flowing once again, and appears to be working, wanting to gain credibility again at his own workplace albeit surreptitiously. Alone, Don shuns a bottle of booze and attempts to close his open balcony door. He fails, then morosely goes out onto his Balcony of Depression and ends the scene hugging himself as he becomes numb to the cold. No longer able to numb himself spiritually and emotionally with alcohol he can only attempt to numb himself physically out in the literal cold.

Peggy meanwhile has continued to suffer at work. Ted Chaugh shows his face from California and Peggy has an unfortunate encounter with him in the lunchroom at the office. Stan of course, sees her anger, but she has no time for him. Lou continues to be completely oblivious to her talent and refuses to reconsider his previous decision. She's frustrated by the neglect of creativity and integrity of the department. Peggy has also been dealing with complaints from her tenant. She may have freed herself from a bum of a boyfriend but she's still left with a dump of a house. The show ends with Peggy returning home to find her brother-in-law who had come over to help with repairs. He then leaves because he doesn't like to leave her sister alone in Brooklyn. Peggy closes the door behind him and collapses to the floor weeping bitterly in her utter loneliness to end the episode. I think I've lost count of how many times I've been absolutely heartbroken for Peggy over the course of this show, but this scene was gut-wrenching to watch.

The critics are tiring of Don's slow progression and inability to change. But when we look at Don's character from a spiritual perspective it's clear that he's trying again and again to find happiness and truth, but by himself and only through his own power. I still believe that Mad Men will end with Don's redemption of sorts, and it may be coming through these glimpses of self awareness and shunning of past sins that we see in this episode. I think it's a season off to an interesting start.

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  1. Ted was so cold with Peggy. It made me cringe! It is interesting to see how much the office really needs Don. They are just floundering without him. Don and Megan are pretty much doomed marriage wise. I can't wait to see Sally and Betty in the coming episodes. It was a great premiere, beautifully shot. The last 2 scenes with Peggy and then Don really helped set the tone for how badly everyone is doing. It can only get better for them from here? I hope so! I love this show.

  2. Oh....and Ken and his hyperactive eyepatch rant really weirded me out!

  3. Great recap, Christy! I read an article in the Atlantic where Matthew Weiner said this season is heavily influenced by A Tale of Two Cities...this bi-coastal premiere definitely fits the bill, and suggests (hopefully!) that redemption of sorts is part of the show's plan for Don (and Roger, I think--he might be the biggest Sydney Carton of them all). Can't wait to see how it develops this season!
    Some less-than-deep thoughts about the episode:
    - Don's first scene in the airport--awesome.
    - Joan looks amazing in electric blue
    - Pete's sideburns??!!! Seriously.
    - not sure how I feel about Party of Five entering the Mad Men world. Neve Campbell looked gorgeous and definitely looks the part...but, but, I don't know. Her character had an actual name in the credits, I noticed, even though she doesn't introduce herself here. Guess that means she might be back?


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