Monday, April 14, 2014

Mad Men S7E1 - Time Zones


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 d├ętente 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 [1] 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 [2], 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 [3] than the vibrant home where dozens celebrated his 40th birthday [4]. 

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. 

END NOTES

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. 

9 comments:

  1. very good as always. the small details are so telling- like the broken sliding door, and the way that apartment was shot. Don wolfing down both sandwiches. I wanted Betty tho !. and Sally ! You knew from freddys pacing in telling the story that the idea was way beyond him- wonder if don had to sign a no-compete agreement

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  2. Weird that Peggy didn't understand that Don was behind Freddy, she knows deep inside that he doesn't have it in him anymore.

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  3. Anonymous, thank you for bringing up the sandwiches. I posted that question on Basket of Kisses but didn't get any responses about it. Scary Lawyer Guy, you're always good with this kind of analysis, what did you make of that? Is he eating his feelings? Eating as a substitute for drinking? What say you? And I'm a vegetarian but damn that pastrami sandwich looked good.

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    1. That pastrami *did* look good; though I'm suspicious of a place that can't master the simple bagel. Anyway, I didn't read too much into the meal Don had with Freddy (other than the fact that Freddy should tithe to Don), and if you'll notice, the Canadian Club was still in the apartment, just sealed (from what I could tell).

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  4. Tilden,

    Superb as always. This was a typically layered episode in which revelations big and small were waiting to be found in every sentence, scene detail, and time-identifying marker. I want to see characters, their eyes open, confronting their problems in honest ways -- not necessarily the right ways, but ways that reveal their actual selves within a time and place. This episode definitely met such a standard. I'm hoping for 13 more (six this year, seven the next).

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  5. Hey boss, You've some great rundowns. Its obvious that Megan is no longer attracted to Don but she accepts what should happen at the end of this episode.

    For Peter Campbell, he has been situated in Los Angeles. For whatever that means, he is currying up a little bit of business. I think the hug from Mr. Campbell and Don is nothing to write home for. But, if they end up as allies in a new agency along with Peggy and Cooper I wouldn't be surprised.

    I think Roger is being written out because he is too far gone. I think Mr. Gleason can seen several moves ahead and will not be left behind. Ted Chaough (uh) as Roger would say will be left off.

    I think its obvious that Don and Peggy will be together in the conclusion. Whether it be as a couple or as an agency that gets the las hurrah. We will see.

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    1. A co-worker noted that Pete looked like he had a weight lifted from him. The idea of re-inventing yourself in California is common in our culture. Not sure where Roger is heading - poor guy. Weiner is an acolyte of David Chase and if The Sopranos was any indication, I think you should prepare yourself for a more ambiguous ending. Just a guess. Thanks for reading!

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  6. For the opening episode of the final season, I thought it was rather weak.

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    1. I thought Weiner was basically setting up all the pieces on the chessboard. If you go back to other, early season premieres (I'm thinking of Seasons 2-4, particularly), they had a similar vibe. If Mad Men hasn't earned your trust that it will provide compelling TV at this point, well ...

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