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Mad Men S5E01: “A Little Kiss” [IB]
March 27th, 2012 by Dan

Mad Men is back, y’all, and it’s better than ever! Season four flirted with perfection, but that was somewhere around 17 months ago. Now it’s time for something new.

I think it’s fair to guess that season five is probably going to deal with the civil rights issue that its protagonists have mostly dodged for four seasons now. The bookends to the episode involving Y&R and SCDP’s various pranks at least promise to make it an important issue for at least two episodes, but I’m betting we see it take greater importance as the season wears on.

The bigger issue at hand is the obvious one: Don and Megan. We were left feeling gobsmacked and surprised at the end of S4 since we had no clue who this French Canadian secretary was outside of a few scenes. Matthew Weiner did a fantastic job of setting up why Don chose her over Faye, what with all the scenes with Sally and his children peppered throughout the season, but now’s our chance to understand what marriage between her and Don is like and…it’s interesting.

Make no mistake, a relationship rooted in boss/subordinate and old man/young woman will always have power issues and “A Little Kiss” brings that to the forefront with many a barbed insult traded between Don and Megan, their deviancy in the office, and with the explosive domination sex at the end of the episode. There are clearly problems brewing in SCDP too as Don regards Megan’s work there as something for her to do while he’s at work. It’s evidenced by him calling her away in the middle of meetings or projects or even in the fact that she shows up habitually late with him at her side. It seems like she wants to be taken seriously, but she’s constantly undermined by Don who, himself, is not taking his work very seriously.

That’s the most alarming thing by far. A Don Draper who cares very little about his work is a Don Draper we’ve rarely seen. His work habits have deteriorated to when he was drinking far too much last season (or worse). Last season we saw him fall and fall and then turn it around. Will we have a similar arc or will he continue to coast?

And then there’s the party:

We know that Don doesn’t let anyone in on his life, but here he is with people in his home despite Peggy warning Megan not to throw this party. It makes sense that he’s mad, especially with the way that they’re both treated at work following the party. Sterling can’t restrain himself from teasing Don now that he’s not the only buffoon. Megan is suffering from ridicule by her peers. It’s tense and I loved every part of it.

I don’t know what Weiner has planned for those two, but I don’t necessarily see the implosion (or explosion) that people have been predicting. She does know about Dick Whitman, after all. No, I think that they will remain together, if not a little strained at points. Maybe Megan does truly get Don/Dick. Nothing about their behavior screamed out to me that their relationship was doomed, just that it was maybe ill conceived. What’s more worrisome is the way that Roger and Jane now interact. After their silly stupid soiree in the third season (this show is calling back/referencing all kinds of old things a lot) I’m sure that this all looks like the mistakes they used to make. They’re nowhere near as playful as they were before.

Speaking of call backs, how great was it to see Pete on the train from the suburbs. He’s clearly hurting to get back to the city that he loves so dearly, but now he’s got precisely what he wanted from Don in season one. Like Don warned him though, no one seems to treat him with much respect, save perhaps Lane, because no one really likes him. Sterling continually tries to undermine his every effort to get the recognition and status that he ambitiously demands. It’s interesting stuff to watch.

I’m also a fan of the Trudy/Peter relationship. Despite Pete’s sociopathic tendencies (or perhaps because of), he and Trudy are the most conscious of manners and what’s actually going on around them. Their commentary at the party along with their style of dress shows that they’re perhaps the most clued into the 60s of anyone in the senior levels of SCDP and it’s awesome.

Joan’s plot about being terribly bored at home rings perfectly true to her character and her acidic mother makes it very clear why Joan is the way that she is. Her horribly tragic heart-to-heart with Lane was heartbreaking as it made clear how out of sorts she was to be alone with her baby and I was particularly touched by the detail that no one went to visit her. It seems odd that she’d be out of sight, out of mind so quickly, but considering the staff at SCDP and their multitude of issues in the past eight months I suppose it makes sense. The big question will definitely be what Greg will want of her when he gets home.

The last big story I want to talk about is Peggy. Still the shining creative light at SCDP, she’s becoming increasingly frustrated with a blissful Don Draper. The fighting spirit that Don seemed to have for their entire working relationship seems to have vanished and, while she’s increasingly capable of doing her work without Don’s input, it most certainly greases wheels for its acceptance. It was telling to me that her frustrations with Megan seem to be more frustration with Don over his lack of focus rather than resentment of her place on the staff. There’s no outward hostility directed specifically at her, despite the way she interprets Peggy’s drunk/high mini-row with Don, but there is a sense of frustration in that he is proving too much of a distraction for her to get work done. On a separate note, I did like the scene with her, Pete, and Joan’s baby. Great work by the Mad Men crew to give us a few seconds that spoke volumes almost completely non-verbally.

Minor Points:

– Harry is the closest thing to a whipping boy this show has. He was able to make a complete fool of himself over the entire two hour episode and it was hilarious.

– The prank war between Pete and Roger that sent him to Staten Island was great! More of Pete usurping Roger please!

– Cooper’s marginalization continues. I’m not bothered by it. He won’t have a Blankenship-ian joke end, but I could conceive of his death in this season.

– Sally didn’t seem hostile toward Megan. I was shocked by that, but then again her psychologist probably helped her deal with these kinds of feelings toward Henry.

– New actor for Bobby!

– Didn’t really care for the Lane/wallet story, but it was alright. I liked that his politeness kept throwing people off and I liked how innocent-seeming his attempts at lewdness were. Still kind of an aimless story to me, but it might bear fruit later.

– If the old receptionist is still there next week I’ll be surprised. Bringing in the gag gift from Y&R was a huge mistake and I could see them letting her go to help cover the new secretary.

– Lots of secretary placement subtle comedy and a close to over the top moment with Pete tripping into the pillar in his office.

– Ken’s wife is Alex Mack!


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