It’s been a long time since we’ve gotten to see new episodes of Mad Men and it may have just been worth the wait.
Season 5 begins approximately a year and a half from where we left off in Season 4: June 1, 1967. The civil rights movement is starting to bubble up (despite the best efforts of some Y&R brats to quiet them down with water balloons) and the women of our Mad Men world are looking and acting a lot different from the women we first met in the first season. Namely, Don’s fresh new wife Megan is the polar opposite of sad, icy Betty, whose presence is sorely missed during the two-episode premiere. Please come back Betty!
But let’s start with Megan because, well, we all have to sit down and have a good chat about Megan. She’s everything that Betty is not: brunette, hip, young (not in terms of age, but attitude), and — gasp! — she’s actually working at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce as a low-level copywriter. A Mrs. Draper who works? Good heavens. This is clearly a different world than Season One.
Megan also oozes sensuality, whether she likes it or not. She glides into the office on Don’s arm wearing clothes that show off her flesh, her make-up and hair is all done up like a supermodel. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the ladies-who-work spectrum, Peggy just sort of occupies a room in that same dumb haircut (has no one touched her hair since that gay European?) and wearing undoubtedly itchy clothes. Yet even Peggy is seduced by Megan. How can you blame her? Megan and Don are like the Brad and Angelina of the agency, and Megan has injected a new life into the agency. She pops with color while everyone else just sort of blends into the room.
There’s something that’s very California-esque about Megan, even though she’s from Quebec. When Sally Draper first woke up and wandered through Megan’s (and really, it is Megan’s, even if it is actually Don’s) apartment, it looked more like a modern California home rather than a penthouse in Manhattan. California has always represented newness in the Mad Men world, and now Don has his own little slice of California with him. However, we soon see that newness and youth don’t always mean better, even to advertising men who are wrapped up in youth culture.
Megan meets with Peggy and tells her that she’s got a great scheme to throw Don a surprise birthday party. (He’s a Gemini, of course.) Peggy tries her best to dissuade Megan from throwing it, but she’s soon seduced by her enthusiasm and starts helping her organize the guest list. Even though Megan is the complete opposite of Betty, she’s still very much like her in some respects. Peggy and the rest of the “girls” at work still know Don a lot better than his own wife, even when that wife is working at the same company as him. Let’s just say that he doesn’t sound like the surprise party kind of guy. Does Don even like parties?
In non-Megan news, we are introduced to a wonderful new secretary, Caroline, who can keep up with Roger Sterling and his troublemaking ways. Oh that Roger. He was in fine form during the premiere, although the fact that his role in the company is starting to dwindle is becoming more apparent. He’s not the handsome one (like Don) or the one landing the big clients (like Pete), he’s just Roger, the eternal frat boy who is drifting around the workplace, poking secretaries and Pete.
Finally, we get to see Joan, who is at home with her new baby and her nagging mother. Mama Holloway wants Joan to quit her job and stay at home with her new baby. Joan is clearly uncomfortable with the idea, perhaps because her husband is currently away and she needs something to do or perhaps because she has worked for so long and is afraid of a post-work life. When Joan’s mom hints that her husband might not “allow” her to work, she throws a huff. “Allow me?” Joan says, indignantly. No one tells Joan what to do!
Back to the agency. Peggy is pitching a new ad campaign for Heinz baked beans that revolves around a terrible-sounding “bean ballet.” Yes, because what fart-inducing food needs injected into it is some class! The Heinz guys don’t like it and she’s forced to go back to the drawing board. Peggy is pissed because she thought bean ballet was a great idea. It was her Kodak carousel, at least in her mind. She complains about getting shot down to Don but he tells her to keep working. She’s not there yet.
Finally, we get to the surprise party. Everyone is in their mid-1960s worst and it is slowly starting to dawn on us that the days of classy Mad Men mid century wiggle dresses and circle skirts are a thing of the past. This season is all about printed polyester and miniskirts. The party is good for a few reasons. First, it gives us a chance to meet Peggy’s new boyfriend, a lefty journalist who writes for “underground” newspapers. Second, it gives us a chance to see Peggy “dance,” or rather, move around in a fashion that vaguely resembles the Twist. The perfect Peggy dance.
However, the party isn’t all Peggy dances and miniskirts. We also get to see what probably passed for a New York cool crowd back in the ‘60s: a flamboyant gay black man and a overly theat-ri-cle redhead beauty who is some old friend of Megan’s. Speaking of Megan, we also get to see her perform the most painful-yet-sexy song and dance that has ever been captured on the small screen.
See, Megan decided to give Don “his gift” in front of everyone at the party, which consisted of her singing the early ‘60s ye-ye hit “Zou Bisou” while throwing herself around the living room, rubbing her crotch, and flashing her bum to an audience of her co-workers. It was the perfect example of her image-defining sensuality and thirst for the center of the spotlight, but also her innocence. She doesn’t realize that this isn’t exactly the kind of stuff you do at functions with your co-workers, let alone your husband’s co-workers. Megan just thinks it’s silly party fun (and it gets her attention, which she clearly doesn’t mind). She’s like a proto-Pussycat Doll. She’s all spice, sex, and eyeliner with an “I’m not your sexy plaything, I’m just being fun!” attitude. Naturally, Don is mortified, and everyone else awkwardly claps and tries to suppress their giggles. It’s Megan’s bean ballet.
