It was worth the wait.
True, more time has passed in the real world than it has for the Mad Men universe, but the two-hour Season Five premiere, “A Little Kiss,” beautifully made up for the dearth of Don Draper over the past 17 months. In short: It’s early summer 1966, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is still in business, Don has married Megan Calvet, Bert Cooper is back at the firm, and Joan Harris is mother to a baby boy. We also get an explanation as to how the show dealt with January Jones’ real-life pregnancy last year – a conspicuously absent Betty Francis.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
Before we’re brought up to date on what has transpired over the past several months, we’re hit square in the face with the arrival of the civil rights movement – not at SCDP, but rival Young and Rubicam (Y&R). The episode opens with African-American protesters outside of Y&R’s offices demanding equal-opportunity employment, only to be met by a host of water bags dropped on them by a bunch of obnoxious Y&R employees. The scene doesn’t feature any familiar faces, but it sets the stage for what could be a game-changing theme for Mad Men this season.
Plus Ça Change, Plus C’est La Même Chose
Jon Hamm may be one of the sexiest men alive at age 41, but for Don Draper, turning 40 is seen as one step away from the retirement home, especially now that he has a 25-year-old wife to keep up with. While his personal life has certainly improved from the aimless bachelor existence of last season – so much so that Peggy Olson is befuddled by his demeanor (“I don’t recognize that man. He’s kind, and patient!“), there’s still a very well-hidden bug up Don’s ass.
Whatever that bug is remains part of the enigma that is Don Draper. He’s still plenty horny for Megan, who doesn’t have any qualms about flashing her husband upon exiting his office. This way more confident Megan has kissed her secretary gig goodbye and is on the fast track to, as she said last season, “do what Miss Olson does.” But it seems Peggy is teaching Megan more about her husband’s personality than she is about copywriting. When a naively optimistic Megan solicits Peggy’s help in planning a surprise birthday party for Don, Peggy warns her that he might be less than enthused.
That Saturday, a mix of SCDP employees and Megan’s miniskirted mod pals show up at the Drapers’ swinging Manhattan shag pad. Peggy makes a solid case against the Mary Quant look in her full-skirted yellow sundress. Her relationship with political writer Abe Drexler is going strong, allowing him to school oblivious suburbanites like Trudy Campbell (“What exactly has been bad?”) that there have been “four riots in three cities in two months.” Alison Brie’s comic timing has only improved with her role on Community – her wordless reaction superbly conveys both embarrassment and acknowledgment.
As Don and Megan return from dinner, all Don wants is to peel off his wife’s slinky black minidress and take her right there in the hallway. Too bad Roger and Jane Sterling are arguing at their door. But the ruined surprise isn’t even the most awkward moment of the night, which is when Megan, in her Amy Winehouse eyeliner and light lipstick, croons the kitschy Sophia Loren tune “Zou Bisou Bisou” (say it out loud, Francophiles, then check the episode title). The performance is hot, except the only guy not enjoying it is the birthday boy.
Once the guests have left, Don lays into Megan for embarrassing him. When he mentions that he’s been 40 for half a year already, we realize that Megan knows about his past as Dick Whitman. Judging from her flippant comments, it’s doubtful Don’s told her the whole story: “Nobody loves Dick Whitman. I love you – that’s why I threw you a party,” she purrs while on top of him. Bad move, Megan, because you’ve just reawakened the most tortured soul on Madison Avenue.
Despondent over Don’s rejection, Megan realizes the honeymoon is over – for her marriage, and at SCDP. A couple of days later, Don comes home to find his wife cleaning up in her black bra and underwear. Still furious at him for throwing her gifts back in her face, Megan tells Don he only gets to watch. As we learned from Don’s little slapping fetish last season, this dominatrix talk gets him incredibly turned on. Unfortunately for Megan, the make-up sex confirms that Don only likes having her around the office so he can regularly cop a feel. Get out, Megan. Now.
If this episode is any indication, this is Pete Campbell‘s season. From his snappy multicolored checked dinner jacket at Don’s surprise party to his smug demeanor, the old Pete is back.
