It’s been a seriously long time since I’ve seen an episode of Mad Men.
Well, a new episode anyway. It’s been a while for all of us, considering that Mad Men‘s last season finale aired almost a year and a half ago.
I guess that’s the kind of thing that happens when AMC only programs their original shows on Sunday nights.
Now in my infinite wisdom, I went into “A Little Kiss” somewhat blind. I had planned to revisit the season four finale and get my bearings on where Don and Roger and all these other incredibly picturesque human beings were before diving into the new season, but that thought completely slipped my mind when I turned on the premiere. But situations like these are what the Internet’s for, so allow me to take a minute or two to refresh myself on all things Mad Men.
Just a little bit more…
Ok, we’re good. So when we last left our heroes in “Tommorowland,” things seemed to be on the up and up for almost everyone. Don Draper ties the knot with his secretary Megan, and unlike his last wife, she seems to actually enjoy being around children. Peggy comes to the rescue and saves the ad firm from the brink of destruction with a last-minute deal. Pete seems to be on genuinely good (or at least better) terms with Don. Joan’s decided to keep her Sterling love baby and pass it off as her husband’s.
And “A Little Kiss” wastes no time in showing us every little crack that’s developed in last season’s upbeat foundation.
First and foremost is Don Draper. Our tortured, all-knowing, all-seeing antihero has finally found some semblance of a normal life with Megan, walking into work together arm-in-arm and seeing his kids regularly, as a family. Megan even casually jokes about Dick Whitman, and if Don’s given up that secret then he clearly trusts this woman. All should be perfect in the land of Draper.
But a happy Don is clearly not a healthy Don. Throughout almost the entire ninety minutes of “A Little Kiss,” Don looks like he’s going through the motions of how an average, contented schmuck would live his life but those actions couldn’t be further from the Don we know and reluctantly love. The old Don would never have casually accepted how the Heinz execs shot down Peggy’s bean ballet ad campaign (although honestly, I think there’s something in Heinz bigwig Raymond’s idea for beans to be sold as a cheap sit-in snack for the young college crowd. The folks at SCDP are on the cutting edge of advertising, but I’d hesitate to say the same about 60s culture). And the old Don would never have spent as much time as he did in the center of that hellish party. Megan meant well, obviously (especially considering how hard she takes it when Don spends the whole evening miserable, with an unpleasant half-smile plastered on his face), but that celebration couldn’t have been further from how this man celebrates a birthday.
Oh, and the sentence, “I don’t really care about work?” Definitely not the old Don.
And yet somehow, he and Megan reach an equilibrium by the episode’s end. It takes a complete emotional breakdown on Megan’s part (complete with creepy forbidden lingerie housekeeping) and an almost uncomfortably violent romantic encounter, but letting loose with the crazy allows these two to bare their feelings, and in doing that they actually grow just a little bit closer.
So Don and Megan end this two-parter just a little better off than they were before. And this is true of nearly everyone in “A Little Kiss,” to some degree.
Take Pete Campbell. Pete’s risen from an obnoxious little nobody to an obnoxious little executive who’s starting to gain some serious clout in the halls of SCDP. But Pete’s problem is that he goes about every single thing the wrong way. Yes his office is terrible and Roger is clearly trying to muscle in on him, but Pete’s go-to move is the “whine and complain,” and eventually he’ll have to gain some actual charisma if he really wants to play office politics with everyone else.
And as we see Pete come into his own as an ad man, we’re treated to a particular low-angle shot of Pete, sullen-faced, glass in hand. It’s eerily reminiscent of a young Don Draper. Pete may not have that Draper charisma, but he may end up in a very similar situation to Don’s by the series’ end- especially if he starts taking him longer and longer to get home.
But there’s so much going on in “A Little Kiss” that it’d take ages to go into every character’s story in-depth, so I’ll try to cover as much as I can in a short period of time.
- Joan has a minor crisis of job security, but she’s restored to her status quo in an effortlessly charming scene with Lane Pryce.
- Pryce, on the other hand, gains a secret crush and has a minor encounter with said crush’s boyfriend (a suspicious-looking fellow I assume we’ll be seeing a lot more of).
- Harry Crane continues his meteoric rise as the office’s leading wildly inappropriate ass, and as this show moves further and further into the future, Harry’s way of doing things is starting to seem very outdated.
- Roger Sterling was in top form this week, firing off one perfect joke after another. My favorites: the entirety of his scene with Harry, and “I tried to get Jane to talk to me in that accent. Nothing doing. She doesn’t speak French. Doesn’t like me.”
- Peggy doesn’t get a whole lot of airtime, and what she does get is mostly frustration with the new Don and his new wife. Upcoming episodes will surely give Peggy a little more time to shine.
And so I’ll close this one with the theme that closes (and opens) “A Little Kiss:” Race. SCDP isn’t exactly a beacon of tolerance, with most of the characters picking and choosing when to be accepting of other races (Lane was perfectly happy dating a black woman, and is just as happy to take a lost wallet himself, rather than leave it with a black cab driver), but it seems we’ll be seeing an integrated SCDP from now on. I doubt the younger folks- Peggy, Megan, a now-promoted-to-series-regular Stan- will have any problem with this (especially Megan, considering her young partygoing friends were both black and white), but for some of the older hands, this could pose a problem. It’s hard to speculate without seeing more, but this is definitely causing some kind of friction.
So what did you all think of the premiere? Did you enjoy the extra hour?