Before Mad Men became MAD MEN and premieres stretched over two hours, Matt Weiner used a season's first episode to answer a few questions, tee up the season, and set the table for what's to come.
Having moved the calendar ahead a mere six weeks (if you're scoring at home, we pick up the story in January 1969), we learn that Peggy's run as Acting Creative Director was woefully short-lived. Her new supervisor is the avuncular Lou Avery, a pleasant, keep-the-trains-running-on-time leader lacking either Don or Ted's creative vision. Roger's in some sort of cuddle puddle with a clutch of hippies, but still lacking any real connection to his daughter Margaret, whose attempts at détente are met with a shrug of the shoulders. In the office, Ken Cosgrove now sits atop the Accounts Department, though his stress level is stratospheric and eye patch omnipresent. He also has a new account man, or should I say, woman, Joan Harris, who (it appears) avoided getting kicked off the diving board on Avon and is now working on a second account, Butler Shoes.
And what about Don? Oh him. Tall, dark, and handsome, but with some "issues." Right. He's ghost writing copy for Freddy Rumsen to keep his creative chops sharp and trying to manage a bi-coastal relationship with Megan, a micro-mini skirted vision who seems to embody California at the cusp of the 70s. Of course, it is telling that the one thing Don buys to make himself feel more at home on the West Coast is a television - an instrument of his work and his isolation. A baying coyote could not interrupt the mellow vibe - Pete Campbell, side burns creeping ever further down his face has quickly made peace with his new environs and the West Coast office of SC&P is airy and bright.
If anything stood out about "Time Zones," it was the juxtaposition of California and New York, a theme that has played out at various times  but with the former always being presented as sunny and forward looking and the latter gloomy and somewhat ominous. So while Don and Megan cruise around in a convertible, Joan is hustling to save an account while slipping on ice and snow, and Peggy is navigating the world of life after Ted (an awkward early morning run-in at the office does not help), without Don (recognizing the quality of his work, even if she does not know it is his) and the responsibilities of being a landlord (I guess brownstones in the UWS 80s are not as easy to sell in 1969 as they would in 2014).
As for Don, he is in flux - neither here nor there. Six weeks since being unceremoniously dumped from SC&P, we don't see him with a drink , but having turned down someone who is catnip for him (a flawed brunette he meets on the red eye back to New York) and learning of his behind-the-scenes work on Accu-Tron, perhaps it is best to say he's a work in progress - honest enough with a stranger to tell her his wife knows he's a "terrible husband" but absorbing her story of her husband's death from "thirst" as a cautionary tale of his own battle with the bottle. His Park Avenue apartment is going to seed, the sliding glass doors malfunctioning and the decor more like his single man pad on 6th and Waverly  than the vibrant home where dozens celebrated his 40th birthday .
Meanwhile, the show's two other main protagonists, Peggy and Roger, are experiencing a similar anomie. While Roger just wants to sleep, staring blankly at the ceiling while two people young enough to be Margaret's siblings are curled up beside him, Peggy yearns for some company so deeply that she tries to get her brother-in-law to stay the night in her home instead of turning around and going to Brooklyn before returning to fix a repair the next morning. When he demurs and leaves, she falls in a heap, the weight of her dislocation overcoming her.
And so it goes - for all its obsessive attention to detail, of getting the look and feel of the era right, Mad Men has always been about those quiet moments we all experience, the times when no one is looking or around, when we acutely feel the loneliness and doubt that can make the human condition so rife with anxiety and fear. That the point is driven home as the dark cloud of Nixon's presidency dawns is apt, but its message is universal and timeless.
1. See, e.g., The Jet Set, (Season 2 Episode 11), The Mountain King (Season 2, Episode 12), The Good News, (Season 4, Episode 3), Tomorrowland (Season 4, Episode 13), A Tale of Two Cities, (Season 6, Episode 10).
2. Freddy Rumsen's indirect reference to his own sabbatical (Six Month Leave, Season 3, Episode 8) suggests that Don might be leaning on his old copywriter for guidance and help.
3. A dark and gloomy apartment where Don spends Season 4.
4. A Little Kiss, Part II, Season 5, Episode 2.