Mad Men TV Club regulars John Swansburg and Julia Turner were on Slate’s Facebook page on Monday to chat with readers about the Mad Men season premiere. The following transcript of the discussion has been edited for length and clarity. To see the full conversation, click on this link. See all of Slate’s coverage of Mad Men, Season 5 here.
John Swansburg: Hi all, I'm Slate's Culture Editor. I hope everyone goes home from this chat and has sex.
Julia Turner: Hi everyone! I'm Slate's Deputy Editor, and one of its official Mad Men commentators. What'd you guys think of the premiere?
Mary Sprague Edwards: At first I was thinking ... huh, this is it?
It didn't start with a bang or anything, it was more like an easy re-introduction to each of the characters as their basic (and mostly unlikable) selves. Like Megan expressed later in the show, I was thinking, these people are not good people. (And those were the characters I usually LIKE.)
My favorite part of the show was definitely when Joan (and her breasts) brought the baby in and Roger says, "my baby!" misdirecting the comment to Joan. Then seeing Peggy with the carriage as Pete walks into the office and awkwardly stands near her, and then gets the baby handed off to him. OH!!!! The true weight of those scenes was just painful and delicious!!
Julia Turner: You're right, Roger had so many good lines in this episode. I was particularly fond of his rendition of Frere Jacques.
Logan Ertz: Loved it. Thought the dynamic between Don and his wife is really interesting. Megan seems to have a real internal strength about her.
Julia Turner: Logan, I think you're right that Megan has a strength about her we haven't seen in many of Don's paramours. I loved the scene where he said something like "Don't spend money on stuff like that" and she said, "It's my money." Working gives her an independence Betty never had.
Ginger Nash: I thought it was weak. The characters are becoming caricatures of themselves and the storyline was just not compelling. Hopefully, the second episode is better.
Amy Pogue: Weak, and seemed to drag on.
Monica Wilson: I watched half and got bored, so am glad I'm not the only one who was underwhelmed. I'll watch the other half this evening.
John Swansburg: I'm surprised that so many folks are saying they didn't like the episode. As I noted in my first TV Club post, I loved it.
Julia Turner: And I was fond of the first episode too—every member of the gang had a great moment.
Kristen Shaw: What a stinker!
Lynda R. Knezovich: I thought the premiere was somewhat restless. It may have been an attempt to catch us up on most of the characters; however, I had to wonder why Betty was conspicuously missing. The scenes changed too often and it just seemed to fall flat. I didn't have that "I can't wait until the next episode" feeling that I usually have. It was a good show but not what I'm used to from Mad Men. Still the biggest fan, though!
Steven Bear Swyryt: Very happy Betty was non-existent. I think everyone grew tired of her and her cold demeanor, regardless of what happened to her because her reactions seem to be worse than the actual problems.
John Swansburg: I think Betty's absence was in part due to January Jones' pregnancy. Prepare yourself: She'll be back soon enough.
Kim Kennedy: I enjoyed it, but "restless" is a good descriptive word. I think two hours of anything with commercial pods that are increasingly long really take the pace out of the show. The dialogue was very slow in spots. Don, the main character, is not moving the story but he's in every scene, but all said, it's good to see the characters again, and I suspect this was a set-up for the rest of the season,
Julia Turner: My mother told me she gave up watching because the commercial breaks were so long. Ironic that the ads should disrupt the Mad Men.
John Swansburg: It's funny, I didn't find that the episode dragged at all, except maybe in the scenes with Lane and the wallet. But Julia and I had the benefit of watching screeners with no commercial interruptions. I wonder if I underestimate the effect of ads padding out 90 minutes to 120.
Julie Kramer: The ads really take the spark out of it. By the second hour I had a hard time maintaining focus. But I was surprised by how interested I was in Meghan, and in her relationship with Don. I think the actress and the writing both are bringing in a complicated new dynamic.
Jenna Sauber: I enjoyed the episode, but I agree with others that it felt restless, and unfinished in some pieces. I was getting annoyed at some of Pete and Peggy's moments ... it's like they were going over the top to remind us who these people were. Given all that, I still had some hearty laughs, especially around Harry's moment in the kitchen, and most of Roger's lines. The Don & Megan scene where they make up was interesting, to say the least.
Julia Turner: Maybe the episode left viewers "restless" because so many of the characters in it are restless. Roger seems dissatisfied with Jane; Don with Megan; Joan with motherhood; and Pete just seems dissatisfied with everything. (“There was a time when she wouldn't leave the house in a robe.”)
