Last year, internet extraordinaire, Aaron Cohen (guys, sometimes he writes for Kottke—no big deal) and I posted Mad Men episode recaps each week. Aaron writes the recap and I illustrate something from the episode to go with it. We’re going to do it again this season. Awesome, right? Here’s season 5 episode 1.
Aaron’s write up:
Writing a few minutes before the start of the episode, here are a few questions that need answering:
-The firm got a bank loan for 6 more months at the end of last season. Where are they now?
-Did Joan have the baby, and how did she explain the 1 month gap to her husband?
-Don and Megan?
-Betty and Henry?
We got answers to a few of these questions, or non-answers, as the case may be, which are still informative. This episode felt heavy on set up, a reminder of who the characters are, what they’re like, remember they’ve been out of our lives 17 months. Megan was the focus of the episode, which was good. If she’s going to be a regular, we’re going to need to know more about her. And it seems as though the series will finally address racial issues that have been mostly ignored the last 4 seasons. Everything appears somewhat stable, but as Pete said, “Stable is that step backwards between successful and failing.” Since this episode was mostly set up, let’s go character by character.
-Mad Men Season 5 starts on the Tuesday after Memorial Day, 1966. It’s about a year after Season 4 ended. Though they replaced the actor that played Bobby (NO! BOBBY!) and gave Sally a crazy frog voice in her first scene. Bobby was 7 during last season and either his math is terrible or he’s 10 this season. Weird.
-Let’s talk about Megan. In her first scene, she’s lying in bed with her butt crack out. The kids are comfortable around her, and she’s now a copywriter at SCDP. To a certain extent, the honeymoon has continued, as evidenced by the flirting at work. Megan thought a surprise party for Don would be a good idea, and maybe it would have been if it was out at a restaurant. While Don appears to have told her something about Dick Whitman, he obviously still values his privacy, the surprise party infringed on that. I think Megan was hurt Don didn’t appreciate the party, but I think she’s also feeling sensitive about her position at work, and quick promotion. Peggy seems to be somewhat patronizing, and Harry Crane… Well, yeah. Megan may have also taken the party rejection hard because maybe she felt like the party was a personal expression of herself: She likes dancing and singing and surprise parties, and when Don rejected the party, he was rejecting her. Throughout the episode, Don said everything right (“I don’t care about work”, “I wanted you to have what you wanted to have”), and he genuinely seems happy with her. The performance of Zou Bisou Bisou would certainly make it easier for Megan’s prediction to come true. “Everyone’s going to go home and they’re going to have sex.” I’d be remiss not to mention the scene of her cleaning in her bra and panties, and inflaming Don’s passions. I wish that scene could have had resolution without the non-consent fantasy. Also, was that the first side-boob of the series?
-Joan’s husband is still away at war, and she’s left with Baby Kevin and her mother. I clumsily try to look for symbols during the episodes, so maybe Joan struggling to get through the door of SCDP with the baby carriage was trying to show how hard it’ll be for her to manage a career and a family. Joan is sensitive, the ad combined with her mother’s prodding pushes her over the edge and she goes into the office where Roger sees his son for the first time. It’s hard to tell if he cares or not. Joan gets her pants charmed off by Don and acts like a school girl. I can’t remember from previous seasons, but her relationship with Don over the past couple years seems to be charged. Not entirely in a sexual way, though there is that, but in an intimate way. They’re comfortable together. I wonder if she knows about Dick Whitman. The scene of Joan and her mom riding the elevator was great.
-Peggy is still dating Abe. Peggy is still awkward (as evidenced by her conversation with Don at the party). Her Heinz pitch didn’t work as well as Topaz pantyhose, and Don didn’t save the day. She appears more confident this year, at certain points, and still self conscious at others. This Heinz meeting was the one promised “in eight months” last season. Raymond keeps his word. Remember when Pete saw Peggy holding the baby and freaked out for a second?
And yet, he doesn’t know about Peggy’s baby. Yeah, he does, she told him about it last season. Thanks, commenter Renae. It’s been a long lay off.
-The first scene must have had everyone confused. New characters? What? Just kidding, RACE! “Couldn’t have happened to a better bunch of bigots.” It appears SCDP will hire their first African-American because they were trying to make a dig at Y&R. Don said, “Couldn’t we just hire one of them,” and then looked somewhat proud while Lane made his speech in the lobby. I can’t find it in my notes, but there were 2 different times where Pete appeared uncomfortable when racism was expressed. Guess we’ll keep an eye on it. “And they call us savages.” Favorite line of the night. And also, “4 riots in 3 cities in 2 months.”
-Bert Cooper quit at the end of the last Season, but that appears not to have stuck.
-Creepy Harry Crane remains creepy.
-So what does no Betty mean? Probably nothing? Maybe she’ll play a vastly reduced role this year, maybe not. I assume a lot of other recaps will be talking about it. Let’s come back to this next week?
-Lane’s broke, but his wife is back. I guess he put his house in order like his father told him to. And yet he couldn’t keep himself from talking nasty to a stranger on the telephone. Strange fellow. There was a lot of tension with the entire wallet situation, I assumed he was getting conned somehow.
-I think Pete may have been the most interesting character of the episode. He’s getting more and more comfortable/successful/pushy at work. The biggest take away for me was it seems that he and Don have switched places. Pete used to be the one living with a hot wife in a great apartment in the city. Don was living the family life commuting by train to the suburbs. Pete was successful getting Mohawk Airlines interested, successful getting a new office, and successful at pranking Roger. He was less successful walking around the support beam in his office and busted up his nose. Pete isn’t sure how things sit with him out in the suburbs, and he’s concerned that Trudi is now willing to leave the house in a robe. Remember his line about stability?
-Roger is still Roger, though picking up from last year things with Jane again appear less than perfect. “Why don’t you sing like that?” “Why don’t you look like him?” Roger still had 95% of the good lines, “Look, if there’s no line item for humiliating the competition, Don will write it and I’ll pay for it, but you’re not allowed to read it,” and he’s still smooth as evidenced by his persuading Harry to switch offices. No one knows he paid for it, but he paid so much for it because he sees his own mortality at the firm and didn’t want the question of Pete taking his office to continue. Shades of the “THAT’S WHAT THE MONEY IS FOR” scene when Harry said, “You’re gonna owe.” “No, I’m not…This was a transaction.”
-Don is now forty, living the dream with a beautiful wife in a crazy NYC apartment. He actually seems content, smiling easily. I don’t quite know what to say about him. (I liked the scene where he put his arm across the front seat of his kids when they stopped. Remember that from growing up?) “I don’t need to be the center of attention,” “More people feel the way I do, than the way you do.” The privacy thing, that’s why Don didn’t like the party. He’s as open as we’ve ever seen him, how’s this going to play out?
Favorite lines that don’t fit anywhere: “Bombs are the perfect product,” “I know a girl who had your job that ended up with everything,” “I saw his soul leave his body,” “You think you’re a splinter? You’re not. The whole foot’s been infected for years.”
So, what did I miss?