Mad Men Season 5 Premiere Recap: All You Get to Do Is Watch

Happy birthday…?

AMC’s Mad Men opened its long-awaited Season 5 by celebrating, in assorted and at times very, ahem, “interesting” ways, Don Draper’s 40th birthday.

The two-hour premiere opened with no familiar faces, but a fraternity of Young & Rubicam flunkies pranking protesters on the streets below their office windows; that tomfoolery would ultimately feed into Joan’s story (making her question her job security at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce), then bookend the opener with a bevy of African-American job applicants in the agency’s lobby, deftly dealt with by Lane.

In between all that, here’s what happened, in June of 1966, with:

DON | Yep, he’s married – and inhabiting sprawling, mod new digs with wife Megan. They commute to the office together, where for the past three months she’s been working as a copywriter (for cents-off coupons, but still). Despite the legitimacy of their union, the office still murmurs — and perhaps no more so than after Megan throws a surprise birthday party for her husband. During the soiree, Megan gifts her man with a song (“Zou Bisou Bisou”) and dance – if swaying hips, jutted legs and wandering hands compose a dance. It is, if not for all the right reasons, a crowd-pleaser, and in a labyrinthine way winds up scoring Pete a new office. Later, Don cops to being embarrassed by Megan’s efforts, but when she, still sulking days later, takes leave from the office, he follows her home and an oddly psychosexual game of semi-naked house cleaning ensues. All is forgiven. (P.S. Anyone else think Megan was going to pitch herself off the balcony after her and Don’s tiff?)

PEGGY | Still partnered with Stan and now overseeing newbie scribe Megan, Peggy is still putting in long hours and longing for professional satisfaction. Don’s failure to stand up for her (awful) “beans ballet” Heinz campaign — coupled with plentiful party cocktails — leads Ms. Olson to uncork some of her feelings at her boss’ 40th. Later reminded of her obnoxious actions by Megan, Peggy expresses remorse to Don.

JOAN | Yep, she’s a mom – and her own mother (hey, it’s Desperate Housewives‘ Martha Huber!) is helping take care of her little man. But for how much longer? Tensions are running high between the ladies, especially when Mom has Apollo the swarthy plumber over for too long a visit. And then even more so when Joan sees the ad placed by SCDP in the Times (merely to taunt Y&R). Cue a visit for Joan and baby to the agency, where apparently Big Bang Theory‘s Bernadette now works in reception. After run-ins with colleagues including Roger (does he suspect he’s the father?) and Peggy (still loathe to handle a newborn after all these years), Joan meets with Lane, suspecting she’s about to get the hook. Instead, Lane – God bless him – reiterates Miss Holloway’s critical importance to the works, in a really nice scene for Jared Harris and Christina Hendricks.

LANE | Speaking of the flirty Brit, he’s as financially strapped as SCDP, and angles to shield his Mrs. from the depths of their debt. He has an odd little arc involving a regular Joe’s found wallet and the comely lass whose snapshot resides inside. Will we ever meet Delores, or was this bit simply to exemplify the age-old tale of how a man takes his mind off a domestic woe (e.g. finances) with a a shiny object? I suspect the sweet scene with Joan was to say to us, “Know what? Lane is not that guy. He’s got a heart of gold. Just allow him his imagined dalliance.”

PETE | The no-longer-quite-so-young Mr. Campbell, as a relatively new dad, is on a mission to claim his rightful space – geographically – at SCDP. To that end, perhaps cheesed off one time too many by Roger’s antics, he calls a partners meeting in his “s–thole with a support beam” of an office to leverage the business he’s been bringing in into claiming Sterling’s sweet space. And while S, C, D and P largely shrug off his power play, Roger shows us a bit of something by compelling (newly svelte!) Harry into trading offices with Pete – which he does (in exchange for $1,100 from the partner’s pocket). No matter how it came to be, Peter chalks up a “W” and starts dreaming big – as in “in-ground pool come springtime” big. Careful, champ, don’t pull a Griswold. (P.S. Were they hinting that Trudy suffered from post-partum depression?)

ROGER | As brash and with highballs big as ever, he makes his first Season 5 splash by trying to commandeer Pete’s confab with Mohawk Airlines. Elsewhere, he unwittingly foils Megan’s surprise party, makes a toast to Don that seemed to irk trophy wife Jane and, in a final, humorous moment, fell prey to one of Pete’s ploys, scurrying off to hijack a 6 am pow-wow with Coca Cola that simply ain’t happening.

BETTY | MIA, but apparently now living in some sort of McCastle. (Hence Don’s dig quoted below.)

All told, it was a leisurely paced two hours pinned on no particularly aggressive narrative device – in other words, save for the party, just another day in the life, instead leaving the small time jump and how it had shifted the chess pieces some to provide most of the color. Before we hit the comments, some memorable lines:

“Here, why don’t you buy yourself a fancy hat… or a mask, or something.”

“Give Morticia and Lurch my love.”

“A ten? Are you buying his formula or yours?”

“You’ve never seen me throw a party. Everyone is gong to go home from this and have sex.”

“Stable is that step backwards between succeeding and failing.”

“I’ve got tickets to the bean ballet and the curtain is about to go up.”
“Never gets old.”

“You ever read Johnny Got His Gun? No eyes, no ears, no nose, tapping out his last wishes in Morse code with his deformed head….”
“I thought there were gonna be girls here.”

“Why don’t you sing like that?”
“Why don’t you look like him?”

“That was quite the soiree. Did Masters and Johnson come in yet?”

“This apartment has never had any trouble getting [the plumber’s] attention.”

“I saw his soul leave his body.”

The seemingly unscripted toot coming from Joan’s baby boy, while in Lane’s arms. (Both Hendricks and Harris appeared to break.)

“Don’t! I don’t want people to think you’re getting this… You don’t get to have this. Go sit over there…. All you get to do is watch.”

What did you think of the Mad Men premiere? Worth the wait? Did anything surprise you?