Sunday night’s season premiere of Mad Men picks up a mere two months after we left off last season, but much has changed and much has deteriorated for the gloriously damaged folk of SC&P. The show has gone bi-coastal, now straddling New York and California full-time, with Megan and Pete holding down the fort on the West coast and the two former creative directors flitting in between both locations to suit their needs.
The season’s first shot is a close-up on cuddly Freddy Rumsen babbling a mile a minute. It’s a creative pitch for what appears to be a wristwatch account – suave, sharp-edged, almost lyrical in its delivery…now, how did our pants-wetting teddy bear Freddy pull something like this from the depths of his patchy imagination? Yeah, no – he did no such thing. The pitch reeks of Don Draper, and as we discover later, Don is feeding ideas to Freddy just so he can get them in the door. Peggy, ever Don’s devoted disciple whether she’s actively aware of it or not, loves the idea and proceeds to pitch a modified version to our brand new head of creative, Lou Avery. Lou is a vanilla, tepid sort of guy with a trite sense of humor and a nursing home-esque wardrobe – what’s not to love? He shoots down Peggy’s pitch without much of a second glance, making it clear that his work sensibilities are tired and easy – the infuriatingly polar opposite of the ingenuity that Peggy craves.
Roger wakes up on the floor of some hotel space with naked women and bottles strewn haphazardly across the room – so, his natural habitat. He awakes with a start to the ringing of the telephone – it’s Margaret, his daughter, uncharacteristically tranquil in her polite request to meet him for brunch. This is Margaret we’re talking about, so of course, Roger’s first instinct is to suspect some sort of intervention or ambush – but regardless, he agrees to the meeting. When he turns up to white tablecloths and Bloody Marys, Margaret has an eerily serene smile on her face – “I forgive you for all your transgressions,” she tells him, clearly quite pleased with her newfound emotional enlightenment. It’d be a little touching if this were anyone other than Margaret and Roger Sterling, and the meeting hardly ends in a tearful daddy-daughter embrace as planned. “I forgive you,” Roger fires back, not one to relinquish his pride for the sake of important relationships. He’ll be damned if he’s going to implicitly accept the notion that he’s to blame for the pair’s rocky bond – it’s classic Sterling.
A surprisingly large chunk of time into the episode, we finally cut to Mr. and Mrs. Don Draper. They’re both dazzling with their slow-mo swagger and perfect hairdos, but it rapidly becomes clear that it’s all a strained front for the couple’s artificial contentment. Don and Megan’s interactions are wooden and forced, a relatively passionless caricature of their prolonged honeymoon period from past seasons. Of course, part of the problem must be the distance – a bicoastal relationship is demanding no matter your husband’s sexual attention span – but it’s also yet another proverbial nail in Don’s infidelity coffin. He simply can’t keep his eyes trained on one woman for too long, no matter how beautiful, talented, or understanding. “She knows I’m a terrible husband,” he confesses to a heavy-lidded Sylvia doppelganger he meets on the NYC-bound plane. “I really thought I could do it this time.” A lackluster mockery of the slick force of nature he once was, Don is struggling to hold on to any shred of his past life, peddling the only thing he’s still got – advertising prowess – through Freddy Rumsen. Despite a seeming breakthrough in season 6 with Hershey’s and his secret-addled childhood, Don’s overall demeanor is absolutely elastic – he’s lost nearly everything, but he still has yet to truly come to terms with the pathetic shadow he’s become.
Pete is a blissful and sun kissed idiot in a Lacoste polo and garish plaid pants – but he does seem to have finally found his feet in California. Peggy is frustrated and discouraged by Ted’s visit and Lou’s lack of appreciation for innovative work, eventually returning to her apartment and falling to her knees with face-crumpling sobs. Joan seeks work-guidance from a business school professor and has difficulty grasping the idea that a man might actually take her seriously with a healthy dose of respect – with all the excessive Joan-ogling that goes on in this episode, it’s hard to blame her. Ken is a bitter, frazzled, one-eyed ogre with far too much on his plate and not enough people to blame for it. We get no mention of the Francis family or Sally – who knows how far gone those relationships are, especially now that the Sylvia debacle has had sufficient time to marinate?
In this last season of the show, many of our characters remain stagnant and discontented as the country and culture whirls and revolutionizes around them – it’ll be interesting to see how they do or don’t keep up.