He has reason to be cocky. He’s been bringing in a lot of business, plus, because Don paid his share of the collateral to keep SCDP’s doors open, Pete was able to purchase a house in Connecticut. The only thorn in his side is Roger, who, ever since losing Lucky Strike, has been leeching onto the other execs. Under the guise of flirting with Pete’s secretary, Roger has been sneaking peeks at the junior partner’s schedule so he can horn in on his deals. After Roger crashes an important meeting with Mohawk Airlines, Pete demands a larger office from the partners – tripping and hitting his nose on a support beam (nice physical comedy there, Kartheiser) in his minuscule, windowless office being the last straw.
During an amusing scene in which Lane Pryce, Bert Cooper, Don and Roger are squished onto a tiny couch, Pete states his case, using his considerable list of clients as leverage. There’s no question he’s doing way more work than Roger – but the senior partner doesn’t want to accept that he’s being frozen out by the younger upstarts, so he refuses to give up his office. The stalemate is broken only when Roger convinces Harry Crane (by slipping him $1,100) to switch offices with Pete – allowing Roger to maintain the upper hand.
But Pete still manages to beat Roger at his own game. He has his secretary pencil in a fake 6 a.m. appointment with Coca-Cola at the ferry terminal in Staten Island. The juxtaposition of the two men at the end of the episode (Roger up at dawn, Pete boasting to his fellow commuters about putting in a swimming pool) has the characters right where we want them: Roger is defeated, but we still feel sorry for him. Pete is enjoying the fruits of his labor, while remaining enough of an asshole to keep us watching what he’ll do next.
The mention of Memorial Day weekend establishes the summertime setting, but it’s not until we’re greeted with a tight shot of a baby’s bottom that we can safely say we’re in 1966.
Joan Harris is still adjusting to motherhood, so much so that she’s uncharacteristically disheveled when we first see her, wearing pajamas with her hair down. She notices a SCDP ad in The New York Times in which the agency bills itself as an “equal-opportunity employer.” Unaware that it’s merely a jab at Y&R, who landed in the papers following its little water-bagging incident, Joan fears she’s being replaced. There also appears to be an unexplained tiff between Joan and Megan that occurred sometime between the end of Season Four and the birth of Joan’s son. Gail, Joan’s visiting mother, even goes so far to suggest that Megan was behind the ad: “You think she wants you around her husband?”
The glaring rift between Joan and Megan materializes when Joan, looking more like her usual self in a hot-pink dress, brings baby Kevin to the SCDP offices for a visit. It’s not much of a homecoming, as the idiotic new receptionist is ignorant of the custom of getting the door for a mother with a baby carriage. “I know a girl who had your job who ended up with everything,” Joan snipes. Here we thought Peggy would be the one threatened by Megan, but in fact it’s Joan – who’s visibly jealous that Megan is the new office sexpot.
In an exquisitely acted scene, Joan has a sit-down with Lane, who swiftly assuages her fears. Foreshadowing the plight of many a working mother in the years to come, Joan breaks down and admits that not only did she want to be missed, but that she wants to return to SCDP. Lane reassures her that the books are suffering in her absence and that the secretaries handling them are “imbeciles.” Her self-esteem boosted, Joan now has the confidence to finish out her maternity leave stress-free.
One of the more glaring mysteries of the new season, though, is Lane’s cash-flow problem. Following last season’s brutal beating courtesy of his sadistic father, Lane has reunited with his family, but now there’s a threatening letter from his son’s school regarding payment, and his wife requests cash for the grocer because Lane told her “not to write any more checks.” He’s also battling a nasty case of the wandering eye. After finding a lost wallet, the Brit engages in a flirtatious phone call with the owner’s girlfriend, which prompts him to return the wallet sans the girl’s picture. Is he leading a secret life (perhaps with Toni, the Playboy bunny)? Or was it Lane, not Don, who paid Pete’s share of the collateral?
Wrap-Up: The fight for diversity in the workplace that opened the episode finally arrives at SCDP’s doorstep in the last scene. The prank ad has bitten SCDP in the ass, as about 20 African-American men and women have shown up in the lobby. Thanks to a racist “gift” from Y&R that did not go unnoticed by the applicants, the SCDP partners are forced to swallow their inherent bigotry and begin accepting résumés. The episode ends with a vision of hope, but the sound of despair – in the form of Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” – suggests yet another season filled with heartbreak.