Episode 1 – The Doorway – Let’s Get Metaphysical
The 2 hour season premiere of Mad Men opened with, at first look, an inexplicable scene of someone having a heart attack while another man performs CPR. We then see Don and Megan basking in the sun on Waikiki Beach during Christmas week, 1967. Don is reading Dante’s Inferno. Not your usual vacation reading material but Don Draper is more than a little familiar with the several of the rings you go through on the descent into Hell. At the very least, he’s visited “Lust” and “Greed” more than once. The couple isn’t really on vacation, though. Don’s on an all-expense paid trip, courtesy of a pair of clients of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce – hoteliers who want the dashing ad-man to enjoy the full Hawaiian experience so that he can design an advertising campaign for their resort. Megan has finally managed to achieve a little of her dream of becoming an actress by landing a recurring role on a soap opera, “To Have and To Hold”. She’s happy about it and Don is, well, indifferent. Maybe he’s more than just indifferent. When Megan, during dinner with the hotel owners, gets up from the table to do the hula, Don looks even more uncomfortable than when she danced to Zou Bisou Bisou at his surprise birthday party last season.
After dinner, Don, unable to sleep, goes down to the bar where a young G.I. strikes up a conversation with him. The soldier is getting married in the morning because, as he tells Don, he’s heard that married soldiers have a stronger will to live if they know that someone is waiting for and caring about them. He asks Don to be his best man and Don agrees. When Megan wakes up the next morning, she walks out onto the balcony, sees her husband with the newlyweds and goes down to the beach to snap a photo. Don happens go home with the young soldier’s cigarette lighter – a simple mix-up, but it bothers Don and he can’t seem to get rid of the damn thing.
The trip to paradise did nothing to improve Don’s mood – it seems as if he was born to a life of angst and brooding. He’s come up with a presentation for the owners of the hotel and it hardly smells like wild orchids, ocean breezes and palm trees. He shows them a sketch of a man’s suit coat, tie, shoes and socks dropped on the beach without footprints in the sand leading to the water. For the clients, it’s reminiscent of the scene from “A Star is Born” where, at the end of the film, James Mason walks off into the ocean to drown himself. Executive producer Matt Weiner has never met a metaphor he didn’t like and this ad campaign by Don Drape/Dick Whitman is just oozing symbolism. I’m surprised that he didn’t have his main character reading “Paradise Lost” on that beach in Hawaii.
Death and loss seem to be the theme of this episode and Weiner has woven it into more than a couple of scenes. Roger Sterling’s mother has died and his secretary tries to tell him between her sobs. After downing a stiff drink, she manages to deliver the information and Roger ends up comforting her, telling the poor woman that his mother was, after all, 91 years old – it’s expected at that age. Roger gathers a group of friends and co-workers to the Sterling estate for a memorial service and begins to speak to the crowd about his mother. He’s interrupted by one of his aunts who says that she’s entitled to speak first, simply because she’s old enough to pull rank on him. Don staggers in, very drunk – the service itself was supposed to be liquor-free in honor of Mrs. Sterling – and promptly throws up. That doesn’t bother Roger nearly as much as the presence of an uninvited guest – his ex-wife Mona. Angry as hell, Roger tells her that she’s not welcome and announces ‘This is my funeral”. Perhaps it is, in a way. His daughter approaches him to find out how much she’s going to inherit, but Roger tells her that his mother is leaving her vast fortune to a zoo, to care for animals. Still on the hunt for some money for some less than clear business venture, she tells Roger all about the plan she and her husband have and Roger promises her that she won’t have to worry about start-up funds. Whatever the eulogy he was supposed to give for his mother might very well have been about his own life and legacy – broken relationships and a large checkbook.
It isn’t until later, when his secretary delivers the shoeshine box from the now-deceased man who spent many mornings with Roger that he finally breaks down, acknowledging and giving in to his grief. Absent from it all is Joan, whether because she wasn’t invited or just declined. Either way, it’s pretty obvious that she and Roger are not the same as they once were.
