It’s been a year and a half since the finale of Mad Men season 4 and about the same amount time has passed in the Mad Men world bringing the show up to sometime in 1967. The episode begins with one of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s competitors throwing bags of ice water from their office building onto the marching civil rights protestors below which in turn sets off a series of plot points which will inevitably lead Mad Men along the course of the Civil Rights movement. But first let’s catch up.
Because a lot of time has passed there are some seemingly major events that were missed including Don Draper’s wedding to his new wife Megan whom he suddenly proposed to at the conclusion of season 4. Based on the reception Don gave to Megan’s surprise 40th birthday party in this episode I’m guessing their wedding was probably of the Vegas style anyhow. Last season we also learned that Joan was pregnant and it was the result of a rekindled affair with Roger Sterling while her husband was overseas in Vietnam. In season 5 we catch up to her post-pregnancy and get further insight into her cattiness as she is tortured by her mothers “help” with the baby. Somehow they managed to get through the episode without any breastfeeding jokes but not without Roger exclaiming ‘There’s my Baby!” after Joan visits the office quickly amending his statement wryly with an added [and some child as well]. Having a baby in the office winds up being a vehicle for multiple uncomfortable moments as it is passed from person to person until Peggy is left alone with the child only to run into Pete in the hallway where they resurrect the family that never was.
A large portion of the episode focuses on the ensuing power struggle between Pete Campbell and Roger Sterling. After losing their biggest client, Lucky Strike, Roger is largely a figurehead at SCDP and has taken to “crashing” Pete’s business meetings by stealing glances at Pete’s meeting schedule as he flirts with his secretary. Pete on the other hand is one of the firm’s most successful salesmen and feels like he should be deserving of an appropriate office to accommodate his client meetings and sense of stature. This relationship is one of the great formulas of Mad Men’s success and appeal. Pete is totally justified and is practically carrying the company but because he such a simpering crybaby and Roger is such a charming braggadocio you wind up rooting on the wrong side of justice. In the end things tend to work themselves out to a logical if not moral conclusion as Pete gets his big office, through Harry Crane, and some revenge on Roger’s meeting crashing as well.
For January Jones fans this was not your episode, as Betty was completely absent. It doesn’t seem like there will be a lot of story time for Alison Brie either as we wait for her pregnancy to progress. It was Don Draper’s young wife Megan (Jessica Pare) who was turning heads in this episode as she serenades Don at his birthday party with a Burlesque version of Zou Bisou Bisou and causes quite a stir around the office. For his part, despite his grumpiness over a surprise party, this episode introduces a kinder, gentler Don Draper. Maybe it’s because everybody under the sun seems to know his deep dark secret now or maybe it’s because he’s not so much of a raging alcoholic anymore although the end of show teaser hinted that maybe Don’s drinking comes back to haunt him in the not so distant future.
As Mad Men has equal parts time machine and social commentary the episode wraps up where it began, with the Civil Rights movement. In an effort to embarrass their competitors whom were caught throwing the water balloons Roger has placed an add in the paper claiming that SCDP is an “equal opportunity employer”. This has none today’s PC friendliness attached to it but is meant purely as a barb and wasn’t taken seriously by any of the SCDP executives. They are soon forced to put their money where their mouth is as they are faced with “a lobby full of Negroes” looking for a job opportunity. Even Don, who usually seems to have a strong moral compass outside of his womanizing, is victim to the times racism as he admits that despite the budget crunch they will have to hire “one of them” if nothing else but to save face and criticism.
Overall, despite being just over two hours with commercials there wasn’t a lot of major development in this season’s opener, but this is the brilliance of the Mad Men pacing. Despite the minimal amounts of action as a regular viewer you are engaged in whats happening and intrigued by what has been left out. That’s why I would recommend to anyone who wants to “get in ” or “catch up” to Mad Men to watch it in the largest amount of chunks possible to learn the characters subtle arcs. There’s nothing like 13 straight hours of Mad Men to get you interested… or maybe fall asleep.