Mad Men Season Five Premiere Open Thread

J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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16 Responses

  1. Mike Dwyer says:

    I thought the pacing was a little off because of the jump. There were shining moments and I thought Roger was hilarious at times. Don continues to baffle me on a regular basis and his daughter gives me the creeps. And of course Joan makes my knees go weak. Giggity-giggity.Report

    • Jack in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      I think the creepy daughter character is a fairly solid portrayal of the effect on a child of a freaking odd family life.  A pathologically secretive dual identity, self destructive, serial adulterer father and depressive hates everything and everyone never smiling mother results in an odd child.  Well played, writers.  The only thing I found surprsing about her was the apparent voice change from last season, unless I am remembering inaccuragely.

      Speaking of how things sounded: Is it me or were the background noises (telephones, typewriters, etc) particularly and excessively intrusive compared to past seasons?Report

  2. Brett says:

    Too much of a good thing…thought 2 hours was way too long, and agree it was a touch boring.

    It felt to me like a show that concluded the previous season without knowing whether they’d be picked up for another season.  You know, most of the loose ends tied up, and less fodder for continuing story-lines than would be the case if they were sure they were coming back for season 5.  Only Mad Men was critically acclaimed and wildly popular, making the return of the show a virtual fait accompli.  So – weird that it seems like most of the old story-lines are gone (Peggy’s baby, Betty, Lucky Strike, etc).  It feels to me that the show is starting from scratch, with quite a few fresh storylines.  I feel like more plot continuity would be more rewarding for previous viewers, although maybe the premier was in-part an attempt to attract new viewers.

    Also, to J.L.’s point, the show certainly could became a loose narrative of the the ’60s.  It would be horrible if this show became an anthology of the 1960s, like that late-90s mini-series, The ’60s.Report

  3. Tod Kelly says:

    Looks like I’m going to be the odd man in liking the season premiere.  A couple of other thoughts, in no particular order:

    1. I’m sure that part of what I’m supposed to be taking away is that Don is being his usual self-destructive self, but for at least this one episode I feel entirely the opposite.  His coming in late so that he could make and have breakfast with his kids, for example, seems like the place I always rooted for Don to finally get.  His leaving work early when he realized that his behavior had really upset his wife was very un-Don like.  Being Mad Men, I am sure that he will be self-destructive again soon, but for right now he seems grounded, if a little unsure that he’s supposed to be.

    2. The difference between Don’s two wives is striking.  Betty seemed to be the wife that Dick Whitman’s vision of Don Draper would have, and the one that he might have purposefully sought out to “achieve.”  Megan, on the other hand, seemed exactly like the kind of thing Dick Whitman was trying not to do – the result of a whim of the heart, and one that is not a pre-calculated career/social vehicle move.  That he has told her about Dick, and that she seems not to care, is a sign that maybe this relationship is based on something a bit more substantial that what he and Betty had.  I know that many found the ending scenes where Megan seduces Don – and gets him to open up – by doing housework in her underwear creepy, but I think I saw it as an acknowledgment that Don had finally met his match, and perhaps his equal.  Last year I think the takeaway I had was that Megan was a flighty nothing that Don succumbed to in a moment of weakness.  Now, looking back at the way she is as a surrogate mother, her obvious bi-lingual skills, and her acknowledging to Don and herself that her problem with her Sterling Cooper coworkers isn’t that she fears she isn’t up to their level, but that they might not be up to hers, suggests that the character she most resembles isn’t Roger’s trophy wife Jane, but Peggy.  She’s a woman who, had she been born a generation later, would not have been a professional receptionist to begin with.

    3. Everyone (rightfully) is talking up Pete and his maneuvering, but my favorite subplot of the episode was that of Lane and the found wallet.  It is interesting to see someone that, in many ways, is what the Dick’s character of Don Draper was supposed to be (successful, established, married to the “right sort,” etc.) so unhappy with his life and so unable to do anything about it.  The cap to this subplot was pitch perfect: When Lane is buzzed that the “gentleman” has arrived to collect his wallet, Lane’s overly wishful fantasies of a better life come crashing down in the most anti-climactic and mundane of ways.  That it isn’t until that moment that he takes the photo out of the wallet suggests that in addition to longing, there might have been some hostility in his decision to pilfer the cheesecake shot.  And when he gets to the lobby, you can see in a flash of slight facial movements his surprise and the degree to which it crushes him that he hasn’t “lost” to a young, handsome and witty rival, but rather a slovenly, less than attractive jerk.  I thought it was just brilliant, and all the more so for the subtle way it worked itself out.

    4. The final scene, where the office becomes integrated due to Roger’s practical joke – and the partners’ meeting outside the front door to figure out how they got there and if there was any turning back?  Hilarious.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      I also loved the ending.

      My hope is that they pick a good actress to play the newly-highered secretary and that she doesn’t take shit from anyone. And then of course Lane will fall for her because he has already shown an attraction to black women. It really throws an interesting dynamic into the mix, though I fear they might go with the all-too-easy plot lines a la Remember the Titans.Report

    • Plinko in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      The Lane subplot was my favorite bit of the whole episode.

      I also want to take this opportunity to ask if you’ve lost a bet – what with this horrific gravatar of yours?Report

    • I liked it too. I don’t mind right now that I’m unsure of where the show is going. Not to be pretentious or too generous toward the writers but it reflects what I think Don’s internal state of being is rather well.Report

  4. greginak says:

    Actually Tod i also really like these episodes. I thought there were more funny lines then usual along with the typical intentionally cringe inducing moments. The theme of work vs home life was well developed. Your points about Don are interesting. Peggy complains that Don isn’t acting like himself, because he wasn’t pushy with clients. He wasn’t a bit of jerk and she had trouble with it. One of the wonderful things about Don is that while he been a terrible person in some ways he has pushed, struggled and fought to try to be a better person. He is the character who has tried the hardest to look at who is and try to cleanse himself of the parts he hates. His pleasant home life is a well earned reward for the hard work he has done. While Don is trapped by his past he is the one actively changing himself to be a better person. Megan is going to be an interesting character since she is showing herself to be a match for Don, which will be good and fun to see. I’m not betting he won’t run from someone who is his match, but it will be fun.