Peggy, on the other hand, is making a name for herself at her new advertising agency, Cutler, Gleason and Chaough, and has landed a Super Bowl spot featuring stereo headphones. Everybody’s thrilled about it until word gets around that a comedian made some jokes on Johnny Carson about an American G.I. who displays trophies of dead Viet Cong – a necklace made from their severed ears. Her ad was supposed to feature Marc Anthony with the line “lend my your ears”. Now she has to come up with something new – and fast. There’s no time to shoot a whole new commercial, so Peggy decides to look at some footage they already have to see if there’s a way to salvage the ad. While watching her bohemian boyfriend trying out the headphones, Peggy gets the idea to run the ad without sound or voice-over. She and her team find some out-takes from the original piece with the actor just enjoying the sound coming from the headphones, oblivious to those around him. Peggy saves the day, and the account, but she seems to be turning into Don. It’s New Year’s Eve and her team has been working for hours, withstanding her relentless criticism, something that Teddy Chaough has to bring to her attention. Teddy may have hired her, in some small part, to get under Don’s skin, but he also knows how talented she is, that she’s at her best in a crisis, and he doesn’t want to see her unravel the way Draper has.
Don’s ex, Betty, is still dealing with her own issues – yes, January Jones is still wearing that all that padding under her costumes. One of Sally’s friends, Sandy, is staying with the Francis family, having recently lost her mother. Sandy is a talented violinist who aspires to get into Julliard. After giving a performance for the family, Henry tells Betty how wonderful he thinks the girl is. Betty, in one of the most unsettling scenes she’s ever had, suggests that perhaps her husband should rape the girl, with her help, of course. It’s crude and shocking, but Betty seems to think it’s all very funny.
Sandy didn’t get into Julliard, and, in fact, set about to undo her chances. She tells Betty, during a late-night chat, that she’d like to disappear to New York City and see where life takes her. She leaves the house, without notice, and Betty goes in search of her. Betty ends up in a rather unsavory side of the city and finds a group of twenty-something hippies, bent on changing the world by throwing off their worldly things and embracing a more communistic approach to life. Sandy has sold her violin to one the young men for some cash, and Betty seems almost wistful about the possibilities of a life she left behind for the safety and security of suburbia and white picket fences. She returns home, now a brunette, which her son calls ugly and her husband sees as Elizabeth Taylor-esque.
The Drapers have new neighbors, Dr.Arnie and Sylvia Rosen, who they spend New Year’s Eve with. Over fondue and too much booze, Megan darkens the room to show the slides the Drapers took of their trip to Hawaii.
Arnie gets a phone call, summoning him to the hospital for an emergency. Don offers to walk him out, telling him that he needs to pick up some cigarettes, anyway. As Arnie looks for his skies – a cab in New York City in the wee hours of New Year’s morning isn’t going to happen – Don asks him what it’s like to have e a person’s life in your hands. Arnie tells him that it’s an honor to be trusted that way. He then tells Don that their jobs aren’t all that different because people will do anything to alleviate their anxiety. Dr. Rosen explains to Don, “You get paid to think about things they don’t want to think about and I get paid not to think about them.”
Don doesn’t get his cigarettes but, instead, knocks on a door in his apartment building. The door opens and Sylvia Rosen is standing inside. She’s been waiting for Don, as they’ve been having an affair. We ended last season with a Don on a bar stool, wondering if he was going to change his philandering ways, but he didn’t and he isn’t, because that’s who he is. Having an affair with Sylvia Rosen is Don’s way of tainting even the good Dr. Rosen. He admires the man and resents everything he represents. Oh, and that opening scene, with the man having a heart attack. That was the building’s doorman and the gentleman performing CPR was none other than Dr. Rosen. Don had asked the doorman what it was like to be dead, did he see a bright light. Don Draper is so afraid of dying or, even worse, just disappearing.
Episode 2 – Collaborators – Beloved Infidels
Pete and Trudy Campbell are hosting a get-together with some couples from the neighborhood. Pete, who’s all excited about the musical he just saw, “Hair”, offers to get tickets for some of their guests. As he describes it the show is “filled with profanity, marijuana smoking and simulated sexual acts”. There you have it – this is the dawning of Aquarius, for better and for worse. Pete has learned a lot about having extra-marital affairs following the emotional involvement he had with Beth last season, and now he’s just your run-of-the-mill horn-dog. He’d like to fancy himself in the same league as Don, but Pete is Pete – always the bridesmaid, never the bride when it comes to the art of seduction.
