Don Draper enters the modern age
I am so glad Mad Men is back! And not just because I love Peggy’s new hairdo and I missed Roger’s sardonic one-liners (favorite of the premier: “Oh good, I caught you in a vulnerable position” to Don as he lays on his office sofa drinking scotch). There really is no other show on TV right now that creates such perfectly crafted episodes and the premier was a glorious example of how well the show does what it does.
It is 1964 and things they are a’changing. No longer the stable married man in the suburbs, Don is living a lonely bachelor’s life in the Village, right around the corner, in fact, from Stonewall and the cultural revolution that is brewing. Is Don pining for the carefree days of his marital philandering? Is he trying to capture the free-for-all spirit of the beatniks he dallied with once upon a time (remember Midge from season 1?)? If so, he is failing miserably, unable even to pick up a pretty co-ed and resorting to a prostitute who is willing to slap him around a little. After all his unfaithfulness, we realize that Don was the old fashioned one, never really intending to leave the idyllic middle class life he fought so hard to attain.
But the real sign of the times is not in Don’s spartan bedroom, but in his striped office at the newly constituted Sterling Cooper Draper and Pryce. It has become a common place in speculation about the season to remark how bold the creators were to “reset” the show by freeing our protagonists from their stuffy Madison Avenue firm. And the new SCDP is anything but stuffy. They are, whether Don likes it or not, the scrappy upstart. And that tension – between wanting to maintain the Mad Men image and polish and going for the gutsy new thing – is what made the premier pop for me. Best of all, I loved that they played this tension out via two ad campaigns.
Peggy and Pete’s stunt with the ham fight is exactly the kind of thing a white-shoed firm is going to look down on, and the old Don is disdainful of such gimmicks. As we learned in season 1, Don does not do gimmicks. The problem is, the world wants gimmicks. It wants two-pieces that are actually bikinis and to buy products associated with just a touch of gossip and mild newspaper scandal. We may be a ways away from reality television, but Don’s Glo-Coat ads are tapping into that nascent desire to blur the line between advertising and entertainment, reality and virtual reality. Somewhere after scolding Peggy for her stunt and dressing down the prudish bathing suit company, Don enters the modern world, holsters on his guns and gives the Wall Street Journal the gimmicky pop piece that blurs the line between the Don we’ve always known – tight-lipped and toeing the line – and Don of the modern age – willing to give the world the show it wants. If this is going to set the tone for the rest of the season, I can’t wait! Give me more of SCDP, even if they can’t show me the second floor.
Of course, the premier wasn’t all office politics and bickering around a non-existent conference table. We also got a first glimpse of the early culture of divorced families. I have worried how Betty and kids would stay involved, especially as the center of gravity shifts back to the work place. But I hope they can find a way to do it well, because Betty is only getting more interesting to me. Betty has always been both a cipher for the every-woman of her age, and a totally unique disaster, a child-mother crippled by her own stunted desires and her own strange proclivities. There is something telling that we didn’t see baby Eugene once this episode and that finally someone has called Betty on her parenting techniques (even if Henry’s mom was a bit of a prude herself, she’s got Betty’s number when she says her children are terrified of her). The seeds of discord are already planted in that marriage and I would love to see what happens if Betty really has to start fending for herself (though I shudder at the thought for poor Sally and Bobby’s sake).
There is so much more to say: I loved Peggy and Pete’s new office relationship – they actually make a great team and it was so fun to see them playing up each others strengths. I don’t really want to see them fall in love again – being creative sparring partners is too good to jinx. Give me more Roger anytime any day, especially as Don’s wing man in the new dating world (especially if he will continue to rate Don’s dates on a scale of how “grabby” he is in the cab). And please let Joan’s presence at the intra-office pow-wow signify that she will stay front and center.
I know you won’t be able to join in the conversation this week, but I can’t wait to hear what you think of the new season.
From a vulnerable position,