Gabriella Iacovetti: They needed a moment to reintroduce everyone and have the viewer catch up with where the characters are now. They did this as efficiently as possible, given the sheer number of vital characters. Once that was done the stories moved along and were reflective of the tumult of the mid-60s. They're just setting up what's to come this season. I thought Roger in particular had some really funny lines that punctuated the dialogue nicely. As for the ads, I watched from my DVR so I could speed through most—but I tend to find that the smartest and chicest commercials are aired during Mad Men. I am looking forward to the rest of the season.
John Swansburg: It's true that this episode eased us back in a bit, but I also appreciated some of its elisions. For instance, we last saw Bert Cooper storming out of the SCDP's offices. Now he's back, with no explanation for how long his resignation lasted or how/why he returned. But it made sense. I didn't need the details.
Brian Dalek: Thoroughly enjoyed the show's return. People were singing or humming Zou Bisou Bisou in the office most of the morning.
John Swansburg: Julia has a great theory in her post about Harry Crane: He's gay. What do you all think? I agree with Julia that his sex talk with Stan in the kitchenette sounded like a man protesting too much. He was also very eager to tell Roger all about what he did to his wife after the party.
Brian Dalek: Regarding Harry, the people I watched with were just assuming that Harry wasn't married anymore. Maybe just trying to play up his macho side despite not really having anybody at home?
June Thomas: I don't buy your Harry is gay theory. He's just socially inept and horribly crass. Or he's full of beans after his weight loss. But not gay, I think.
Julia Turner: You may be right that Harry's not gay—but what do you think accounts for his newly aggressive behavior?
June Thomas: My theories for his crassness are a) feeling his oats at his weight loss; b) perhaps some relationship problems at home; c) he still hasn't grown up. Let's face it, he's an idiot! I think not gay, though, because Mad Men doesn't tend to reboil its cabbages, and we already had our gay moment with Sal. HOWEVER, when we get to June 1969, I do expect a trip to the Stonewall Inn for someone on the show.
Joseph Clift: My overall impression? It was just such a pleasure to be reintroduced to these characters! There were some fantastic one-liners: I loved Don imagining Betty as Morticia Addams in her strangely castle-like new home (didn't it look dimly-lit in the episode 2 preview, too?). Jane's riposte to Roger at the party was also just delicious ...
John Swansburg: Totally agree. And Henry Francis is totally a Lurch.
Marc Naimark: But Lurch isn't married to Morticia ...
Julia Turner: I'm curious to hear what you all made of Meghan's dance—and what you think Don thought of it. Afterward, he was miffed, but in the moment, he looked to me like he was enjoying it, in spite of himself. Do you think he liked her shimmy shimmy?
Brian Dalek: I find it funny today that SCDP employees were having fun with Meghan's performance but nobody raised an eyebrow at Roger's blackface performance from season 3. Obviously the times are different, but I think it shows a sense of "only certain people from the office can do things in public like that" mentality.
Marc Naimark: I really didn't get the wallet thing. My first take was that it was tied to the racism theme: because there was so much money, he was worried about leaving it with a black driver. And why should money be so tight? Is he personally financing the SCDP credit line?
John Swansburg: I think that's a great question: Why is Lane so cash poor? I think we're supposed to wonder about that. Roger's carrying around $1100 in cash; where is Lane spending his money?
Julia Turner: Good point about Lane's cash-poverty. Too many nights at the Playboy Club?
Jon Lutz: I'm here to defend the Lane subplot! Obviously there's some financial shoe about to drop in his life, but he's also kind of lecherous on the phone. But then he's able to show Joan true compassion without, as I was fearing, trying to cop a feel. Maybe there's no mystery; he's got kind of an identity crisis: Den Mother Lane versus Playboy Lane. He sometimes gets carried away with fantasies of the latter when he's much better at the former (which I believe was the point of the exchange with the guy who says he's a gentleman). If anything, it was such a nice arc for his character I'm afraid he might be on the way out? Not sure.
John Swansburg: You make a good case, but I still found it a little hard to believe Lane would consider an assignation with this woman. I'm completely with you on the Joan scene though—that was so sweet. He did such a good job of making Joan seem essential. Though he was markedly wounded by Joan's comment about Don's handsomeness—made me wonder whether that was just a general sadness about his allure, or about something with respect to Joan specifically.
Aaron Mosher: The other partners had major dollars (from various partnership sales) to bring to SCDP ... Lane is probably the least-liquid of them all. Coupled with the fact that he's not a native with locals to borrow from ...
