Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce crew are back (just as those pervasive ads have been promising), after an excruciating 17-month-vacation, but in the SCDP offices, only six months have passed since we last saw AMC's Mad Men.
The year is 1966, and many of series creator Matthew Weiner's favorite themes have returned (jealousy, most notably) in new incarnations, while those that pervaded last season (debauchery and adultery) are notably absent. Well, unless you count Pete's (Vincent Kartheiser) martini-motivated run-in with a pole, which yielded that completely gratifying bloody nose. Our only qualm? That it wasn't Roger's (John Slattery) fist that delivered the blow. But we digress.
Mad Men's two-hour season premiere, titled "A Little Kiss," also reintroduces the subject of civil rights, which was looming on the periphery of season four (Carla listening to MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech surreptitiously) and looks poised to come front-and-center this year (see: the opening scene's civil rights protests and a possible first black employee in the SCDP offices). It may be mere months later, but for much of the cast, it's a whole new song and dance.
Don Is Back, Looking Suspiciously Happy
We say "suspiciously" only because a content Don is truly uncomfortable to watch, like a fish who somehow manages to make it by just writhing on the sand. Still, Don does look happier than we've ever seen him. He's in his office, stealing kisses, and even managing to finagle a little cleavage out of Megan (Jessica Paré), smiling almost as giddily with her as he did in those young Dick scenes with Anna, which makes us think he might mean what he told Megan (“I feel like myself when I’m with you") at the close of last season. Maybe Megan really can replace Anna as "the only person in the world who really [knows him]."
Then again, maybe not. Megan does throw him a surprise party for his 40th birthday, something anyone who truly understands Don would perceive as an ill-fated idea. Even Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) warns her that "men hate surprises," owing to her observation a prior conversation with Don about the unimportance of birthdays (on Peggy's own birthday, no less). Peggy seems like an unwilling confidant to Megan, which we assume by her passive-aggressive jab at the party about being the only one working on the weekends, and her general distaste for Don's new found state of bliss.
"I don't recognize that man," Peggy admits to Stan (Jay R. Ferguson). "He's kind...and patient. It concerns me." And, we have to admit, it concerns us too. Is chipper Don here to stay, or is Weiner setting us up for some major rug-pulling-moment with Don's dark side coming back full throttle? Only time (with Megan) will tell.
Roger's sarcasm is back, and his bitter wit too.
Roger's witticisms are back in full, semi-cheesy force (easy on the airplane puns, old guy!), and his new target seems to be Pete, who has an over-sized divot in his shoulder, complaining about everything from Trudy's (Alison Brie) post-baby fashion (leaving the house with a robe, gasp!) to his small, cramped-up, unflattering office.
Trudy calls dissatisfaction "a symptom of ambition," but, really, Pete's just a downer. He's permanently unhappy but he's entertainingly miserable, and we kind of love him for it. Who else would schedule a fake meeting with Coca-Cola just to make a point? And call a partners meeting just to brag and throw an elaborate tantrum? The latter move, to Pete's credit, does result in a new office, albeit Harry's (Rich Sommer) old one. Pete is back, and he seems more icily self-assured than ever, even if he does look a little weathered by it all—something we thought we were imaging it until Jane called him out on that receding hairline!
Chauvinism Is Also Back (But Did It Really Ever Leave?)
Lane's (Jared Harris) wife is back in town, but that doesn't stop him from making creepy, borderline phone sex calls to the sexy, flirtatious wife of a man whose wallet Lane finds in a cab. He may sound like Carey Grant, like his mysterious woman with the heavy-Brooklyn-Jewish accent claims, but he's far from a gentleman worth rewarding. Still, he snags a $100 bill for returning the dude's wallet and stashes his wife's photo for less-than-innocent safe-keeping.
Meanwhile, every X-Y chromosome gets similarly worked up by Don's wife, whose elaborate birthday dance for Don includes ample slinking, leg-showing, and gratuitous use of cutesy French (It may have sounded like onomatopoeia and baby talk, but "zooby zooby zoo" is actually "Zou Bisou Bisou," a French song which loosely translates to talk of love and kisses.) But, really, who cares what she was saying! The boys were mesmerized by her coquettish number, each one recalling her song and dance with colorful language the next day.
Roger and Lane both attempt to re-enact her seductive song, while Harry confirms Megan's prediction that, "Everyone's going to come home from this party and have sex." Which makes us wonder: Was it Megan's intention to incite desire in her co-workers and cement her "sex kitten" image? Or was it all meant for Don, who takes the least pleasure in the event? We're with Lane on this one: "I saw his soul leave his body."
Luckily, Don and Megan make-up via what might be the sexiest scene we've ever seen on Mad Men. Don comes home to find Megan cleaning the rug in nothing but her bra and lacy underwear, and a slightly S&M dynamic comes into play. Megan is pouting and making demands ("You don't get to have this. Go sit over there. All you get to do is watch.") before Don pounces, and they proceed to procure rug burns on the potato-chip-lined living room floor. It's a steamy moment, but it's also tender.
When Megan considers quitting, Don admits "I don't really care about work. I want you at work because I want you." Is this the Don that used Faye for a lead with a client, and who left Betty (January Jones) at home to woo clients (both legitimately and illegitimately)? Could Mr. #Draping actually be shifting his priorities for love? We like you, Megan, we really do, but we can't help but maintain our skepticism.
The Return Of Ambition
Peggy shares our skepticism towards Don, and her frustrations come to a head when he leaves her to feign for herself after a failed Heinz presentation. To be fair, the ballerina beans were doomed to failure, but we did enjoy Peggy's new self-assured stance. Her confident descriptions ("a splash of mouthwatering sauce as each one lands") seem surprisingly sensual, which might be the result of her new boyfriend, Mr.“Nuremberg on Madison Avenue."
Meanwhile, Joan (Christina Hendricks) is drowning in diapers and self-doubt, a fear that only serves to be compounded by her mother (Christine Estabrook, who you might recognize from her similarly grating role as a real estate agent on American Horror Story). Joan's mom throws daggers, telling Joan she's "not at her fighting weight" and instilling doubts about the security of her job at SCDP. But when Joan stumbles into the office (help her with the damn door, useless reception girl!), she's welcomed back with open arms, especially by Lane, who truly seems lost without her.
Joan's and Peggy's ambitions are juxtaposed by the African-Americans who fill the lobby of SCDP. Turns out the joke job-ad was lost on them, and the agency just may be forced into being an equal opportunity employer, which would be an awesomely progressive move for its time.
Other Points Of Interest
- Betty's notable absence. The previews show she'll be back next week, but a hiatus from monster mom wasn't the worst thing.
- Sally's (Kiernan Shipka) opening scene in which she's gazing at Megan's bare ass. She's still sexually curious (and slightly pervy) and we're immediately reminded about just how damaged Sally is doomed to be, bless her little heart.
- There's a new kid playing Bobby (again!), and he might be our favorite of Don's rotating sons yet.
- The civil rights protesters after the Y&R water bomb incident: "And they call us savages."
- Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) has returned! The office would have been noticeably less quirky without him (that "Did you buy him a pony?" line, for instance), but aside from that, nothing would have changed.
- The most promising line of the night, courtesy of Megan: "Nobody loves Dick Whitman. I love you. That's why I threw you a party." Megan knows Don's secret (his real name is, yes, Dick Whitman) and she's undeterred, and urging him to quit his angsty, existential wining. Maybe she's a better match for Don than we originally thought.
Written by Shanté Cosme (@ShanteCosme)