    Seeing most of the main characters struggling with finding a balance between home and life, and still struggle with happiness is a solid theme to base a season on (assuming they do). I thought Pete going home frustrated, tired and disrespected at work to be “cheered up” by his wife telling him that dissatisfaction is good fuel was a great bit. He has “everything” yet his unhappiness is re-framed as a positive. That is such a recipe for never being happy and always striving for more and more and more.

    I expect many uncomfortable moments if they make a black person a character. As much as the male staff is sexist and clueless about women, there discussion about one of “them” went far beyond that.Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to greginak says:

      The more I think about it, the more I suspect that my problem with the episode was just the length — that if it hadn’t needed to stretch 90 minutes (minus commericals), I might have noticed these dichotomies a little more.  Instead I just sat there thinking that … it… was… moving… so… damn… slowly.  That the dialogue was a little too, “We’ve been off the air for 18 months, so let’s catch up,” at times didn’t help.  But it’s always been slowly plotted, to a degree, so maybe I should keep that in mind.

      I think my memories of The West Wing starting to run out of gas a couple episodes into Season 5 are making me nervous.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        I agree.  It just had no pop.  I should say, the portion of it I made it through didn’t.  It even seemed to have that stage-star sense of insecure need for adulation at times, in particular when some of the characters made their initial entrances, such as the first scene in Pete’s office with Peggy and the other copywriters (or whatever their station is now).  That felt to me like the way a live show stops for just a moment when a really big star is headlining and they make their initial entrance: there’s a slight pause for them to accept a completely extra-textual round of applause for just being them, like “Aren’t you glad to see me!?!”

        I want to continue to like MM, (and I loved S1 & 2 when it was still an organic show about characters that seemed like real people and not a high-school level American history essay being acted out before our eyes…) but for that I need it to go to a qualitatively new place of some kind, not just advance along the same trajectory it’s been on for two seasons.  Right now, after an eighteen-month hiatus, it feels like it’s coming back without anything new to do or say at all.  It feels like both yesterday’s news and, at the same time, the perfect embodiment of what it’s really basically about, namely The Subjective Experience of The All-American Office Drone: Same Sh*t, Different Day.  I’ve been there.  The novelty wears off, just like this show’s did, two years ago.

        The Killing isn’t a great show, but right now I look forward to it only because if I’m going to spend time watching scripted dramatic television I need to actually feel something.  If I want to do pop-sociology, I’ll come here, where I get to actually participate, or I’ll skip the pop part and pick up a book.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

          One qualitatively new place that I hold out hope for it to go: actually treat some people of color as complex subjects, rather than as objects for the shows tangential treatment fo race thus far.  I think that jumping the color divide in that way I think presents a very different kind of challenge from the one the show has done so much to move the ball forward on with respect to female characters.

          And obviously, due credit to the show for doing this for women characters from the beginning. To some extent though, I find that often times the subjective female characters actually have been treated as means to the show’s making its points about gender and misogyny,  I think this is at the heart of my problem with the show as it has progressed the last two years.  the show has som uch to say about gender relations that it renders even its strongest women characters as symbols and not people to an extent. Meanwhile, the male characters have mostly not needed to serve any higher conceptual purpose, but have been able to just be. I’ve always found there to be a tension between the “points” the show has to make about gender and women in this areas, and the ways it uses its female characters as the means with which to make them.  This is in addition to the ongoing issue of the tension between the glamorization of the era overall and mens’ place in it (and you can’t deny the show’s presentation of the glamor), and the treatment of women.  It’s not unlike the tension in The Social Network, where some have argued that we are supposed to recoil from the way that Zuckerberg and Parker treat the women around them, but in the end, who’s the billionaire.  One has to understand that Aaron Sorkin understands Facebook to be a monstrosity of sorts in order to a understand his take on Zuckerberg as a manipulative social misfit rather than as a cunning visionary who’s usually two steps ahead of everyone around him, which to me is what the movie presents if you don’t know Sorkin’s attitude about Facebook and the internet generally. Mad Men has something of a similar problem sometimes in my view, though obviously its baseline view of treatment of women in the era is not in doubt.  But it certainly is in tension with the way much of the show is presented; or iow, the reality was in fact surely way worse than what we see from a first-person perspective.  The brilliance of the show is that the critique still comes through, but it’s sort of a brilliance of unforced error where all that’s really needed is a de-glamorized portrayal.  But would we watch that?Report

  5. Shelley says:

    No connection between Mad Men and West Wing.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post, though!Report

  6. Mary G says:

    I thought it was too long, and the commercials were inserted seemingly at random, cutting off a few scenes. I’ve never watched anything on iTunes, so I don’t know if that helped. I had my usual reaction to the beginning of a season – “why, oh why did they skip over that?” and “all the good stuff happened offscreen.” Then I find myself thinking about it over and over again. All kinds of plots can go from here and I am sure I’ll be surprised yet again.Report

  7. Plinko says:

    I though it was a good start. They always begin each season with setting up the particular discontents of the major characters in this manner, so I was prepared for the slow start.

    I still find Pete to be a little too frustrated with everyone else to really care much for him.

    Harry has always been one of my favorites on the show, so I was rather uncomfortable throughout the episode.

    I think it’s worth pointing out that Alyssa’s essay on the premiere was great.