When we left off in October 1965, all our characters were on the brink of life changing events: Don impulsively proposed to his secretary, Pete just had a baby, Joan is pregnant with Roger's baby and pretending it's Greg's, and Betty was moving into her "not perfect" new house with Henry and the kids. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was dealing with the fallout of Don's anti-tobacco ad and Cooper quit! With the 17 excruciating
years months between the seasons, the shock of the finale sunk in and these changes became matter of fact as we waited with bated breath (and reruns) to see how far into the future we'd be launched and how it all turned out. Well, it's about nine months later on June 1, 1966 and lives carried on. The time gap is also somewhat synced up with us, season four ended in October of 2010 and it's starting up again in spring. It's been two mad long winters and man, it's good to be back!
In "A Little Kiss," MW throws us in with a civil rights rally and a bunch of people we don't know -- turns out to be Y&R execs -- laughing and throwing water balloons on the protesters. In an aerial-like view, this is the world of '66 we're entering. Things are rapidly changing and SCDP's white male Madison Avenue counterparts are completely oblivious, joking around and the Civil Rights Movement happening outside their window is just that -- what's happening outside their window. MW always humanizes historical events by showing the little regard all those around them had at the time (remember when Don turned off MLK Jr.'s speech?).
Zoom into Don and Megan's apartment. They actually got married! Their apartment's beautiful! The kids sleep over! It's Don's 40th birthday! Opening on Don's birthday is just like the holiday-hopping first episodes of last season. We again enter their world on an occasion, a time where people coming together affords a glimpse into the status of your life. And guess what? Don looks happy! Actually happy. After the emotional rollercoaster of degeneration and desperation last season, it's a welcome relief to see our hero smile. Even if it is a sexed up silly-faced smile. Maybe especially if it is.
And so on this occasion, the kids stayed over. It's clearly one of their first times there as Sally mistakes Don's room for the bathroom and we see her discomfort glancing at naked Megan in his bed. It's not particularly awkward, but they're not BFFs like they were when Megan was playing baby sitter. Don says were going to the Statue of Liberty and the new actor playing Bobby (he's the 4th!) says, "You always say that but we never do." A telling line for the season, meaning 'you always say we're going to reach freedom but we never are' -- the general feeling of people at this time. They're all wondering when things will go back to normal (a line from Episode 3 MW cites in many articles about a main theme of the season and the show), but they never are -- watch this theme.
Sally -- who looks great -- sounds very grown up telling Don the schedule. She'll hopefully cause a lot of trouble this season. Bring it, girl. Don jokes as he drops them off, "Send Morticia and Lurch my love." So, Betty and Henry are still together, Betty's still a bitch and Don doesn't deal with her these days. But, of course we should note, Betty's absence has to do with January Jones's real-life pregnancy. We did miss her, though, and that icy blonde stare.
Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is struggling but stable, "that step backwards between successful and failing." Bert is back! Roger is more of a joke than ever. Caroline is the star. ("I feel like I've been caught with my pants down.") She used to be Roger's secretary but now he "shares" her with Don (aka Roger doesn't have a secretary) and even she mocks Roger's lack of a real job or reason for being there. In a partners meeting in the hallway, they joke about Y&R's distasteful stunt and prove themselves equally oblivious by planning to run an equal opportunity want ad to rub salt in the wound. They, too, don't realize what's going on and that their actions will have consequences. Lane reinforces that they don't have money to spend and Pete doesn't see what's funny.
None of the senior partners are working, so Peggy and Pete are running the show. Bert is characteristically absent, Roger's resorted to stalking Pete's schedule to pretend he's still involved, Lane's flirting with a random girl on the phone and Don is completely checked out. He's coming in late and leaving early. Pete reminds him, "You're the big draw," we need you on board. He's in an infatuated, love-struck honeymoon phase with Megan, throwing her up against walls and asking her to flash him in the office -- and for the first time he's not as concerned with what's going on in the office. Don's always only been able to focus in on one part of his life. It was always work, now it's Megan. Will he let work go the way he's let his personal life go in the past? Probably not completely, but he'll ignore it for a little while until he messes something up and realizes he needs to get his head back in the game.
This season's Pete is the usual ambitious, aggravated Pete on steroids. He's overwhelmed and frustrated by the nonchalance of everyone around him. He has a new baby and he's trying to run a company, for Pete's sake! He's moved out to the suburbs and now has this daily commute on the train where he's bothered by this sad-sack who represents everything Pete fears and doesn't want to become. He's fed up with playing the head of accounts from the small office and walking right into the support beam really hammers home how stunted he feels. He's got Roger hijacking meetings and Don's always out for the day -- all these beams and people are in his way. He's even had it with all the drinking and smoking, he needs people to focus! He makes a play for the bigger office and suggests Roger switch with him. We can tell the partners agree but Roger calls seniority and they're not going to fight him on this one. Roger even knows it's legit enough to pay Harry $1100 to switch with Pete instead (read: He's scared). Luckily though, Pete has an emotional support beam at home in Trudy. She sees his stress and reminds him, "Dissatisfaction is a symptom of ambition, it's the coal that feeds the fire, you know that," and reminds us of the strength of their marriage. That said, she doesn't know he's complaining to strangers how long it's taking for her to "get back to herself."
