Michelle Griffin April 13, 2012
Mad Men is back on our screens.
Episode: A Little Kiss (Part One)
Head to the comments section to have your say on the episode.
First off, a warning to anyone who has not yet seen the season premiere of the fifth season of Mad Men: you're welcome to stay but this is the only time I'm going to tell you that this recap is chock full of SPOILERS and a little piece of creator Matthew Weiner's soul shrivels up and dies every time a viewer has prior knowledge of a plot point before they watch.
As someone who was just as engrossed when I watched the first four series for the second time this summer, I think he worries too much. If you want to read ahead, go ahead. It's easier than avoiding every pop culture website and most of Twitter until it's on free-to-air here. Unlike, say, Lost, which is fuelled almost entirely by "what-the?" moments, there's plenty to enjoy here even if you know that Don's about to meet his evil identical twin.
Anyway, SPOILER WARNING clearly flagged, let's begin ...
... with a scene ripped straight from page one of the New York Times, May 28, 1966, when the copy boys of actual Madison Avenue agency Young & Rubicam water-bombed a civil rights protest on the footpath below. It's a novelistic prelude, this scene, a historical re-enactment where dignified - if damp - protesters storm into reception and denounce the fratboy execs. But how funny that this scene, with dialog lifted verbatim from reportage, feels more contrived than the fictional world it will inform.
BEDSIDE ALARM CLOCK - We're reunited with our first regular cast member, not-so-wee Sally Draper. Her flowery child pyjamas can't hide the fact that actress Kiernan Shipka has had well over a year to grow up while only seven months or so tick over in Mad Men land. Set to an organ music soundtrack, she wanders through what appears to the latest catalog from Ikea but is really her daddy's swanky new Manhattan pad. She fumbles with a timber veneer door which opens to reveal ...
Don Draper, clad in only a pair of boxer shorts. Although the dialogue is drowned out by the SQUEEEEEEEE of fans getting more of an eyeful than they had dared hope, we do follow Sally's wary gaze to the Man Ray guitar silhouette of the new Mrs Draper, naked in bed.
KITCHEN BENCH - Don's making breakfast for Sally and two little boys, toddler Gene and the latest, Bobby, who proves sharper both of feature and uptake than the last two, reminding Daddy that he's always making empty promises about visiting the Statue of Liberty. Megan appears, fully clothed, to compliment the children on Don's birthday gift - a shaving brush to help him maintain the smooth surface of his lantern jaw.
No sign of Betty this week, although we glimpse the gloomy manse where she waits when Don drops the children off. No wonder he doesn't get out of the car. He's turning 40, he tells New Bobby, and when his son is 40, he'll be - "you'll be dead," says New Bobby, a fair guess what with all the smoking, drinking and repressed anger. Though now that I think of it, we're five minutes in and I haven't seen a single cigarette or scotch. Mad Men drinking games are off to a slow start.
MORNING - Commuter train. Hello Pete Campbell, looking more 40-something than Don with his grey flannel suit, receding hairline and scent of baby spit-up. Obnoxious Neighbour cramps his quality crossword time to play the Future Pete Fears, fighting with the missus, punching hotel walls and fantasising about "a little piece".
STERLING COOPER DRAPER PRICE - At last. This show, like most of its characters, is always at its best in the office. Roger Sterling is busy harassing a secretary, though not the way he likes best. Instead, he's bribing Caroline, the wonderful dragon Joan hired last season, to sit outside his office to make him look important. She takes the cash, but doesn't move. If Roger were in Game of Thrones, loss of power on this level would see his head offered to a princeling as a chew toy.
