How Mad Men Got Its Groove Back

Until tonight, I had begun to despair about Mad Men.  Don Draper was now a dutiful – if still selfish – husband and father, having settled into domestic bliss with Megan.  No more skirt chasing or cut throat antics at the office. His ex-wife got fat, and boring.  Daughter Sally remained spooky.  Rodger was still a funny drunk, and Pete was still a cringe-worthy worm.

With only a few episodes left, where was all this going?  Never fear, cracks are beginning to appear in Don’s milquetoast existence.

Desertion (or perceived desertion) – mostly by the women in Don’s life — was the central theme tonight.  A deserted, disappointed Don Draper is a dark Don Draper, and we all love Dark Don Draper… preferably with a tumbler of scotch in his hand and a fedora pulled down over one eye.

To start, Megan announces she got a call back, and casually informs Don that if she gets the part she’ll be in Boston for 3 months for rehearsals.  Don flips out.  She doesn’t get the part, but I suspect tonight is not the last time Megan’s Broadway aspirations will threaten domestic tranquility at Chez Draper.

Desertion number two: Peggy Olson is leaving Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce.  Her contributions were dismissed once too often and she has accepted an offer from a rival firm.

Don’s expression when Peggy announces her resignation is full of heartache and confusion, despite the fact that he’d thrown a wad of cash in her face the day before, because she dared complain about Ginsburg getting credit for her work.

The writing for this scene is superb.  At first Don patronizes and bullies Peggy.  “Let’s pretend I’m not responsible for every single good thing that has ever happened to you,” he says, demanding a salary figure that would make her stay.  But this time Peggy is in control, and she politely declines.  She extends her hand, and instead of shaking it… he kisses it as Peggy cries softly.  There’s nothing romantic about that kiss.  Don is scared, lonely and devastated.

Even more poignant are tonight’s scenes with Joan.  Last week, these two old friends slipped out of the office early to test drive a Jaguar, have a few drinks, and cry on each other’s shoulders – all while doing a little harmless flirting.  More great writing.

Tonight things get darker, as a slimy Jaguar executive makes his approval of hiring of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce contingent upon a date with Joan – and by “date”, he doesn’t mean dinner and dancing.  Pete poses the idea to Joan, and when she doesn’t brain him with her stapler he assumes she’s open to the idea.

Is she really willing?  It’s hard to tell at first, but once Pete indicates that ALL the partners are supportive of her prostituting herself – but only if SHE really wants to – she quietly goes forward with it, in exchange for a 5% partnership.

Joan’s performance is breathtaking.  Her poise rarely slips, but when it does you see her profound disappointment because Roger (her former lover), Lane (a supposed friend who urges her to take the partnership instead of cash, so that his financial shenanigans are not discovered) and most of all Don, have so little regard for her.

The writing and performances get even better when Don hears of the plan, and rushes to Joan’s house to stop her.  He tells her no account is worth the sacrifice she’s considering.  She lets him believe that she won’t go forward with the date, but in fact the date is already over and the deed is done.  Don only realizes this the following morning, when word arrives that Jaguar is on board, and Joan shows up for her first partners meeting.

The looks that pass between Joan and Don at the end of the episode remind me of why I watch Mad Men – how it hooked me and pulled me in from the start.  Isn’t it just like the writers, to come up with something this good with only a few episodes left in the season?  For me, tonight ranks right up there with season four’s “The Suitcase”. I think Mad Men fans will be talking about it for a long time.

What was your favorite scene in tonight’s Mad Men?  And why do you think Don couldn’t work with the “Jaguar is like a mistress” pitch at first? He’s certainly had plenty of experience with the topic!

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World

Today I’m suffering from PMMS – Post Mad Men Syndrome.   Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 17 months, you know that last night was the Mad Men season five premier.  Two hours!  As one clever Twitter user noted, Don Draper and Tiger Woods made their comebacks on the same day… which could be a coincidence.  Or maybe not.

Some questions were answered right off the bat:  Don did indeed marry Megan the receptionist.  He seems to be suppressing his hound-dog ways, channeling a happy 1960s husband and father.  The fact that Megan has been promoted to the position of copywriter, despite her lack of applicable experience, may have something to do with this.  Don can now chase her around his desk, and order her to flash her bra, at will.  With Don, as we know, where there’s a will…

Megan’s probably thinking “if he must stare at cleavage at work, at least I can make sure it’s MY cleavage.”

There are other advantages to having your husband as your boss.  When he waltzes out the door at 5 p.m., leaving a pile of work for his subordinates, you get to leave too while casting a long, sad glance back at the rest of “the team” (i.e. Peggy) that says, “Hey, what can I do?  He’s my ride home!”

Megan is going to be a lot of fun, because it’s evident that Don’s narcissism and manipulative tendencies are already making her a little unbalanced.  When angry at Don, she cleans their apartment in her sexy black bra and panties while he watches.  You know, to PUNISH him.   This occurs the morning after she shimmied and serenaded him, Brigitte Bardot-style, in front of their colleagues.

Roger Sterling is still a womanizing lush, with a vicious wit.  When Joan arrives at the office to show off her (a.k.a. Roger’s) newborn son he shouts, “Where’s my baby?” before cheek-kissing Joan, who looks like she might faint at the prospect of her baby’s paternity being revealed.   He also skillfully talks Harry Crane into trading offices with Pete, for a mere $1,100.  Poor Harry never knew what hit him.

Aside from Megan’s promotion – and the fact that she still hasn’t had her teeth fixed — the biggest surprise may have been the fact that she knows Don’s true identify.  It was subtle.  During his post birthday party sulk he reminds her that, unbeknownst to the world, he’s actually been 40 for several months.  And later, she references Dick Whitman, which REALLY pisses him off.   This means there are now three women who know about Don’s sordid past – Faye, Betty and Megan.   All are, or will be (sorry, Megan!) women scorned.  Sneaky Pete Campbell also knows the score.

A few questions were left unanswered:

  • Where’s Mom of the Year, Betty Draper Francis?  Little mention is made of her, and I’m curious to see the state of her marriage after two years.
  • How are the Draper kids faring, post divorce?  Viewers got a quick snippet of Sally Draper as she smiled sweetly at Megan over breakfast.   Still waters run deep with that kid, so it’s hard to tell if she likes her pretty new stepmom… or if she’s planning to kill her in her sleep.
  • “Is it just me, or is the lobby filled with Negroes?” asks Roger Sterling.  Is it just me, or have we not heard the last of Civil Rights encroaching on Madison Avenue this season?  There was something very poignant about those graceful, earnest black women handing over their resumes for a job that didn’t exist.  It was hard to tell if any of the partners felt a twinge of… anything… at that moment.  But we all know Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce will not integrate voluntarily, unless it helps sell cigarettes or baked beans.

We shall see.