Julia Turner: John, it's interesting you thought Lane was disappointed by Joan's compliment to Don. I didn't catch that, but between that comment, Joan's mother saying Megan wouldn't want Joan "around her husband," and Don's warm greeting of Joan, I wondered if we might not see something cooking there ...
John Swansburg: Anyone here a veteran Metro-North commuter? I was interested to learn that you used to be able to rent cards and a board to play on from the conductor. They should bring that back.
John Dicker: That and the bar car. I swear they had that, though long before I was interested in alcohol. On the premiere: curious why they chose a two-hour season opener. I think I would've liked these episodes better one at a time. Also, not that many of the conflicts they've queued up are terribly compelling, save Joan's dilemma.
Marc Naimark: When will Roger dump Jane?
Marc Naimark: And will he dump her for the new black secretary (and will there actually be a black secretary ... all comments seem to assume so, but I don't see that as a given).
Julia Turner: Slate's culture blog spotted a black actress in a photograph of the set in the New York Times—which we took as a clue that SCDP really will hire a black assistant. We'll see if we are right!
John Swansburg: It was great, I thought, that Lane's announcement that SCDP will hire a black person is tinged with sexism: Men, go home, we're just looking for a secretary.
Monty Montaño: I was trying to pick out the likely hire from the group waiting.
Julia Turner: I think I spotted her—there was a woman in plaid and the camera paused a moment on her face before circling around the rest of the group. That's my guess.
Bethany Lang: Loved it. Thought it did a great job of covering a lot of ground without being too overwhelming. I've read a few recaps today and I'm surprised no one has mentioned the fact that Meghan knows about Dick Whitman. Really interesting that Betty had to find out about that for herself after years of marriage, but Don essentially barely knows Meghan and told her his crazy secret already.
John Swansburg: Weiner discusses this with Alan Sepinwall, in an interview about the premiere that posted today.
John Swansburg: I mentioned this in passing in my post, but you're right that it's a very important point. We don't know exactly what Don told Megan, but the fact that he started this relationship by coming clean is very interesting. He trusts Megan, and seems not to want a repeat of his relationship with Betty, which was based on a lie. And perhaps having told Faye his secret last year, he's more open now about sharing it.
Julia Turner: You're right that it's interesting how much Megan knows—and how dismissive she is of his psychodrama. I took it as a sign that Don really has evolved, and no longer feels he has to suppress everything. The question is what he really wants now that he no longer has anything to prove. Perhaps these changes account for his lack of interest in work? It used to be that he hustled and hustled, lest the world knock him off his ill-gotten perch. Now that his secret is out(ish), maybe he doesn't feel that drive anymore?
Neil Young: The office scenes were clearly meant to suggest that Don is changing (not quite the career-driven tiger he once was), but I thought the brief scenes with his children were meant to show that too. The breakfast scene was one of the most tender moments I remember him ever having with his children. And I found the drop-off where he told them to signal they were OK with the porch light particularly affecting. Also, when he was asked how his Memorial Day weekend was he commented that it was great and that he'd had the kids. This all seemed telling to me—perhaps of his desire to make things with Meghan work. Or that his priorities are in flux.
Jackie Hoffart: Did anyone else think that Don's older son was played by a new actor? Was that just me?
Julia Turner: Yes, I think that's the third or fourth Bobby Draper in the series' history. It's almost becoming a joke!
John Swansburg: It wouldn't be a new season of Mad Men if there weren't a new kid playing Bobby!
Alexander Charner: This version of Bobby is a brat.
Ann Marie Lonsdale: I was sad that the Draper children only had a couple of scenes, but the moment of Sally's sneaking a peek of Megan's artfully draped body indicates something truly spectacular and weird is going to happen for her: teenager-dom! I'm super excited to see how Sally fares (and Betty and Don, for that matter).
Monty Montaño: I hope the series sticks around long enough to see Sally develop into a hippie vixen.
Julia Turner: Me too. I think the closing scene of the series is Sally at Woodstock. Or Kent State. Or in a disco, doing coke in sequins and lame.
Monty Montaño: Or walking onto Manson's ranch.
Julia Turner: Exaaaaactly.
Ann Marie Lonsdale: Yes! Sally the hippie wild child who, deeply affected by the assassinations of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, goes to Columbia and joins the Weather Underground or gets a law degree and becomes Attorney General.
John Swansburg: For me, the biggest cliffhanger from last night is the question of whether or not Pete gets a beagle.
Julia Turner: To scare away the gophers!
Julia Turner: Thanks for your questions, everybody! Talk to you next week.
John Swansburg: Ditto what Julia said. Bisou bisou!