Peggy is less stressed than Pete, but also short-tempered and frustrated by Don's nonchalance. She proudly pitches the boring bean ballet to Heinz and is really annoyed when they hate it. Don comes in and says no biggie, we'll change it for you. She finds his new relaxed persona infuriating. "I don't recognize that man. He's kind and he's patient." She's looking for the Don who comes in and says, 'Go fuck yourself.' Last season she was begging him to say thank you and now he's too nice. She doesn't like the guy that comes with the pleasantries as much as she thought she would.
Peggy now has Megan working for her as an entry-level creative doing coupons. They have this awkward relationship where Peggy's her boss but also her husband's close friend. When she asks Peggy for advice on the guest list for Don's surprise party -- and even in the little moment where she gives her gum (she has what Peggy can't find -- stretch?) -- we see them equalized and Peggy flips to friend mode. Peggy's funny stressed -- 'oh shit it's Don's birthday, I still haven't gotten you a wedding present, sorry.' She sounds like a normal 20-something, in over her head. Peggy warns her, "Men hates surprises" but Megan doesn't care. She explains, "You've never been to one of my parties. Everyone's going to leave and they're going to have sex!" Peggy awkwardly laughs it off (she doesn't realize its because Megan's planning a strip tease) and they bond a little talking about Don and laughing about him hating Harry (amazing, he would). This will be one of the most interesting relationships to watch develop. They're similar in age. Could they become friends? Allies? How will they overlap as the women in Don's life?
On the way into Don's party, Roger and Jane ruin the surprise in the hallway, debating whether or not they should knock. This is symbolic for two reasons: Roger's on the outside trying to get in (just like at work) and they're the couple everyone compares Don and Megan to and thought they would become. Is this foreshadowing what they will become? Or what will eventually ruin all their fun? Remember Roger and Jane were foolishly in love once, too.
Throughout the episode, Roger is constantly quipping about how unhappy he and Jane are ("I'm glad you're happy, someone should be" and the best, "She doesn't speak French, or like me") and it stands in direct contrast to Don and Megan's giddy happiness. It feels like a warning, looming over all the nice moments. Is it only a matter of time? Megan is a much more significant person than Jane and she may be right for Don, but she can't escape Jane's shadow as the much younger secretary who got married overnight.
As expected, Don's immediately horrified by the party, but he's a good sport. He makes jokes and plays nice. The room is a sweeping spectacle of the swingin' '60s. Peggy looks epic. And she's still dating Abe! The accountant comes up, he's honored to be included, says he predicted this, and he did! He said something like "That's girl's hot, you tapping that?" We'll count it. His wife! She's MVP of the party. There's black gay entertainment, Harry gives Don a cane (ha!), people are "smoking tea," Alex Mack is back as Ken's wife and she and Trudy make fun of Jane, the "glamourpuss with the tan." Pete sighs longingly when someone mentions the sound of the streets. Will they move back to the city? He obviously wants to. Peggy makes a drunken comment to Don about having to go back to the office, which everyone thought was more offensive than it was (why didn't he just make a joke and tell her to pipe down?) Megan's redhead friend tells Don that Megan is a great actress, and she mumbles, "Not good enough." Will she become an actress? Don didn't know that about her which reminds us that he -- nor we -- know very much about her and she could just be acting and fooling us all.
And then... "Zou Bisou Bisou," the episode's namesake and main event. With an "Un Deux Trois Quatre!" Megan puts on a sexy song and dance to the French version of Sophia Loren's 1961 "Zoo Be Zoo Be Zoo" for the birthday boy. The entire room is in shock. Don is mostly mortified but with some combination of amusement and attraction mixed in. The whole room is turned on (she's right, they will all leave and have sex! Except her!)
When the guests finally leave, Don immediately recoils. I thought it seemed like there were moments when Don was genuinely enjoying himself. But no, he says he wasn't. He is a showman, after all. He's grumpy and tired and he doesn't like his birthday and he doesn't like parties. The most important part of this convo is that Megan knows about his past! He told her! She teases, "Nobody loves Dick Whitman but I love you," kind of like 'it's enough with the sob story, it's no big deal, just rock out with me.' She's encouraging him to move forward. When he says, "I've been 40 for half a year," she responds, "Only you know that, this is your birthday now." This is why Megan is good for him. He tells her, "More people feel the way I do than the way you do." Yes, but that's the point. Megan is distinctly different. Betty never threw him parties because he forbid it, but Megan's not part of this group of people that subscribes to the world according to Don. She's the opposite of Betty who played the assigned part. Megan puts on the show. While Don may like this now, this is would not have worked for the younger Don who married Betty to create the perfect shell of a life. It's only now that he's established and confident that this perky opposition is charming. Even though I took all this positive info from their fight, they're both pissed off.
The bathroom scene the next morning is the kind Mad Men does best, all silence and significance. He decisively closes the door and we see a glimpse of the old Don, as he lets out that familiar sigh and slowly lathers on shaving cream with the brush from his kids. He needs a moment alone. He's a man that needs his privacy and his space was over-encroached.
