The watershed year 1969 blinks open its eyes in Mad Men‘s seventh season premiere, echoing a rough start for many current – and one former – Sterling Cooper & Partners associates.
This is the year Nixon takes office, the year Neil Armstrong first treads on the moon, the year of Woodstock and the Stonewall Riots and the Manson family murders. A lot of change, both good and bad, is about to happen very quickly. In short, if Don, Peggy, Roger and the rest feel a bit out of sorts at the outset, they’re in good company.
Yeah, I know – that idea’s about as comforting as waking up in a pile of naked, strung-out hippies. But when world-changing events happen in history, they’re always made up of smaller, yet just-as-crucial choices made in individual people’s lives. (Side note: I just realized I inadvertently paraphrased Buffy‘s Parker Abrams, and I am ashamed.)
“Time Zones” kicks off Season 7 by showing us some of those choices in action, and I’m intrigued to see how these little decisions – whether or not to tell a spouse about your job situation, whether or not to forgive a lackluster parent, whether or not to step up even if you’re not quite sure you’re ready – weave together with the tumultuous year ahead of our characters. So let’s get it started with a review of what happened in the season’s first hour.
MEET THE NEW BOSS | We open on a shot of Freddy Rumsen in top form, pitching a kickass campaign for Accutron watches. Though Peggy quibbles with the tagline, she reluctantly deems the concept “a home run… That is not what I expected.” I loved both his response (“There’s a nice way to say that, and there’s the way you just said it”) and the fact that he’s freelancing for her when he was the one who recognized her genius in the first place.
Unfortunately, the exchange with Freddy is probably the high point of the episode for Peggy. The moment she arrives in Don’s old office for a team meeting led by his replacement, Oldie McNotFunnyNorSuave (aka Lou Avery) from Dancer Fitzgerald, it’s clear he does not think she’s the tam-wearing special snowflake Don did. He doesn’t like her tagline for the Accutron pitch, and later in the episode when she tries to start over with him, he’s uninterested in that, too. “I guess I’m immune to your charms,” he says patronizingly. Ick.
If that’s not enough of a downer, Peggy also spends half the episode dodging Ted, who’s back in the office for a brief visit from California; their interaction over the percolator in the break room is so icy, it prompts even the obtuse Stan to offer an astute, “None of this seems related to coffee.” She later channels all of her hurt and rage into a diatribe aimed at the art team (“You’re all a bunch of hacks!”), a toilet-fixing-related standoff with the boy who lives upstairs (which she loses) and a sobbing fit alone on her apartment floor. Cheer up, Pegs – at least you’re doing better than Don is.
YES I AM, AND I CAN’T HELP BUT LOVE YOU SO | Speaking of the silver-tongued Draper, we catch up with him in an airplane bathroom as he freshens up before arrival. He lands in California, backed up by Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man,” and is picked up at the curb by a leggy, Priscilla Presley-haired Megan in a minidress. From appearances, it looks like Mr. and Mrs. Draper are still together, but you know about this show and appearances…
Don’s weekend in the Golden State begins with a meal with Megan’s agent, who delivers the happy news that she’s got a callback for an NBC pilot. “I’ll say one thing about this girl: She evokes strong feelings,” the Hollywood player remarks – and boy, do we have the comments archives to back that up.
Back at Megan’s place – a remote bungalow in the hills that Don refers to as “Dracula’s castle”– Mrs. Draper is too drunk for nookie. Don puts her to bed then falls asleep watching TV on the couch. (Side note: Given both last year’s Sharon Tate parallels and how hard the show pushes the fact that Megan lives somewhere Don feels is mildly unsafe, I feel like Matthew Weiner & Co. are just messing with us now, no?) The next morning, Megan gets ready for an acting class and mentions that Don is going into the office?! Is Mrs. Draper unaware of her hubby’s firing?
PLAID PANTS, GOOD VIBES | It seems so, because the only office he visits is Pete’s West Coast outpost, and that’s just for a few minutes after they have a nosh at Canter’s deli. Life in LaLa Land has done Pete some good; “The city’s flat and ugly and the air is brown, but I love the vibrations,” he enthuses to a skeptical Don over pastrami-and-coleslaw sandwiches. Don stops by SC&P’s western branch just long enough to meet Pete’s bunny of a real estate agent (played by Jessy Schram, aka Logan Echolls’ Season 2 mind game Hannah), then he rolls back to Megan’s with a giant new TV in tow.
She’s less than pleased – an expensive, state-of-the-art set isn’t the best accessory for someone playing starving actress Barbie – and falls asleep later on as Don watches Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon on TV. As you might’ve guessed, things still aren’t great between the Drapers – they’re awkward around each other, and at one point she stops a fight just because they don’t have enough time to argue and make up again before he returns to New York. (Not exactly “Zou Bisou Bisou,” is it?)
PARTY OF TWO | And if Megan’s unhappy about the TV, she’d be really ticked that Don gets flirty and cozy with his lovely seatmate – Party of Five‘s Neve Campbell as grieving widow Lee – on the flight home. Lee even says as much, leading Don to engage in some uncharacteristic honesty. “She knows I’m a terrible husband,” he says. “She doesn’t know that much, but she knows.” Oof. True, but oof.
Back in New York, Lee offers him a lift that’s likely more than a lift, and Don turns it down with what sounds like a blow-off: “I’m sorry, but I have to get back to work.” But – shocker! – he’s telling the truth again, in a way. We later see him meeting with Freddy at the apartment, where it becomes clear that Don’s been feeding Freddy stellar content (like the Accutron pitch) to peddle at various ad agencies around town.
Later that night, Don sits on his terrace in boxers, tee shirt and a bathrobe, for once looking like the sad sack he is, while Vanilla Fudge’s cover of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” plays in the background. Even on the very pretty Jon Hamm, Don’s desperation? Not a good look.
ORGY FATIGUE | Please, Roger – lift us outta this funk with your… new naked friends? When we catch up with the silver fox, he’s just the way we like him: without clothes, possibly hungover and definitely strewn among other nude bodies (I count five, maybe six). A call from daughter Margaret summons him to brunch a few days later at the Plaza; she wants him to know that, even though he’s a terrible father and grandfather, she “simply” forgives him. Rog is instantly suspicious. “Are you going to church?” (Heh.) He returns home, exhausted, to find a lovely young hippie chick and some guy asleep – passed out? – between the sheets. “Move him over, too,” Roger says tiredly, making it seem like her reminder that “anyone’s welcome in this bed” might’ve seemed a lot more shiny a few weeks before.
JOAN TAKES A MEETING | What about Joan, you ask? She takes advantage of Ken the Pirate’s (too soon?) inability to keep up with his workload by stepping up to meet with Butler Footwear’s new head of marketing… who wants to cut costs by firing SC&P. Joanie buys the firm few days before the big decision and uses that time to pick the brain of a business professor she thinks is propositioning her (fair, if inaccurate). In the end, Joan kind of owns the weaselly shoe guy but confesses to Ken that she’s not sure how successful she really was in retaining Butler’s business. What you really need to take away from all of this, though, is that Ken tosses Joan’s earring to her, it flies wild – depth perception no longer being his strong suit – and she sighs loudly. The throw alone is pretty funny; Joan’s reaction to it made me howl.
Now it’s your turn. Are you wondering what’s up with Sally, Betty, Henry and the boys? How about Bob Benson out in Detroit? Has it hit you yet that this is the beginning of the last season? Sound off in the comments — and if you’re curious, press PLAY below to watch a 1969 promo for Bracken‘s World, the pilot for which Megan has a callback. (RIP Jeanne Cooper!)Follow @kimroots