POSTED BY STUART LEVINE (Cynthia and Jon Weisman weigh in after the jump)
You can watch Don Draper for hours on end and still not figure out his relationship with women and determine what makes him tick.
Much of this first episode of season two offers small but vital hints as to how Draper relates to women, and it all goes back to his mother, of course. Then again, don’t all psychological dilemmas start with Mom?
In Don’s office, Peggy and Salvatore are discussing an ad campaign for Mohawk Airlines. When Peggy and Don offer up some revelatory ideas about addressing the campaign to businessmen, he looks at her like a proud father.
He admires Peggy very much, maybe because the way she earned her promotion as a junior copywriter after starting at Sterling Cooper as his secretary.
She’s garnered Don’s respect, and that’s not an easy thing to do — as any of the guys there could tell you.
In many ways, Don enjoys being around her more so than his wife, Betty, who he sees more as an accessory than an equal.
Betty is often a last consideration if Don needs to work late or wants to pal around after office hours, and certainly he didn’t give her much thought when he was having affairs with both Rachel Menken and Midge Daniels.
And while Don is quick to get into bed with others, when he and Betty have a romantic Valentine’s Day evening together at the Savoy Hotel, Don’s mind is elsewhere, and he’s unable to perform. Since he had a reserved the room in advance, it was obvious to him they’d end up having sex, but maybe the chance meeting at the hotel bar between Betty and her former roommate, Juanita, who is now a call girl, threw Don off his game.
Remember, his mom was a prostitute and seeing a friend of Betty’s in hooker mode might’ve brought up some serious childhood issues.
“Mad Men” creator Matt Weiner promises a seasonful of Draper revelations, so keep your eyes peeled.
Other thoughts while wondering how much it would cost today to fix a fan belt in the middle of the night on a rural road:
-- Betty doesn’t think too highly of her own kids when she comes up with this off-handed remark at the polo club after her friend says she's getting manure in her car, “Little children … what’s the difference?”
-- Don looks concerned when receiving his physical and the doc tells him he needs to take better care of himself. With high blood pressure (160/100) and parents that both died young (his mom passed away during childbirth and his father at about 41 years old in an accident), Don needs to be concerned. He certainly looks more worn than his 36 years would indicate.
-- That leads to another theme of this opener: the importance of youth (as evidenced by the episode's title). Duck is adamant about hiring younger account execs to keep up with clients who want to look more youthful. Don’s not buying it, especially when he tells his colleagues: “Young people don’t know anything. Especially that they’re young.”
-- The guys in the office don’t even try to treat Peggy as an equal. One asks her to check on Don when he’s late for a meeting, like she’s still his secretary, and another time she’s supposed to know if there are extra glasses around for the booze that always seems to be flowing.
-- Even though she doesn’t act as his secretary anymore, Peggy remains very loyal to Don and takes offense when his new secretary, Lois, snickers that he told her he’d be seeing “Pinocchio.” Peggy tells her that she should speak of him as if he’s always standing behind her. The bond between Don and Peggy is probably the strongest of any two characters on the show.
-- The banter, even if only last a few seconds, never gets old between Joan and Roger. He can’t stop lusting after her and she’s loving every second of it.
-- Hard not to notice that all the black characters are given subservient roles: copy machine deliverymen, elevator operators, housekeepers. It’s absolutely authentic for that time, but still disturbing to see.
-- Another moment in which Don’s women issues arise is in the elevator, when he tells a guy to take off his hat as a sign of respect for the women sharing the ride with them.
-- Betty’s playful flirting with the tow truck driver felt like she wanted to live part of Juanita’s life, just to see how it felt, and whether she could sell her sexuality for a price. Betty better be careful for what she asks for. Someone might just take her up on it.
-- Episode ends with Don sending off a book of poetry, “Meditations on an Emergency,” to someone with the note, “Made me think of you.” To whom was he sending it? The feeling here is it’s someone we haven’t seen before and who played an important part of his life long before he entered the ad game. Time will tell.
A fantastic start. Matt Weiner has the confidence and the courage to give us a leisurely paced opener, but one that is fraught with character-enhancing tidbits and adds lots of moody texture to the world of the Drapers, Sterling Cooper and its inhabitants in the two years or so that have passed since we last checked in with them.
There were two moments that I absolutely loved in this seg. One was the hotel room scene, as Don and Betty are having their Valentine's Day romantic moment. Betty struts out of the bathroom in eye-popping black lacy lingerie, looking every inch like she belonged on the cover of Playboy, and Don seems to barely blink before he passes her in the doorway to go into the bathroom himself.
Any other show would've gone for the cliche of them falling on the bed together in a sex-tatic frenzy of heavy petting and heavy breathing. But the Drapers are a married couple -- a couple with a strained marriage, no less -- and that bit of wordless business between Jon Hamm and January Jones spoke volumes about the state of their on-screen marriage.
My other favorite moment was Peggy living up to the faith that Don has put in her as his protege by being fast on her feet. When he's pressing her for more adventurous and creative thinking on the Mohawk Airlines campaign, you see the wheels turning (to the credit of Elisabeth Moss' skill as an actress) and then comes up with a pretty good one-liner, IMHO: "What did you bring me Daddy?" Somehow I think this line might be emblematic of things to come in season two.
The thing about the Season 2 premiere of "Mad Men" is that it channels the simultaneous feelings of accomplishment and yearning, of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, that accompany my daily existence, in a way that suggests that my psyche is writing it instead of Matthew Weiner -- except that my psyche isn't quite so brilliant.
It's a world where a brand new, state-of-the art copy machine is a blessing and a curse. A world where the hottest talent in the office is tied up in more knots than a Boy Scout could ever learn. Don Draper follows his diagnosis of hypertension with a lunch of steak and eggs and a drink at a bar. It is a world of desires and contradictions that I could just drown myself in.
Some have suggested that the season premiere moves at a slow pace. They have not said this as a criticism, but as a compliment that the show is so rich that you enjoy the easy unfolding of events. They're wrong. Plot points are coming rapid-fire through the episode, but it's the authoritative storytelling that makes it go down like smooth gin (or scotch or whatever -- I'm no drinker). There's the overriding theme of youth vs. aging and finding the perfect way to express need; Don's health, his dealings with Duck Phillips and the ad artists and writers, particularly Peggy, the latest with Betty (including a sudden onset of sexual dysfunction); Betty's newfound pursuit of show jumping, her encounter with her old roommate turned "party girl" and her ongoing give-and-take with trust and sexuality -- look at that lingerie and the way she tests the mechanic; Pete and his angst at home and work; Peggy's rising assertiveness and mystery about her absent summer and loss of weight; Roger and Joan, going 'round and 'round and 'round amid the shadow of Joan's possible fiance; Sal being married, for crying out loud ... Sunday's episode is jammed. It's action-packed -- only the action isn't guns and crashes, it's character clashes. This is a Sunday drive up Highway 1 in the Central Coast, and whatever speed you're going, spectacular views awe you, own you. The scene between Betty and the mechanic is two wheels over the edge of a cliff.
The combination of the intricacy and intensity of plot and character and the ease with which the show drives your imagination and your musings about life is unmatched on television today. And the season is just getting started. "What did you bring me, Daddy?" This.