Thoughts on Mad Men s7e1, “Time Zones”

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the end is nigh. image courtesy of Deccan Chronicle

Holy hell am I glad that Mad Men is back. I’ve been an avid watcher since the show’s start in 2007, and it’s easily one of the most compelling shows on television. I have immense beef with people who claim it’s “boring” or that “nothing happens”; that’s a nice web of lies! The hell show are YOU people watching? Mad Men is subtle and the characters are multifaceted, I feel as if I actually know these people, which is no simple feat when it comes to writing. The writing on this show challenges us to look a little deeper, to examine things closely, and to know these people. The arcs and themes from episode to episode flesh out the season, and it all comes together to form a tightly-knit bigger picture – which is not entirely in focus until you see it all. It’s sublime. The show is the very definition of a slow burn – we watch these characters learn and grow throughout one of the most insane and formative decades in American history, the 1960s. Boring? Really? Consider yourself side-eyed into oblivion.

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Weiner’s homage to The Graduate and Jackie Brown. image courtesy of imgur

The premiere starts with now-freelancer Freddy Rumsen giving a pitch that is frankly way out of his league, and I immediately wondered if Don was the man behind the curtain, the Wizard of Oz. In breaking the fourth wall, it’s almost as if Freddy is pitching directly to us; we see that Peggy is in the driver’s seat, delivering ideas to the glib Mr. Rogers-esque Lou Avery. The episode is, in a word, dark. To say the very least. We see that it’s only been a couple of months since Don/Dick’s Hershey pitch manpain meltdown the day before Thanksgiving 1968, placing everyone around mid/late January 1969. Here’s a refresher of where we last saw Don:

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“it was the only sweet thing in my life.” (tumbleweeds)

image courtesy of Tumblr

As I expected, Don seems to be struggling to find purpose during his non-negotiable leave of absence from SC&P, and rightly so; advertising is the only thing he really knows how to do, and do well. SC&P is a place where he was in control, he was calling the shots. What does he do now? Don is still quite early 1960s in his look – clean-shaven and no sideburns creeping down to his jawline. The only sign we see that it’s 1969 in Don’s outward appearance is an ever so slightly wider tie. Working with Freddy as his mouthpiece, we can see that he still cares about the company, and putting out quality work.

Don’s entrance scene is one of his best in the series, I think. We see him en route to LAX, looking impossibly sharp, all set to the tune of Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man”. Despite not being at SC&P, Don still gives off the vibe and posture of being in charge. Megan rolls up in a gleaming emerald Austin-Healey convertible, and the show busts into slow motion as she gets out of the car to greet him in an insanely short dress. What the hell show am I watching again? So stylised! So fun! So.. out of character? Then I remember that all is never as it seems. In a mere few seconds, this scene shows the façades they both put on to appear happy and in control of their lives. In reality, Megan’s fate is decided ultimately by her agent (who makes a rude quip about her teeth at dinner) and Don’s fate is decided by the partners at SC&P. They live on opposite coasts and have separate lives. She lives in a wood-panelled nightmare abode tucked away in the hills, Coyotes howling in the distance, and is nervous about her own husband visiting; there is a ton of tangible tension between her and Don. I’m shocked they’re still married, but I have a feeling that won’t last for much longer once her career takes off. Girl can do better.

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well, this is uncomfortable. image courtesy of Grantland

Man, Roger. What in the hell is going on in your head? Season 6 ended on such a positive note for Roger! He was being welcomed into Joan’s home (with an aproned Bob Benson carving a turkey) for Thanksgiving last we saw, joyfully playing with their mugging-related lovechild, and now he wakes up to a mess of a home the morning after some gross Coachella orgy. Roger is having some late-life crisis where he’s both rebelling against his own mortality, and railing against losing control of his life. He’s been rendered nonessential to the day-to-day at SC&P; Cutler is chomping at the bit to cut him loose on an invite-only event once Ted pops into town unexpectedly. His awful daughter Margaret calls him for brunch, only to offer a blatantly condescending apology. Roger is in a sad state. A man who has lost control of his life, Roger doesn’t know what his purpose is anymore. I’m worried about Roger Sterling.