Before we get to Pete’s idea of getting some action, we see two representatives from Heinz who look like they’re headed for their own breakup. The head of Heinz Beans is not happy with the head of Heinz ketchup. It’s some sort of condiment sibling rivalry where the Ketchup guy – Ken Cosgrove calls it the “Coca-Cola of condiments” – is treated like the favorite son of the company and the Beans guy is more like the red-headed step-child. Mr. Beans doesn’t want Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce to go after the Mr. Ketchup’s account – that’s how much he hates the guy. While Ken finds the whole thing silly, Don reminds him that they should listen to Mr. Beans because “Sometimes you’ve gotta dance with the one who brung ya”.
Teddy walks in and hears part of her conversation. He’d like her to go after the Ketchup account before anybody else gets wind of the rift, but Peggy isn’t so sure. One thing she would like to address is the way she treated her team over the whole headphone incident. She’s tried to give them a pep-talk, but Peggy isn’t really good at it. She may be a genius on the advertising front, but dealing with people really isn’t her strong point. It’s still sweet to see, though, no matter how awkward it looked and sounded.
Don, walking out of the apartment building with Arnie, stops short, tells his neighbor that he forgot his cigarettes, heads back inside. He makes a beeline for the Rosen’s apartment and has his version of the breakfast of champions – Sylvia and a smoke. This is probably why Don can’t or won’t quit smoking. Sylvia later walks in on Megan in the laundry room. Megan is reading out her housekeeper and ends up firing the woman. Megan starts to cry and the two women go upstairs for a little chat. Megan tells Sylvia that she had a miscarriage a couple of days earlier and hasn’t told anyone, not even Don. As Megan explains that pregnancy is a choice, and by 1968, it was, Sylvia becomes upset. She tells Megan that her own religious beliefs would never allow for such a decision, making Megan feel terrible about even thinking that way. The irony isn’t lost – a woman who’s having an affair with her neighbor’s husband is lecturing the hapless wife about morality.
Don walks in on the two women, managing to recover from that nanosecond “uh oh” moment. Sylvia leaves, after reminding the Drapers about their dinner date for that evening. Megan asks Don to make the proper apologies to the Rosens at dinner that night because she’s not in the mood to go out. Don arrives at the restaurant and sits with the Rosens, but Arnie is called away to the hospital, leaving his wife alone with Don. Sylvia is dealing with the guilt from their affair, especially after her talk with Megan. Don isn’t having it, at all.
He tells her that he wants her All. The. Time. and adds “Now I understand. You want to feel shitty right up to the time I take your dress off…because I’m going to do that.” And he does, and it’s very, very hot. Later Megan tells her husband about her miscarriage but, although he’s saying the right thing, he doesn’t seem all that broken up about the news.
Herb Rennet shows up at SCDP. You remember Herb. He’s the Jaguar dealer who Joan bedded so that SCDP could get his business. Yeah, that’s the one. He drops by Joan’s office, just as full of himself as ever and asks her if she’s missed him. He says “You know there’s a part of you that’s happy to see me”. Joan meets his eyes with her own icy stare and says “And I know there’s a part of you you haven’t seen in years.”
Yep, Joan took the fat guy down. Herb backs out of her office and heads over to see Don. He wants Don to change up the original Jaguar campaign originally pitched by Don, and, instead, put a greater emphasis on local dealerships. Don thinks he’s an idiot, and manages to shoot down the idea in front of the Jaguar executives, without breaking a sweat. Pete’s pissed but we really don’t care.
Now, about Pete and his budding career as a cheater. He’s lured one of his neighbor’s wives to his bachelor pad in the city. He offers her some crackers and nuts, which she declines and then asks her of the temperature is okay, because things are going to get hot. He’s smooth, alright. He leads her to bed and the deed is done. Later that night, the same woman is banging on the Campbells’ back door. When Trudy answers, she sees the woman’s been punched in the nose. The woman’s husband is bellowing, for all to hear, that his wife is now Pete’s problem. While Trudy goes to get some First Aid stuff, Pete all but throws the woman out the door, offering no more than to call a cab to take her to a motel. Trudy drives her to a motel and , the next morning, is waiting for Pete to wake up. She has a few new rules for him, now that the neighbor lady has told her all about the affair. Trudy doesn’t want a divorce. No, that would be too easy. She bans him from their house telling him “I’m drawing a 50-mile radius around this house, and if you so much as open your fly to urinate, I will destroy you.” We’ve seen what Trudy is capable of and, if I were Pete, I’d stick to those rules.
It was no surprise that the song at the end of the episode was “Just a Gigolo”.