Everyone's making fun of Megan's dance. In his best moment of the episode, Roger prances around and sings "Frere Jacques" to Don. And Harry horrifyingly but hilariously tells Stan about fantasizing about Megan's heels over his shoulders... while she's right behind him. Go hide in that office, Harry.
Megan takes out her anger on Peggy and yells at her but she's actually yelling at Don. "What's wrong with you people? You're so cynical. You don't smile, you smirk." This is a very apt critique from an unjaded outsider. Megan just wanted to infuse a little fun and pizzazz into their cold world, but it doesn't work, they can't just enjoy nice things. What's weirdest about this interaction is that Peggy, who's generally perceptive, doesn't get that it's not about her. She's so awkward around Megan that she clearly goes into selfish tunnel vision.
He immediately leaves for the day (clear priorities) and goes home to find Megan who rips off her robe and has him watch her clean in her underwear. This is interesting. She demands "Don't you look at me, all you can do is look" until he takes her down. She feels like he rejected her party (and her) and is looking to be wanted again, so she gets down on all fours and summons him back. (Was she still going to take off the robe if he didn't come in?) After their makeup sex, she wisely says she's not sure working with him is such a great idea. Of course, she's right. She doesn't fit in, she can't take the constant cynicism. She says she thinks she needs to replace the white rug and he tells her what you see in a magazine isn't always right. The white rug represents what you think you want but doesn't work -- perfect party, perfect marriage. The other characters deal with their own white rugs, things they thought they wanted, in this episode: Pete with a house in the suburbs, Joan at home with a baby. Betty was the epitome of a white rug, everything looked perfect but nothing was. Don and Megan need to find some space to breathe on this soiled rug.
Meanwhile, Joan's been at home with her mother and her baby. She's exhausted and simultaneously appreciative and fed up with her mother's help. Her mother doesn't think she should go back to work and shows her the joke 'equal opportunity' want ad (another unconsidered consequence). We can see Joan being raised by this woman. Her mother also worked (because she had to), and is a flirt like Joan, entertaining the plumber. Her mother tells her, "Where thou goest I will go" and she snaps back, "And how did that work out for you?" We don't know what happened with Joan's father (will we find out?), but she's not going to be her mother. We find out Greg's going to be stationed in Fort Dix for another year (unless he dies before then) and Joan plans to commute and see after that. Her mother has the classic outlook that working is a just a stop on the way to marriage, reminding us how Joan felt back in Season 1 and showing us how much she's changed.
She comes into the office to see everyone/check out what's up with that ad. Roger yells out "There's my baby" -- literally! -- but no, he's talking about Joan and says "Move that brat." What is happening? Does Roger know this baby is his?! She calls him "Uncle Roger." He must, at least on some level, right? Yes, he thought she got an abortion, but Greg's been gone this whole time and nine months later she had a baby... He doesn't look at the baby and only refers to him rudely as brat, dud and loafer. Is this his defense mechanism? She says he needs constant attention -- like you! The others come over. Megan is super awkward when Joan walks in and turns away -- what's up with that? Is it because Joan was her boss? Or was she just avoiding Don because she was still mad? Peggy's uncomfortable around the baby and doesn't know what to do with it. When Peggy asks Megan what to do with it and she snaps, "Leave it at the steps of a church" -- was that directed at Peggy implying that Don told her?? I don't think so, but noted. There's a moment where Peggy and Pete stand over the stroller together and we're reminded of what happened and they bicker about the baby like the parents they could have been.
Joan has an adorably touching conversation with Lane where he assures her she is not being replaced. He tells her, "Mrs. Harris, the books have practically been held together with spit in your absence." She says, "I just keep thinking about what's going on here and I missed it too much... something always happens, things are always different, somebody tells a joke and you don't know what they're talking about." That's what happens here and it furthers the theme of constant and inevitable change. He tenderly tells her the girls splitting her work "together couldn't operate a parking meter," and cheers her up with a priceless imitation of Megan's burlesque.
In the second half of the episode, Lane's also been entertaining a dalliance with a wallet he found in a cab. When we left him last season, Lane had broken up with his black Playboy bunny and moved his wife and son to New York (after his father came and beat him with a cane and told him he had to). So he's back with his wife, but clearly not happy. When he calls to return the wallet, a girl who sounds like Paz de la Huerta in Boardwalk Empire flirts with him on the phone, "Are you in big business" and he starts feening over a picture he assumes is of her in the wallet (and keeps it for later). Even though he's being creepy, I almost find his earnestness in wanting to be from "Madison Avenue" endearing. It might just be the accent. Look at that Mets flag.
In the final scene, we see the consequence of their ad. "Is it me or is our lobby filled with negroes?" and that outside world that was just the butt of a joke has come inside. They don't know what to do, they can't call security or they could end up the subject of their own protest. When the secretary brings that African statue in, they have to hire one of them. Lane tells the ladies to hand in their resumes and this is how things start to change -- discomfort causes action.
What'd everyone else think?