Zou Bisou Bisou – mon dieu!
Well, Natalie, Mad Men is back and what a joyful romp of a two-hour premiere! The boiling tension just below the surface, the promise of drama and intrigue to come, but all held slightly off center so we could just get to know each other again over a tea-smoking good party. I hadn’t realized how much I missed this group of snarky, caddish louts until I saw them all assembled, some better or worse for wear, figuring out their way into the brave new world of the mid-to-late 1960s. I couldn’t figure out the exact date of our launch, but context clues and a few google searches suggest spring/summer of 1966, a little more than six months from where we left off (for example, we left Joan a few months pregnant (not even showing) and her baby is clearly just a few weeks old). Oh what a difference a half-year makes!
There is so much to say about each of these characters and all their small changes and also how little has changed, but let’s start with Megan. As the “new girl”/new wife, she was the perfect foil to reflect each of the old standbys and what we’ve missed (or not) in their absence. We were both deeply skeptical of Megan last season and I remember us worrying if she could handle the double burden of being the young, second wife and the new-fashioned career girl riding the coats of her husband. The jury is still out on both counts, but at least after last night I have more of a sense of her fighting spirit. She is willing, to a point, to really do the work, putting in her time on silly coupons (and over the weekend too!), and trying her best to figure out the enigma of a man she married. And for all her housecleaning skills, she has a genuine whiff of ingenue about her, believably horrified to imagine that the cost of her success might be unending scowls or sarcasm or worse, making grouchy, inappropriate comments like Peggy two drinks in. But more than anything else, Megan represents the new generation, the quiet infiltration of stuffy white collar Madison Avenue with the beatnik spirit of Greenwich Village. While the extremes of both worlds will never mix, slowly (and then not so slowly), the intellectual liberals will become hipster fashionistas and the age of advertising as we know it will be born. Megan is not so different than Midge, really, with her casual friendships with flamboyant black gay men and lack of sexual inhibitions, but she is also quite different in that she sees no contradiction in mixing that world with the world of SCDP. She is, it turns out, completely different than her obvious counterpart, Jane Sterling. Despite seducing and stealing her married boss, Jane was pretty much cut from the same cloth as the first wife she replaced, just younger and more tan. Megan is something entirely different, a whole new breed of sexy, ambitious, and confused.
Perhaps the best comparison, and the one we were offered implicitly several times, is with Peggy. The possibility for genuine tension and even hatred between those two is high, yet they seem to have something like a buddy friendship. Peggy seems to like Megan’s work, even if it is just coupons, and Megan seems to want to please her. Both women owe their jobs to Don, but in very different ways. But where Megan seems so darn optimistic about her future and so suspicious of the snarky backbiting she encounters everywhere around her, Peggy is holding on fiercely to everything she’s got. In the process, she is turning into a mini-Don, even as Don embraces connubial bliss and knocks off early after what appear to be pointless days anyway. Even though Peggy is still hanging around with her underground politico, she has not really caught the spirit of the age. Think about the outfits each wore to the party – Megan almost like she could have come from a 1970s disco and Peggy still in a sweet 1960s party frock that Betty might have worn to a garden club.
Speaking of which, Betty’s conspicuous absence inside that huge country manor left me dying to know how those home fires are burning. But I also loved the suggestion that the attention has shifted away from that drama to new ones. Including watching Pete and Trudy pick up right about where we first met Betty and Don, only Trudy seems delighted to finally live in a place where she can leave the house in her robe and Pete is doubting her advice that discontent is really just the fuel for ambition, instead of, say, just discontent. I’m not sure what to make of his new card-game train buddies, except that maybe that is what Pete needs to survive, the solidarity of other workhorse husbands who feel the bridle but take the bit. Don would never have played cards with another man on the train, but then again, Pete, for all his sniveling and faux pas, might just beat Don at the upper-middle-class game.
I am going on too long and I haven’t even mentioned Joan or Layne’s strange wallet incident or the promise of racial politics finally entering the SCDP purview. I will sign off and leave some of these juicy topics to you, but I will say that the idea that SCDP might just hire their first African-American because of a old boy’s club practical joke feels exactly right, though it certainly won’t help make things easier for the woman they hire.
So glad to be back!
I too was captivated by Megan in this episode, but given my whole-hearted agreement with everything you’ve said about her (and I didn’t think of the hipsters taking over advertising – nice, thanks for that!), I’ll focus my comments elsewhere.
Aside from Megan, it was Lane who really stuck out to me in this episode. What genius acting: to move from in-control exec, to desperate for Joan’s help, to even more desperate for phone sex with a stranger…the creepy mouth-breathing paired with the childish smile evoked an awkward teenage boy wanking one out in the jr. high bathroom before the headmaster can catch him. I found myself reminded that as much as these men like their dalliances, there’s something almost dangerous to Lane’s excursions from his wife. Don and Roger – these guys have a sex appeal that makes their infidelity, well, even when it’s crashing, still somehow sexy. Lane isn’t sexy (indeed, I doubt Joan would muse wistfully about how he looks blushing). Don and Roger’s desperate moves of sexual desire are just as desperate as Lane’s…but they don’t look quite so desperate. So what will this picture hold? Will he try Delores again? Or has she ignited something in him that he’ll need to indulge in some other dangerous place? It’s tough to say at this moment…but I am reminded that Lane was the one who had the penchant for girly clubs, and the preference for the African American girl in that club. I don’t know what a new African American employee will have to deal with at SCDP, but my hunch is – it’s going to have something to do with Lane’s libido.
And this I think reveals one of the most truly tragic dimensions of the show – of all the characters, Lane is the only major one we’ve seen really interact with a black character, and Lane is the one who moves past the panicked circle of execs trying to figure out what to do with a room full of resume-toting activists to actually, without any sense of panic, collect those resumes. Somehow, the bundle of his complex desires has opened to him a world that the others don’t know and, therefore, fear. But Lane can move in that world – thus opening the door of possibility to it. The tragic aspect comes in with the fact that it’s brokenness that has opened that door, and almost certainly brokenness that is going to close it.
More on Joan next week, I’m sure – but for now let’s leave it at how clearly they are going to string us along with the paternal storyline. Roger’s, “there’s MY baby; now get that brat out of the way” was just perfect! And, yes, bring on Betty – I read somewhere she’s going to be back with force this season, and I’m ready for it. Indeed, I’m hoping for both Betty and Sally to bring some mother/daughter drama to the screen. I don’t know about you, but I was struck by how on the cusp of adulthood Sally was in that opening scene – childish pajamas on what is becoming a young woman’s body. I’ll be curious to see how the presence of Megan impacts the storyline they were developing last season with Sally’s burgeoning sexuality, and how that’s going to fit into these different and overlapping stories of women’s lib.
Excited for what’s next!