The aftermath of Megan’s “Zou Bisou” carries into the second episode, where she (and Don, sort of) have to deal with trying to not look at anyone in the eye on Monday morning following the party. Megan overhears Harry and Stan (who is still around, lime jacket and all) talking about how they want to bone her and what a “sex kitten” she is. Don has to deal with Roger mocking Megan’s French song-and-dance number. Don deals with this by telling Roger to knock it off and then moving on. Megan deals with Stan and Harry by slinking around with bad posture and pouting at a very “kids’ table”-looking communal desk in the creative space.
This is the thing about Megan: She’s very much a child. She wants to be free and have fun, dance and sing without worrying what people will think, and throw parties in her hip pad. However, she’s married to a much older man with children and works with him in a job that everyone and their mother knows she would not have if she wasn’t his wife.
Don definitely treats Megan like a child. He picks her up from Peggy’s brainstorming session when he leaves work like a dad picking up his daughter from daycare. When he hears that Megan went home because she “doesn’t feel well” he rushes home like a daddy tending to a sick child. In one of the final scenes of the second episode, when Megan isn’t getting what she wants, she demands attention by pouting, stripping off her clothes, and simultaneously ordering Don to not look at her. She’s a child in a grown woman’s body, perhaps a symbol of the youth-obsessed culture of the ‘60s. Megan hasn’t matured yet, and we don’t know if being with Don will help her mature. For now she’s just a woman-child.
But enough about Megan, let’s get back to other people of this show. Pete is dealing awkwardly with his new family life. When he brings it up to a friend on the train, the friend suggests that he starts to take a later train home so he can escape his wife’s nagging inquiries. That may have been the cure for guys like Don and Roger, but Pete is a different kind of man. Instead he takes out his anger by pestering Roger for a new office, which he eventually gets. (Along with a well-played prank on Roger as payback for trying to steal into his clients.)
Joan is plotting her return to work, but she’s feeling anxious that her job might not be there waiting for her when she returns from maternity leave. After worrying herself sick that she might get replaced, Joan attempts to stay fresh on everyone’s minds by dropping by the office, Joan-style in a hot pink wiggle dress and bright red lips. However, now Joan has a baby and she finds it a little awkward to strut around the office with a ghastly-looking baby stroller weighing her down.
Joan eventually meets with Pryce (who has a weird subplot involving him becoming infatuated with an outer-borough woman named Dolores whose photo he finds in a wallet) and admits that she is scared that the agency wouldn’t need her anymore. Joan feels alone. Her husband is gone, her mom is alienating, and she’s basically fending for herself. In a way Joan was always alone, that’s why she was always great at running other people’s lives. Organization was what kept Joan together, the only thing that gave her a sense of worth. The prospect of losing her job (again, really, if we remember the boring Joan-less days of Season 3) might destroy her during this delicate time.
Even though these two episodes helped bring us up to speed on most of our favorite characters, it also had a huge piece missing: Betty. Where oh where was our Ice Queen? With Megan’s intense sensuality being shoved in our faces, we wanted some of Betty’s chilliness to help take the edge off. The only hint we got of Betty was a glimpse of her current home, a castle-esque mansion, perfect for our blonde princess. Women are starting to change in Mad Men and it would be interesting to see where Betty fits into the changing times.
The second episode ended with a big change. A large number of black applicants came to SCDP to apply for a job after seeing the “equal opportunity employer” ad (that really started out as a joke on the racist Y&R brats) and a hint is dropped that they might hire a new secretary. After seeing a huge lack of black people for four seasons, Mad Men might finally start to get some diversity.
Overall, the biggest problem for this season is Megan. Will she be able to grow up out of her little girl/teen act? Not if she has Don/Dick Whitman (which she knows about) giving her everything that she wants. Don loves having a mindless, woman-child around who won’t bother him too much with surprise parties and won’t read too much into his own selfishness. (And Don is incredibly, rage-inducingly selfish.) Megan won’t change Don but maybe he’ll change her, for better or worse. It almost makes us wonder if this is sort of what Betty was like before she settled in with Don: full of life, carefree, shameless, and silly. Maybe Don turned Betty into an Ice Queen.
Some other things that need to be discussed:
- Jane has really turned into a new Mona, the perfect foil to Roger’s sarcastic jabs. The “glamour puss with the tan” has got some sass!
- Are we on Bobby Draper #5 now? Just checking.
- Matthew Weiner please give Peggy a new haircut! Maybe a chic bob or something else that doesn’t make her look like a Bay Ridge mom who clips coupons? She’s got a hip boyfriend and cool job!
- Stan’s lime green jacket needs to be doused in Dewar's whiskey and set on fire, we all know that. But he can continue wearing the tight pants and polos.
- God help us, but Don’s high-waisted white boxer shorts managed to make Jon Hamm seem very unsexy.
- HELLO JOAN’S BABY’S BUTT! And balls. This might be a first in television. “Mad Men: Winning Emmys and showing you close-ups of babies’ balls.”
Mad Men Season 5 premieres on Sunday, April 1 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.
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