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 Queen Peggy. image courtesy of Slate

Peggy Olson. I love her, and I had high hopes for her at the end of last season. Too bad she’s reporting to Lou Avery, the dad-joke making schlub that Duck recruited to temporarily replace Don. A man who willingly accepts mediocrity with open arms, which Peggy simply cannot reconcile. Peggy is frustrated at SC&P, feeling that great work isn’t being produced as it once was. While Stan appears to be happy with Avery’s lax standards, ambitious Peggy is a student of Don and only wants to strive and struggle for brilliance. Can you blame her? Meanwhile, she’s still living in that shithole Upper West Side apartment Abe convinced her to buy. I’m really glad she stabbed that guy and all, but I was hoping she’d have moved by now. She’s being bugged by foreign tenants to fix things, and can’t even get a moment of silence at the office since they’re now calling her at work. Peggy is at her wit’s end. She cares about the idea, the real meaning behind advertising, the feeling – and her new boss just wants a paycheck. It’s heartbreaking that she can’t know that Don is still involved in her day-to-day, that someone is watching over SC&P and still cares about excellence. To top it all off, Ted shows up at the office unexpectedly one morning and they have a nice awkward kitchen encounter. Oy vey.

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CATCH! image courtesy of imgur

Joanie is back, in a super-involved business role! After landing Avon at the end of last season, Joan feels a sense of pride that she’s helping the company prosper in a way she couldn’t previously (and hey, she didn’t have to bang hamplanet Herb to make a difference this time around). Joan takes Butler Shoes into her own hands when they attempt to take all of their advertising in-house, and does so with class and persistence. She resourcefully speaks with a Professor about the finer points of business management to fuel her arguments. Joan gains some semblance of control while Kenny appears to be losing his mind. He’s still recovering from the boozy lunatics at Chevy shooting his eye out, and is beginning to crack under the stress of managing all of the accounts at SC&P.

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this hilarious image courtesy of IBTimes

Ironically, the only person who looks like he’s really doing well is another one of my favourites, the ever-absurd Pete Campbell. Pete’s had a rough go of it these past few seasons, and I’m glad to see him finally experiencing a little bit of peace in a place where he truly seems to fit in. He’s escaped the gravitational pull of his namesake and is now living in Los Angeles, a fresh start. This guy now looks like an LA supervillain with that hair and wardrobe. The ex New Yorker has adjusted almost suspiciously well to Los Angeles, and Don experiences what looks like a twinge of jealousy when he sees how honestly carefree and happy Pete is. Greeting Don with a hug is the first sign that something is different in Pete; come to think of it, his whole persona is warmer. Knowing how roughly these two started off working together, this role reversal is a pleasant surprise.

As the episode wraps up, we see that everyone is in fact pretty damn miserable. Peggy collapses onto the floor of her awful apartment sobbing, the hellish sounds of the neighbourhood swirling in the background. She’s lost control over everything that matters, and she can’t even find peace in her own home. Don is sitting alone and sullen on his gorgeous balcony, freezing in the January cold. Roger lies restless in bed with patchouli-stank strangers, his home taken over. Jesus, that’s dark.

I’m very interested to see where this season takes our cast of characters, and this is one of the few shows where I cannot predict a goddamn thing. I want to see Betty, silver fox Henry Francis and Sally in the next episode; they were sorely missed in the premiere. I have so many questions! Will Don/Dick actually deal with his manpain? Will Megan make it big in Hollywood and leave Don firmly in her rearview? Is Bobby still the same actor? Will Pete move out of Miracle Mile? Does SC&P help fake the Moon Landing? Will Peggy finally get the hell out of the Upper West Side and become Creative Director? Is Harry Crane still an offensive boob? Is Margaret on LSD? Is Ken’s eyepatch permanent?! Only time will tell. Thanks for reading!

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