BABY'S BUM, EXTREME CLOSE-UP - A quick catch-up with Joan Harris (nee Holloway) where we learn a few things:
1. It's definitely a boy;
2. Baby's name is Kevin, which the Baby Name Wizard indicates peaked in popularity in the 1960s, before plummeting back to obscurity;
3. Sleep deprivation makes Joan super-bitchy to her mother, but Joan still looks amazing;
4. I know bottle-feeding was standard, but surely she could have fed the whole ward with those jugs; and
5. Husband, the lousy doctor/date-rapist, is still in 'Nam.
PETE'S OFFICE - where Ken Cosgrove, the only Mad man with no hidden angst, makes water-skiing jokes with art director Stan while Peggy dourly notes she worked all weekend and Pete frets about preparation. I'd say these two workaholics were well-matched if that wasn't, you know, all submerged-and-denied backstory.
In the HALLWAY, Pete's secretary Clara is distracted by Roger's debonair ways while Pete has to run interference with Mr and Mrs Draper, slinking into the office at 11am with a smug post-coital glow. Roger shoehorns in a reference to the water-bombing scene at the start of the show and suggests that SDCP exploit the situation by taking out an ad describing the firm as equal opportunity employers. Not to actually hire anyone, of course. Just to make Y&R look bad. It's like suggesting your government would give every mum a discount nanny.
DON'S OFFICE, where the happy couple are grappling over the desk. Draper has become the partner in charge of having a really good time, formerly Roger's job, and won't let Megan go and draw discount coupons for Peggy until she flashes her breasts at him. "You're a dirty old man," Megan pouts in her best Jane Fonda Vadim impression. Well, second-best of this episode ...
Don fumbles for a CIGARETTE. (at last! Fifteen minutes in. Drink at home!) Enter Pete, with that adorable mixture of envy, disapproval and ambition. Everyone's all agog for Don's character arc but this show is nothing without the oh-so-recognisable uneven evolution of Pete. Today, he wants Don to add some of his charisma to a lunch date with the once-jilted Mohawk Airlines. Don brushes him off but as Pete leaves, we see that Caroline is sitting outside ROGER'S office. He must have slipped her another 50.
ART ROOM, where Megan appears to be working for Peggy. This is a sweet scene where Don's real wife and his office wife discuss real wife's scheme to throw Don a surprise party. Peggy, who has known Don as long as we have, understands that this is not a man who likes surprises. She can also scan the rolodex, or whatever they were using back then, and put a line or 10 through the name of potential guest Herman "Duck" Phillips, last seen defecating in Don's best office chair in The Suitcase episode.
JOAN'S APARTMENT for another helping of exposition: Joan and her mother argue about whether a mother should return to work or stay home and care for her baby, which should trigger the opinion columns on every single women's website about how little has changed.
RESTAURANT - Roger has parachuted in on Pete's lunch date with Mohawk, buttering up with clients with plenty of alcohol (at last! 20 minutes in), but Pete's never going to roll with the punches. He pretty much orders Roger back to the office like an errant teenager about to write lines, rather than do them.
THE OFFICE - Peggy and Stan are trying to sell super-trendy motion-capture technology (the CGI of its day) to the Heinz baked bean franchise, but they're as excited by the "bean ballet" as they should be. Don doesn't have the heart to sell it either, despite Stan's excellent Swan Lake humming. Peggy fritzes - that was her best idea! - but Don is all "meh", or would be if that word had been in use.
ENTER PETE, roiling with disgust, so angry with Roger he walks smack into a concrete support beam in his office. No, I didn't really buy it either. It's a support beam, it's always been there, and anyways, Pete always has hissy fits. It does set up a nice exchange between Pete, all nose-bleeding nausea and incoming migraine, and sun-always-shining Ken, confident that things can only get better.
"Kenny Cosgrove writes another great American novel," Pete snarls. Maybe, though I can't imagine Roth, Mailer or even Updike at his most urbane being so perpetually blithe.
ART ROOM, where Don kidnaps his wife from the copy desk. No, they don't need Megan, and Don doesn't believe the new wife is a career girl, she's just at the office to flash him on command. Well, it might keep him monogamous. Stan almost reveals the surprise party, not that Randy Don would notice. Stan's still an oaf, but his joke about tickets to the "bean ballet" redeems him, even if it doesn't count as added character dimension.
