So Mad Men returns for ‘The Beginning’ of its final season; after a game changing finale in which Don showed the true him in the workplace and to his family. Except to Megan as it seemed his marriage was about to crumble. In reviewing the episode, this will be broken down by character as the show is above all a character piece.
DON DRAPER - The season opens with Don travelling to meet Megan in LA where she now resides, their marriage now bi-coastal but still struggling with their lies and different directions; the awkwardness of their intimacy highlighting along with their locations the growing divide. Don is out of sorts out of work and hiding this from Megan. His conversation with the Widow on the plane showed him reject infidelity, perhaps some growth, but her perhaps prophetic tale of her husband dying of a ‘thirst’ and how ‘they all did’, seems to heavy handed and ambiguous to mean nothing. The best touch of the episode was the neat twist of him feeding the now successful freelancer Freddy Rumsem feed brilliant pitches to Peggy. His desire for creative involvement showing his need to work and that being his redeeming talent. The final shot of a broken man alone on the balcony sets a somber tone for the rest of the season and perhaps for Don’s life.
PEGGY OLSON - The scene of triumph showing Peggy in Don’s office now in retrospect have a sense of premature gratification as she is shown to be completely shut out by Don’s replacement with no appreciation for her talent; Don is gone and so is Ted. Ted does make a brief return and the awkwardness is palpable. Peggy also can’t seem to escape the awful neighbourhood she lives in and to top it all off we neighbours moan at her regarding plumbing. This huge step back for Peggy is horrible and her collapse into despair is brilliantly played by Elisabeth Moss. Hopefully Don’s inevitable return will reinvigorate Ms Olson.
PETE CAMPBELL - A jarring transformation for the resident weasel of the company. Now in LA, his warm greeting of Don and change in wardrobe were an excellent source of comedy for the episode. He seems in a stable place with his child too and is comfortable in the office. Can only wonder, however, whether fresh starts in Mad Men, or in real life at all, can ever truly exist.
JOAN HARRIS - A partner still in the company and now being trusted more to handle accounts, Joan still can’t escape the past of how she achieved her position or the chauvinistic habits of the workplace. Ken (now a comedic grouchy pirate) treats Joan still like a secretary, while a Professor she interviewed insinuated using her sexuality to achieve her goals; with subtle nuances from actress Christina Hendericks reminding viewers of the past. Joan still has a long way to go but I enjoy her ascent of the company hierarchy and also hope more is shown of her home life again.
ROGER STERLING - Waking up, rather brilliantly, post-Hippie orgy, Roger proves how some people never change. His new escapades highlighting however his endless mid life crisis and desire to stay young. His reunion with his estranged daughter was strange to say the least, she has found enlightenment and you could hear the eyes of viewers rolling everywhere.
MEGAN DRAPER - Don’s wife is in LA and looking fantastic with the help slow motion and an awesome wardrobe. Her career is making strides but creator Matthew Weiner seems to be having the most fun with Megan. He, in a rather meta way, acknowledged Megan’s marmite status as love her or hate her; definitely a comment towards some fans. He also seems to be either teasing or encouraging the conspiracy theories of Megan being murdered a la Sharon Tate: her apartment being in a secluded and unsafe Canyon area, her television roles, her fashion sense and on top the other touches last season. Megan is not happy with Don’s presence despite appearances, it is awkward and she likes being in control of her life in LA. Whether she lives or dies, literally or in a metaphorical sense, Weiner is definitely committed to this character. I for one half expecting her to either not be present this season or divorced from Don.
No BETTY FRANCIS, BERTRAM COOPER or little SALLY DRAPER this week, but hopefully we will catch up with them and the other supporting players at the office in the next episode.
Overall a strong but slow paced return for the show, one that greatly enjoys its new bicoastal format, but its greatness… that’s just true to form isn’t it?