Last season on Mad Men, we watched the world fall apart. Kennedy's dead, Don and Betty's marriage is over, and Sterling Cooper has been sold to McCann Erickson. Their perfectly polished bubble has burst, and the characters have to deal with the repressed realities that have surfaced. The season finale closes with the hope of a revolution. The advertising rebels gather the office all-stars to form their own new agency, and when Joan answers the phone in their makeshift office at the Pierre, "Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce," we're ready to go.
In last night's season premiere, they take us to roughly a year later. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is up and running, and just seeing the four names on the door is so exciting. The episode opens with a reporter from Advertising Age asking, "So who is Don Draper?" a constant question that promises to be a central theme of this season. Don fumbles the question with an awkward answer, "I'm from the Midwest, we were taught that it's not polite to talk about yourself."
Right now, Don Draper is a mess. It's about a year after Betty left him for Henry Francis and he started this new company, and the man who usually seems so put together and so in control, has lost his bearings. His marriage is over, he's living alone in a sad apartment on Waverly and 6th (not the fun address it is today), and he's even messing up at work. He's struggling to adjust to his new life and his new public role as the face of this company. He's had one successful ad for GloCoat that has garnered some good attention, but the bad article exposes his weakness. His weakness has always been his secret past, and his self-created identity is clearly not ready for public scrutiny. He's not good on paper, in fact, he's not anything--or anyone--on paper, yet. That's something he's going to need to create.
He's frustrated and angry. They all--even Peggy--blame him for the bad publicity, and in turn, the loss of the Jai Alai account. He loses his temper in front of Jantzen clients after giving them something they clearly were not going to like, effectively losing two accounts in one episode. Everyone in the office pities him. Roger invites him over for Thanksgiving with fear that he'll have no place to go, and even feels the need to set him up on a date in fear he needs help with women too. He's slightly awkward on the date and looks annoyed when he can't get more than a kiss. He's used to women falling into his arms with just a look, as well as a picture-perfect wife to go home to, and now he has neither. And suddenly--he likes to be slapped during sex, which pathetically he's only getting from a prostitute. So now he's punishing himself?
Betty is doing better than Don, but is struggling as well. She seems to be happy enough in her relationship with Henry, but the transition has not been smooth. Their marriage is not accepted, and she, too, is frustrated. When Sally won't eat, she practically shoves the sweet potatoes in her mouth--it's no wonder she chokes. Henry's mother calls Betty silly, and obviously does not respect her or this marriage. In terms of their own relationship, Henry pretty much rejects her in bed, but then wants her in the car. It's as if he's living out his fantasy from their first kiss in the car last season. If that's still the moment he wants her in, have they moved forward? And Betty won't let go of her house, which feels like she won't completely let go of her previous life with Don either. Will they get back together? Even if they don't, will this marriage to Henry last? It already seems like it's not all that she hoped it would be.
Roger, on the other hand, is back on his game and better than ever, with multiple great lines in this episode. The best were:
"A wooden leg, so cheap they can't even afford a whole reporter."
"I love how they're sitting there like guppy choir boys, you know one of them's leaving New York with VD."
"See her this week. You hit it off, come turkey day, maybe you can stuff her."
Peggy and her new part-time creative partner Joey, who's eh (but its Jack from Jack and Bobby! Did anyone else watch that?), are getting themselves into their own trouble. What was with them saying John and Marsha like that? Well I figured everyone's wondering, so I looked it up... it's a nod to 50s humorist Stan Freberg and his well- known "John and Marsha" parody of soap opera dialogue. AND Advertising Age who interviewed Don in the opening scene, named him one of the century's 100 most influential figures and "the father of comic advertising." So, the creative team is channeling Freberg for inspiration. Ugh, they're so good.
Pete, who I've always liked despite his being a jerk, is more likeable this season. Perhaps with a higher role in the company he's lost some of his insecurities and in turn, his jerkiness.
Pete and Peggy seem to be getting along and playing nicely together. Let's not forget that in the Season 2 finale that he declares his love for her and she tells him she had his baby. Is that going to resurface? He knows about the baby, so is he helping her at all? Why are they getting along so well?
Peggy and Don are obviously still close. She calls him when she's in trouble. He reprimands her, but it's okay, as usual. What happened with her fake fiancé? That was unclear. And what happened to her and Duck?
Harry seems to have grown into his new role. I know he was just in LA but he looks so sunburned. It's gross--is that a nod to the non-use of sunscreen? Is that what people really used to look like?
Joan, as usual, is the most put together and is trying to calm, organize, and encourage the office with her upbeat attitude and demeanor. They're struggling but she would never let it show. And she has her own office- yay!
And the whole thing with the fake second floor--is about them trying to be bigger than they are. They're going to need to grow into themselves, and until they do, they need to keep up appearances.
In the final scene, Don gets a second chance at an interview with the Wall Street Journal, and this time he doesn't fumble. But does he say too much? By the end of the episode, Don's messed up one too many times, and he's pulling himself back together. He tells the reporter, "I realized I had two choices, I could die of boredom or holster up my guns." And with his smile, and the music, we see he's holstering up his guns right now--and, maybe by next week, will be ready to fire. Or maybe not.