PETE'S HOUSE - A cheer from Team Trudy, when Pete's dressing-gown-wearing wife tells him: "Dissatisfaction is a symptom of ambition. It's the coal that fuels the fire," which is obviously the BIG THEME of the season wrapped in a ribbon, and then chuckles at the new Mrs Draper's sudden surprising invitation to Don's surprise party: "she's very impulsive, we know that". Word, Mrs Campbell.
THE PARTY - Peter Sellers isn't here impersonating an Indian gentleman in excruciating dated ways, but Lordy, otherwise this already looks like a swinging shindig, even if the guests have the awkward bonhomie of work colleagues who don't normally hang out away from the office. We see that Megan has invited friends from some other life she had before Don projected all his ideal-woman fantasies on to her: check out the flamboyant gay black man who is playing MC, decades before it became de rigeur for daffy city girls on TV to have a gay bestie. I trust Weiner will resist the temptation to use him in future as her sounding board full of wise, sassy advice.
Outside, Don is shoving Megan against a wall, planning a party in Megan's pants, but as she drags him towards the door, they stumble into Roger and Jane, arriving late enough to spoil the fun. Don looks as if Megan has invited all his colleagues to a Dick Whitman slideshow but he stumbles in after Roger, who cheerfully admits he ruined the surprise.
But can we pause to take in the awesome party outfits? Jane's raspberry ripple print, Stan's red patchwork sweater, the random sailor, Harry in a green turtleneck that would make Jarvis Cocker sob with envy. And oh my stars, the Campbells: Pete's in a red-and-khaki plaid sports coat and Trudy's in pink Pucci. I couldn't be happier if they danced another jitterbug, like they did at Roger's shindig.
Don's working through the seven stages of party hell for control freak introverts: his accountant hugs him; Harry Crane gives him a silver walking stick; beatniks are playing jazz in his living room; and Kenny Cosgrove is smoking "tea" and reciting poetry on his balcony. Penny sidles by with the new guy, Abe the journalist who loves her enough to forgive her blood-sucking corporate job. When she blurts that she's spent the weekend - again - working on the stupid Heinz campaign, Don should high-five her for her joyless workaholism, but he stares at her with the curled lip of manly disgust. People are sharing their feelings in his house while his wife is laughing with people he doesn't know. Roger says they're not laughing at him, but yeah ... you can almost see the red mist rise before Don's eyes.
But the worst is yet to come, although it's the best as far as the viewers are concerned. Megan announces she has a present for Don, pushes him into a chair in the middle of the room and cues the band.
Zou Bisou Bisou, the sexy Megan version of a yeye French pop version of a disposable Sophia Loren number about, um, sounding simultaneously sexy and silly, is already available to buy on itunes as a single. Kind of redundant considering we're all singing it under our breath in the office already. Actress Jessica Pare really sells the mix of white-hot sex appeal and extreme awkwardness, as every man in the room starts to not only undress her with their eyes, but move on to several explicit moves that Harry will detail in part two.
That's exactly what Don really enjoys - not. He likes his women like he likes his cigarettes, tucked in his pocket to be consumed as a private pleasure.
BEDROOM - Don's prone on the bed, tense as a soldier in a foxhole. Megan, not reading body language very well at all, bounces next to him to ask if he had fun. At first he brushes her off, saying he just wants to sleep, but when she keeps pouting like she wants applause, he snarls that she should refrain from spending money on things that embarrass him. In the middle of this martial spat, it's revealed that Megan knows all about Don's Dick Whitman past and doesn't care. That's great news - for the viewers, at any rate, because the whole secret-identity thing was always the lamest part of the Mad Men package. If we can go a season without flashbacks to his hardscrabble childhood, I too will frug on his fluffy white rug in my best Pucci print.
Megan, startled by the revelation that Don doesn't like what she likes, slinks out on to the balcony to stare soulfully at the skyline.
What did you think of the episode? Leave a comment below.