So I’ll admit it: I completely fell for the Rumsen opener. The final season dawns Don-less, on a static shot of a bit player talking for 90 seconds straight? Delivering a spot-on, culturally attuned, and unprecedentedly amazing pitch? Like Peggy, I didn’t know Rumsen had it in him. But I just shrugged off the strangeness of it—after all, Mad Men is a show where the receptionist can become a female lead in a handful of episodes. The reveal that Don was putting words into the affable former souse’s mouth was the one moment in the finale that truly delighted me. I loved the surprise. (Although I bet we have readers who figured it out sooner than I did.)
In a funny way, Seth, this was the opposite of last season’s opener, when Don was seen but not heard—here he was heard but not seen. For all that Don seems to have lost his mojo—being passively shuttled by the people mover, relinquishing the driver’s seat, exhibiting heretofore unseen incompetence at fixing a sliding door (wasn’t Don sort of handy back in Ossining?)—the man is hustling. He could have taken his ouster from the firm as an excuse to walk away from his own life, to slip out of that tight suit and off into the ocean, as in the ominous ad he proposed for Royal Hawaiian. Instead, he is working hard to get back into the very role he seemed to find so constraining. And he hasn’t told Megan the truth about his hiatus. I guess the honesty about his past that he recently exhibited with his children doesn’t extend to the present, or to his wife.
Speaking of which: Megan is absolutely cooling on Don, Willa, I’m with you. That “let me brush my teeth” tumble did not compare to the fervent, angry, living room floor sex of their early marriage. But when they finally got into bed and Megan confessed her nerves, the connection afterward felt genuine. It was an apt depiction of that moment in the long-distance relationship when the visiting loved one stops being a stranger. It doesn’t always happen at airport pickup. No matter how sweet the ride.
Willa, the phrase you used about Don’s mojo—“at low ebb”—seemed to me to apply to almost everyone in this episode. Peggy is miserable. Roger is unmoored. Ted Chaough, despite the California sunshine, is off “sitting in the car with the door open, writing on a pad.” Even cool cucumber Ken Cosgrove has reached Pete-like levels of antic unhappiness. (Only Pete himself seems to be thriving in his new time zone, signing new accounts and dressing for the warm weather as only Northeastern WASPs know how, though I am a bit nervous to hear him talking about “vibrations.”) If we assume that the season will have what they call an arc, maybe we should take this low ebb as good news, and the episodes ahead will deliver a few upswings.
I certainly want that for Peggy, who was utterly heartbreaking in this episode. For all the trouble Don and Ted have heaped upon her, she was lucky, particularly given the era, to work for two men who respected her talent and trusted her completely. Now that she’s stuck with a boss who’s phoning it in and doesn’t care what she thinks, the career she’s sacrificed so much for feels like an empty accomplishment. I don’t know what advice I’d have for her. She can’t abandon her principles and assent to mediocrity, since a reputation for taste and talent are all an ad creative has. But if she doesn’t chill out, she’s going to start getting very bad performance reviews. I think it may be time to start looking for a new job.
Joan, too, is suffering for her gender. You’re right, Seth, that some of the men she encounters treat her as a business associate and don’t expect sex. But that’s a low bar! She is a partner at the firm, and yet she’s working like hell to be allowed to be Ken’s junior account man.
Still, as she wrangles info out of that business school professor and cuts the Butler drone off at every turn, it’s fun to watch her sheer ingenuity and competence, just as it’s fun to watch this show back in action. As season openers go, this one loped along, not trying to prove anything—the show has stopped trying to sell us on itself—but it dunked us back into Mad Men Land, and I’m enjoying the weather.
A few final points before I go:
- What ’60s self-help movement is Roger’s daughter, Margaret, into? In AA you go around apologizing to everyone, but I’ve never heard of a movement where you go around offering forgiveness.
- I loved the moment when Megan was annoyed and embarrassed by the size of the TV Don bought her. It seemed emblematic of the shift from the early ’60s to the late. Ostentation is no longer cool.
- Harry, Sally, Betty: All missed.
- Bob Benson: Less so.
- Stan is a great work husband for Peggy. She should buck up.
- The balcony of Don’s apartment is the worst set on the show. It is like the official balcony of brooding and self-pity. Nothing good happens there. If you ever get invited over, don’t go out there!
Say the word, I’ll jettison,
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