In March 1960, when the series started, everyone at Sterling Cooper seemed pretty happy—Don Draper as a successful creative leader with a manageable social life, Roger Sterling laughing through life, Joan Holloway as queen of the nest, Pete Campbell having a limitless future in business and an imminent wedding, and Peggy Olsen, new to the firm and full of pluck.
Welcome to January 1969. Join us below the fold.
Don is dissolute, lonely, unemployed (or "on leave"), without his mojo, and reduced to making ad pitches with Freddy Rumsen as his sockpuppet.
Roger's finding out that sybaritism can get a little unfulfilling after a decade. (Also, where's your pants, dude?)
Joan may have moved up from office manager to partner, but no one still seems to respect her intellect and business brains.
And Peggy is despairing, missing the work-devils-she-knew in Don and Ted, and stuck with some real pain-in-the-ass tenants who don't know what the toilet's not for.
But Pete? Seems California is the place Punchable Pete Campbell oughtta be, having adjusted well to the land of orange groves, cole slaw on deli sandwiches, and mediocre bagels. Who knew?
One can never say on this show that a character has "reached bottom," because we don't know how far down the bottom can get. Todd VanDerWerff, The AV Club:
Peggy asks [Stan] if he’s tired of doing terrible work, if he might not want to go back to doing things that are challenging and rewarding. But Sterling Cooper & Partners is no longer at a place where it wants to do that. It’s gotten big, and now it needs to protect the territory it’s acquired. Meaningful work is out of the question.Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture:
That’s another death knell for someone like Peggy or Don. Both of them define themselves through their work all too often, and if that work is taken away from them or eroded of meaning, they’re stuck in a world where all they can think about is how little meaning life has outside of the meaning you construct for yourself. But even that meaning collapses in the face of despair or sorrow or death. Without work to give them meaning, without each other to bounce off of, what do Don and Peggy have left? Only the knowledge that they, too, will die, and that much of their lives have been hollow attempts to fill that void. Welcome back, Mad Men, you old day brightener, you.
Patriarchal entitlement hangs over this episode like brown Los Angeles smog. Lou Avery talks to Peggy, an award-winning senior copy editor, as if she were a “bossy” intern who needed to be smacked down. “I guess I’m just immune to your charms, Peggy,” he tells her before showing her his back, as if Peggy gave a fiftieth of a damn about being charming. We see Megan endure a smarmy, show business version of this gender-based hazing. Her producer speaks of her solely as a commodity and refers to her as a “girl” four times, at one point compounding the indignity by prefacing “girl” with “this”, addressing Don as if Megan weren’t sitting next to him. And as wrung out and beaten down as he is, Don behaves with sexist arrogance too, carving out psychological space in Megan’s life by ordering the delivery of a huge color TV without asking her first. For the inroads these women have made, men still treat them as girls.Willa Paskin, Slate:
As for that scene with Neve Campbell: I'm afraid that my bullshit meter started ringing right about the time she confessed that her husband “died of thirst,” one of those Please, take out your highlighter and identify the big theme in the text bits of dialogue Matthew Weiner sometimes can't stop himself from writing. (See also: the very last scene with Don literally out in the cold.) Don too is dreadfully, dangerously thirsty, not just for alcohol but for something, anything sustaining, even if he's, thankfully, done looking for it in the bottom or a bottle or someone else's bed. (For now.) If this episode was at all predictive, we're not quite done slogging it out with Don and his issues just yet.Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker:
A few years ago, I came to the realization that most of the TV shows I was interested in that particular season were either very fast shows, like “Scandal,” or very slow ones, like “Top of the Lake.” We all know what category “Mad Men” falls in, and it’s easy to take for granted how revolutionary that slowness has been for the entire medium. The show’s strength is still the way it relishes lingering and withholding, pausing and fetishizing, forcing the audience to gaze at endlessly interpretable images, like that final one of Don caught in the prison bars of his own broken sliding door. Yet, for all its languorous pacing, it’s surprisingly hard to predict. Still, this episode did follow one “Mad Men” tradition, the formula that originated with its pilot. In that opening episode, Don’s marriage was revealed only in the final scene; in last year’s opening episode, set in Hawaii, Don’s affair was the jack-in-the-box that got exposed in the end. In last night’s episode, the reveal was that he’d been doing secret account work for Freddie, which I suppose makes his advertising brainstorms into his latest secret life. And who would Don Draper be without a secret life?