Mad Men Watch: The Straight Pathway Is Lost

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Michael Yarish/AMC

Fellow Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce shareholders,

I welcome you to our weekly meeting of company matters, old and new; fix yourself a drink and let’s settle in. I’m your dutiful servant, Jesse Dorris. The months since we’ve last gathered have been turbulent; it seems the bullet industry has never been stronger. Yet, let us not forget those fateful words of our fearless leader, intoned almost a year ago: We have swum the English Channel and then drowned in Champagne. More to the point, we are, as the poet says, waving, not drowning, flagging down the waitress for yet another round. Let’s begin with Ongoing Business, shall we?

Don Draper

Our magnetic head of creative and his lovely wife Megan were on a working holiday in Hawaii, breaking a wristwatch and eating wallpaper paste (among other pursuits best left off the record). Their fellow guests were tragically denied the sight of Don hula dancing—too much Dante reading makes Don a dull boy—but, in happier news, a tourist with a third eye in the back of her beehive asked for Megan’s autograph. She’s a star now. She is be-Pucci’d in paradise, and Don’s a veteran of it. A soldier at a bar asks Don to give him away in marriage. There are fans crawling out of the woodwork for them both. It’s hot in Hawaii, but this seems like no hell at all.

Back in snowy New York City, Don can talk of nothing but Eros, full of whiskey and hormones. He’s oddly avuncular, gifting cameras and praise. In a photo shoot, he learns posing as himself requires a cigarette.

Pitching his campaign for the Hawaiian hotel, Don offers an occult fantasy of shedding skin and rebirth. The hotel execs want provocative, not poetic. Good ol’ Roger Sterling tells him that SCDP sold death for years via Lucky Strikes—but only through ignoring. Nobody can ignore death now, it’s looming like the New Year, 1968. Don’s horny and wheezing, proud of his wife’s success but exhausted by most everything else. Megan, in a voluptuous raven-colored fall, makes two kinds of fondue to welcome in the new year, and insists on watching vacation slides on the slide projector Don long ago insisted was a carousel, not a wheel. It’s not much of a ride. But Don is sleeping with the wife of his neighbor and new best friend, Dr. Rosen, who brought their doorman back to life. People will do anything to alleviate anxiety, Dr. Rosen tells Don, as he begins a snowy-city trek back to the hospital on skis. Don can’t even be bothered to leave the building for his adultery.

Pete Campbell

His hairline is receding, but his career seems to be advancing. Campbell is handsy with our Don, way too intimate. Meanwhile, the whole office has gone hairy, with more mustaches, muttonchops, and full beards than Pete could shake a pale, hairless jowl at. He seems to be bearing up well given that the lust of his loins, Beth Dawes, had all memories of him removed via electro-shock therapy—and this is strange, given it would seem being forgettable is Pete’s deepest fear.

Roger Sterling

Roger’s spending a lot of time on the couch, though in the analytical, not biblical sense. The last glitter of the LSD binge fully out of his system, our silver fox is undergoing analysis, lecturing his shrink on self-control and complaining that he’s not laughing at his jokes. When an actual tragedy occurs (the death of his mother, about whom he previously said “I once went on a five-minute tear about how my mother loved my father more than she loved me, and I can assure you this is impossible,”), Roger shrouds himself in quips.

After the funeral, his first ex-wife says, “This is nothing to drink about,” which surely has never been said in this world before. And his daughter nags him to quit smoking. But what she really wants is cash, for her husband to start a refrigerated truck business, fruit and vegetable morgues on wheels. Back on the couch, he confesses “My mother loved me in some completely pointless way.” When his shoeshine man dies, he breaks down over his box of polish, cradling a brush* like a baby, or an urn.

Peggy Olson

She’s come a long way, Peggy—a muckety-muck at a competing agency, with underlings to boss around and overbearing bosses to wrangle. A comedian makes a joke about wearing Viet Cong ears as necklace pendants and she has to revise an entire Superbowl ad for headphones; Vietnam has become something to resent or laugh at, darkly. She has to Don Draper a pastor into help finding her boss, which works, but only after she’s devised a brilliant new campaign, anyway. Her boss tells her she’s good in a crisis. He has no idea.

Betty Francis

Pudgy Betty is pushing boundaries, left and right: pulled off the streets for reckless driving, telling shocking off-color jokes about raping the child prodigy inexplicably living in their house, even trekking to St. Mark’s Place in the City to find the girl, only to be told by the hippie squatters that they don’t like her life anymore than she does, which clearly is not much.

