(Want more? Chat about last night's season preem with Team TV.)
As we return to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce at last after a much-too-long break, "Mad Men's" two-hour season five opener is a study in contrasts, and parallels.
The contrasts painted in "A Little Kiss" -- penned by the main man himself, Matthew Weiner, and directed by Jennifet Getzinger -- are most glaring in Mr. and Mrs. Draper. Megan is bathed in day-glo colors of the minute -- June 1966 -- while Don is still in the black-and-white world of gray suits and tan (London Fog?) overcoats. His one concession to the impending psychedelic era seems to be the occassional stripe on his tie. His neckwear might not be quite as skinny as when the series opened (1960), but it's still pretty stiff against that starched white shirt.
Don simply looks out of step with the times, and tired from his effort to keep up with, and make sense of, his beguiling new wife. He says he loves her, but the honeymoon is definitely over if he's already scolding her about wasting money, and he's too pooped (or uptight) to pop after her "burlesque," as Layne Price called it, that stirred the flames of plenty of other men in the room. He's also clearly distracted from the job, which is very out of character for Don.
Peggy Olson is a little more hip to the times than her boss, but seemingly only a little. I noticed it particularly during the party scene (which appeared to take some visual cues from that goofy 1968 Peter Sellers movie "The Party") by the dress she wore.
The style was pure 1950s -- pretty and flattering, but nothing like the micro-mini that Megan wore, nor even the loud prints that Trudy Campbell and Jane Sterling sported. She's a proto-feminist role model in many ways -- the secretary who fought hard to move up the ranks -- but there remains an air of insecurity about her that chips away at her confidence.
Joan Harris is a big jumble of conflicting emotions as we catch up with her shortly after she's added "mother" to her resume. She wanted that baby so badly she opted not to end the pregnancy, even against the threat of her husband discovering her infidelity with Roger Sterling. But bouncing baby Kevin is an obstacle to resuming her previous life as the queen bee of SCDP -- as illustrated by her struggle just to get in the door of the lobby with the baby carriage, and by the fact that there's a new receptionist who barely knows who she is.
I saw plenty of parallels between the situations that Don and Roger face with their younger, more volatile wives. And you couldn't miss the connect-the-dots line surrounding Pete Campbell's new lifestyle as a train commuter to Gotham from Greenwich, Conn., and Don's experience in the first two seasons. Pete's kitchen even looks like the old Draper house in Ossining.
As always, Jon Hamm utterly owned this episode. He can do so much without any words. One of the most deeply felt moments of the two hour opener was after he drops Sally, Bobby and baby Gene back home with "Morticia and Lurch," he sits in the car for a moment, longer than he needed to see that they got in the house OK, and then gently shook his head before pulling out. It said so much about where Don is.
Speaking of wordless moments, it's time again to summon all the adjectives I can find in praise of Ms. Kiernan Shipka. That girl just gets better and better. Her moment early on in the episode when she pretends to mistake her father's bedroom for the bathroom in his new apartment, and then looks past him to see Megan's barely-concealed backside lying in his bed. The look of hurt on her face was just painful -- as Sally's best scenes often are. She's a budding teen, so she's a volcano of emotions as it is, but to come face to face with her father's sexuality that early in the morning, especially when it's clear that Sally yearns to be the prime object of her father's affections -- it's just too much. That Shipka can play this at the age of 12 is astounding.
Thankfully, Don isn't as oblivious to his children's suffering as Betty, and he helps ease the tension by steering her toward breakfast. In our brief time with Sally in this episode, I got the feeling that she's working very hard at being an in-charge young lady and big sister -- one who knows her parental visitation sked, one who plans in advance to get her father a birthday present, etc. For no good reason other than a hunch, I'm thinking her mother is anything but together, which may fuel Sally's motivation to be an ersatz wife and mother.
Most every word, gesture and bit of background scenery on "Mad Men" is so carefully crafted that it allows for the kind of analyses and interpretation usually reserved for English lit courses. But all that heavy business is lightened with some moments that are just meant to be pure comedic joy. In this episode, it's the scene between Harry Crane, ever the social misfit, and Roger Sterling, when Roger bribes Harry to give up his office to satisfy Pete. The scene is pure "Mad Men"-meets-Noel-Coward genius, with rapid-fire dialogue and incredibly engaging work by Rich Sommer and John Slattery.
On my third viewing of this episode, I ran the scene back for the pleasure of watching two fine actors riffing off each other with the flair of Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond. For all the wonderful soapy, moody, high-drama moments, it was this scene that made me smile and say out loud to no one in particular: Yep, "Mad Men" is back.
So much more to say, so little time on this rainy night in L.A. But I can't go to bed without mentioning:
** Change gonna come. The civil rights movement is at their doorstep, literally. Interesting to see Don and Pete be a little more progressive than the rest.
** Despite her considerable endowment, Joan is not breast feeding. I think that's a sign of the era more than anything else. I think it was out of fashion until the late 1960s-early '70s. As we know now, if Joan was worried about her figure, there's no better way to shed those pregnancy pounds than by turning yourself into a dairy.
** The sight of Peggy holding an infant was intriguing, as was her decision to hand baby Kevin off to Pete! But Megan's joke about leaving the baby "on the steps of a church" was kinda chilling.
** Pete's clearly riding the wave of economic/social theory books that started to become mainstream hits in this era. "Stable is that step backwards between succesful and failing," he counsels Ken Cosgrove.
** Cosgrove is so headed to the Monterey Pop Festival the following year. He's a prototypical hippie, in contrast to Pete's tightly wound yearning for whatever it is he doesn't have.
** Mrs. Pryce is back in the picture for Lane in New York. I guess we'll fill in the details of their reconciliation as the season goes on.
** Stan the artist is really growing on me.
** Megan doesn't really get her husband, but Lane Pryce does. He nails it by telling Joan that during Megan's "Zou Bisou Bisou" number: "I saw his soul leave his body."
** Megan doesn't get her husband, but Peggy does. She knew he wouldn't like that surprise party. Great line: "Didn't you have 'Lucy' in Canada?"
** Pete's still packing the shotgun in the office, as we see when he secretary moves him into Harry's old digs. Wouldn't that make people around him kinda nervous?
** What to make of those last unsettling scenes with Don and Megan? Dysfunction at the junction! What's the over/under on Don cheating on her by episode 5?
-- Cynthia Littleton