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Monday, March 26, 2012

Mad Men: A Little Kiss

Everyone's favorite melancholy alcoholic advertising executives returned to television last night after seventeen long months off the air, and their a double-episode that featured plenty of what we all love about the men and women of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, and as a bonus: No Betty! If only every week could be like this.

Opening on Memorial Day weekend 1966, Season 5 of Mad Men plunges the characters and us into the midst of the burgeoning Civil Rights movement, which may finally be encroaching on the comfortable white upper and middle-class lives of our protagonists. A rival firm has embarrassed itself with a childish prank on assembled protesters, and SCDP decides to rub their faces in it by proclaiming themselves an "equal opportunity employer", however unready they are to live up to that title.

Everyone's favorite Quebecois import, Megan, has now become the second Mrs. Draper, and she's got a few tricks up her sleeve. Like performing a near burlesque at Don's surprise 40th birthday party while singing "Zou Bisou Bisou", with all his co-workers in attendance. Though Don is angered by the routine, it's clear that Megan has been able to use her sexuality to her own ends. She's managed to become a junior copywriter under Peggy's watch, albeit one who gets to come and go as she, or her husband, pleases.

Joan has had her baby, and with Dr. Carpet-Rape off in Vietnam awaiting his inevitable death by incompetence, her acerbic mother is in residence, trying to get Joan to settle down and leave the advertising world behind. Joan already feels guilty about how much she wants to go back to work, a feeling that boils over into tears when she confronts Lane about the want ad. It's extremely touching and sweet to watch Lane comfort Joan with the honest truth about how badly the firm needs her. Peggy may get all the acclaim as a pioneering feminist, but it's a debate which woman is actually better at her job.

As for Peggy, she doesn't have much to do in "A Little Kiss" except pitch ballet to a bean company, deal with a swaggering (but often hilarious) Stan, and worry about Don's seeming complacency at work. Also, am I letting my imagination run away with me, or was her reaction to Zou Bisou Bisou a little lustful? After all, there was that understated Zosia Mamet storyline.

Roger and Pete clash in both halves of "A Little Kiss" with Pete, ever the striver, upset that his office still features an unsightly support column when it's his accounts that are keeping SCDP afloat. The other partners don't really have a strong argument against his having a bigger office, other than their tacit agreement that none of them have ever really been able to stand him. Roger sure doesn't seem like he's doing much at all these days, except spying on Pete's secretary to see what clients he's meeting with and trying to convince the secretary he and Don are sharing that she could sit near his office once in a while.

And what about Don? Has he really changed? For one thing, he's being a lot more open about his past. Megan, who didn't really seem all that formidable in "Tomorrowland", has been let in on the secret of Dick Whitman, and her tossing out the name so cavalierly sure seems like a challenge. As, of course, is her cleaning the apartment in her underwear while telling Don he "only gets to look." Despite Don's forcefulness in putting her on the carpet (what is it with these guys and floor sex?) it sure seems like Megan gets what she wants in the end.

That's an awful lot of stuff to get through, and all of it promises well for Season 5 of the best drama on television.

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