When MAD MEN returned for its fifth season— complete with new opening titles, boasting added colors, images and a lot more cast names — with back-to-back episodes stitched into one long story, we learned where all of our favorites have been since last we saw them… about 130 years ago. The refresher/introductions were nice, because I remembered that Don Draper had proposed to his hot secretary, Megan, but not much else. Luckily, not too much has changed, for the most part.
Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is still in a precarious financial situation. Don (Jon Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) are married and living in a mod pad downtown, where he seems almost…what’s the word… happy? Megan works in creative under Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), who is still butting heads with Don — who confuses her even more now that he’s domesticated. Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) is feeling unappreciated at work and unfulfilled at home in the Connecticut suburbs. Roger (John Slattery) is becoming even more embittered and estranged from the ad game, clinging to the ol’ 10-martini lunch strategy to try to pilfer clients from Pete. Joan (Christina Hendricks) is not adjusting well to mothering Roger’s illegitimate child with her own husband still in Vietnam and her mother treating her like an enemy. The only person we don’t see is Betty (January Jones) — but like I said, we learned about our favorite characters.
Most of the first hour was strangely uninvolving, almost — dare I say it? — boring. The gang’s routines all seemed so…routine. SCDP needs to bring in more business. Really? The bright spot was the growing rivalry between Pete and Roger, which has escalated to juvenile dirty tricks. A season-long battle between them should be hilarious — and dangerous for the company. Things picked up considerably once Megan resolved to throw Don a surprise 40th birthday party, inviting his office compatriots at the last moment.
The party — which Don did not want — featured a lot of Megan’s much-younger, hipper crowd (and even a band), and viewers could clearly tell that Don had no idea who those people were. There is a lot he still doesn’t know about her. He commiserated with Roger over the pitfalls of having young, sexy wives when Megan suddenly personified the good and the bad: She performed a sexy song-and-dance version of “Zou Bisou Bisou.” The tune is about openly declaring one’s love, and that’s certainly what she did — but she also embarrassed to crap out of Don, who could nothing but stare, slack-jawed, at his new wife’s sex-kitten act.
After the party, Don slinked off to the bedroom — and tried to go to sleep. Megan wanted to fool around, but Don would have none of it. He was angry that she wasted money on a party that he didn’t want just to “embarrass me like that.” He told her he hates his birthday and never had one when he was growing up because he forbade it. “I don’t need to be the center of attention,” he claimed. It’s interesting that he told her the truth about Dick Whitman, but not that Dick dislikes birthday parties. They spent the rest of the story estranged until she teased him by trying to clean up the party mess in her underwear. After making love, Don confessed that he simply didn’t want his work friends crossing over into his private world. The Don/Megan dynamic is intriguing, now that we know she has some depth.
SCDP got in deep when several of the guys took out an ad touting the company as an equal-opportunity employer after a rival agency got caught water-bombing some civil-rights marchers. But the African-American community wasn’t in on the joke, and a number of people showed up to apply for jobs. Also fooled by the ad: Joan. She used her baby as an excuse to visit the office and scope out the changes, because she assumed she was going to be fired. But Lane (Jared Harris) set her straight: the place was falling apart without her, and her job was safe.
And if you cannot trust Lane, whom can you trust? In addition to soothing Joanie (“There would have been a cake, but you weren’t here to arrange it.”) and being a natural at baby-wrangling, Lane also proved to be conscientiously honest — and a bit of a romantic! He found a wallet in a taxi and was smitten with the photo of a woman inside. He contacted her and flirted charmingly with the sexy voice on the other end of the line. We could see he was building a fantasy relationship in his mind, but all tumbled down when the wallet’s male owner showed up to claim it.
Meanwhile, Peggy continued to struggle to find her place. When her ballet campaign for Heinz beans flopped, Don told her to rework it. “Clients are right all of a sudden?” she groused. At his party, she told him she had to leave early to work on the Heinz account. On Monday, Megan took her turn at being snarky when she sniped at Peggy for her snide remark to Don. “What is wrong with you people?” Megan railed. “You’re all so cynical. You don’t smile, you smirk.”
Which wasn’t quite the line of the week. Peggy’s subsequent apology to Don might take that honor: “I should not be allowed to drink at work functions. Or at all,” she said.
No, wait — the line of the week was Lane describing Don watching Megan dance: “I saw his soul leave his body.”