But her archenemy, food, still haunts her. No matter how much she taunts Sally (a real pistol, and well on her way to become a Joan Didion), her daughter remains thinner and prettier—and probably always will be. People are forever passing her candy and treats, though she can turn her nose up just a little higher than the drool on her chin. Even the St. Mark’s hippies are boosting cans of paprika down their jeans and forcing her to teach them to make goulash. Her only retaliation against all these trials and temptations? Change her hair color, into a funereal shade her loving but increasingly ineffectual husband mistakes for an Elizabeth Taylor brunette.

New Business:

The office is full of new staffers, as yet un-introduced with the exception of a new copywriter (whose caustic prickliness proves her The Ghost Of Peggy Future) and hunky wannabe ad man/present-time caterer Bob Bensen, who manages to irritate even golden-tempered Ken Cosgrove. Both may not be here for long.

More concerning is the matter of whether Don’s lost his touch—for whither goes Draper, so goes SCDP. (Currently, he’s vomiting far too often.) And Joannie needs to stop shilling Johnnie Walker Black after-hours and return to the office, pronto. All this morbid messiness requires the sharp whip of her wit; we’d be nowhere without her.

Now, without further ado, let’s open up the floor. Did Don’s Hawaiian pitch remind anyone else of those one-set-of-footprints-in-the-sand inspirational posters? What on earth was playing in that Zero Mostel look-alike’s headphones? Will Bobby ever be of any consequence to anyone, in all these years? Any other new business? Leave your comments, below. Until next week!

* Correction: In the original version of the story, we mistook the brush for a shoe

7 comments
jwhel88
jwhel88

This was definitely not the start that I was expecting for this season, but I loved it nonetheless. I was actually eager to get into my office at DISH so that I could discuss all the finer details that came out in the two-hour premiere. I'm looking forward to the rest of the season, especially with all the characters on the brink of something. My DISH Hopper was installed just in time because my kids were able to watch their shows, my husband was able to watch his sports, and I was able to enjoy Mad Men without fighting anyone for control of the DVR. I'm so glad that it can record up to six different things at the same time; otherwise, Sunday nights would be a scary time around my house -lol!

JeanGray96
JeanGray96

I'm so sick of Betty and have been. There is so much other ground that could be covered than focusing on her. Yeah, Don was a cheating scumsucker, but honestly she's so cold and distant who could blame him? Even with two hours it really didn't seem like much progress was made on much of anything. Though other seasons have started out a bit flat and picked up steam, so I will hold out hope this one will too. Perhaps we'll get some more Pete (who I also dislike, but at least he's interesting, unlike Betty) and some Joan in the next episode.

cassandra.schmutz
cassandra.schmutz

Sandy is spending the night at the house after watching the Nutcracker as a friend of Sally--- she is not a prodigy unexplicably living in the Francis house. Betty dyes her hair partially in response to one of the squatters noting that she is a bottle-blonde after looking at her license. Peggy's boss received all of her messages, but didn't respond because he was spending time on his retreat with his wife & was not supposed to be working. I don't think Don learned that posing as himself requires a cigarette, I think that it is partially that he doesn't know who he is.

also: "to much Dante reading makes Don a dull boy"? Try "too much Dante reading makes Don a dull boy." There is a difference between to & too.

turretgunner
turretgunner

An okay episode I thought, but not great. I know I am in the minority, but seeing Don return to being a scum sucking cheating pig in the season's first episode was not that enjoyable for me. And he's sleeping with the wife of a a guy that he seems to really like and respect. I didn't think it was possible, but Don has sunk even lower. So I guess that's it. Right out of the gate and it appears that this season will be another journey for Don down the road of self-destruction. Been there. Seen that. I really expected more form Matt Weiner. And what was that scene between Betty and her husband when she "jokingly" accuses hin of wanting to rape their 15-year house guest and that she would hold the girl down for him. That was just plain weird.   

paulmdoro
paulmdoro

Anyone else feel like this show is a little overrated? All these declarations of "best TV show ever" or "best show on TV" are a little ridiculous. The stuff with Betty last night was atrocious. The hippie dialogue sounded so phony, like what someone imagined a hippie sounded like in 1967. And that 15 year-old girl said things to Betty that no teenage girl would have said. Plus, Matthew Weiner is a little too impressed with himself at times. It's a good show, but I can think of a handful of shows on TV right now that are much better.