Mad Men Mondays: "A Little Kiss"

Warning: This review contains (many) spoilers about Mad Men Season 5's Premiere Episode, "A Little Kiss."  I believe that these spoilers don't destroy the viewing enjoyment of the episode at all (they're all revealed moments in), but Matthew Wiener would want me to warn you.  And I do what Matthew Wiener tells me to do.

I worried that my expectations might be too high for the two-hour premiere of "Mad Men" Season 5 on Sunday night.  The long hiatus (nearly 18 months) from television, the strength of Season 4 (which featured "Mad Men's" best episode ever), and creator Matthew Wiener's speculation-building strict "no spoilers" mandate made the possibilities limitless.  Major plot questions hovered in the long, quiet space between seasons: would Megan and Don marry? Would Joan have her baby? Would main-client Lucky Strike's departure sink the agency? And there were broader environmental loose ends, too: how would Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce handle the burgeoning Civil-and-Women's Rights movements? Would they remain perched in their misogynistic and antiquated tower while the avante-garde and the egalitarian bloomed and raged outside their walls?  Can Don Draper -- what with his philandering, meandering sexual mores -- thrive in the awesomeness of the '60s, or will he cling to his other, more boot-strappy, Great-Depression-y values and remain unmoved?

"30 Rock:" the '60s were awesome!

I'll be the first to say that I found the premiere at once anti-climactic and deliciously satisfying.  It was slow and burdened by the need to explain all that had happened during the time lapse, but still maintained it's trademark insight and integrity. (As Vulture put it, "[Weiner] deliver[ed] an episode that would play like a tedious info-dump -- practically a second pilot, or stealth reboot -- if the information weren't conveyed with such relaxed confidence and wit.")  It may be just that "Mad Men" is such good television that it can never really let you down; even the less-dramatic episodes are full of tender character development, sharp dialogue, and beautifully composed scenes.  The show still feels like not a word is wasted, and that each moment is carefully (it's hard to write anything about "Mad Men" without returning to that word: "careful") plucked from the lifetimes of each character and zoomed in on for a reason.

The episode itself brought many important revelations:  the year is 1966 (there hadn't been a critical consensus even on that -- Eric Ditzian for MTV speculated that for the little Matthew Wiener had revealed, Season 5 could very well have opened on an aging, portly 1986 Don Draper) and protests are raging in the streets.  Don and a posher, more stylish, Natalie-Wood-looking Megan are married and are living somewhat unhappily in an uber-modern in-town apartment.  And Joan had Sterling's baby and is (apparently successfully) passing him off as her husband's. 
"Hey girl" - Lane Pryce

SCDP has withstood the loss of Lucky Strike, largely thanks to ever-douchey Pete Campbell, whose professional success does not relieve any of us of the urge to punch him in his stupid dough-face.  Pete cements his unchanged nature in the episode's opening minutes by bemoaning that his wife, Trudy ("Community's" Alison Brie, in a lovely little cross-television casting choice), hasn't lost her baby weight quickly enough for his tastes, and spends the remainder of the episode lobbying for a bigger office.  (The office is probably deserved, to be fair, but Pete is still a spine-shivering tool about it.)

If not shocking (no plans changed from what we learned at the end of Season 4), the episode was ground-work laying.  Peggy is more brilliant and under-appreciated than ever (Don egregiously undermines her work in front of a client) and is still our biggest window into the '60s counter-culture via her beatnik boyfriend Abe.  Joan is eager to return to SDCP because she is desperate to be needed and suckled by someone other than her infant.  Lane Pryce is toeing an ever-creepier line, attempting to initiate some unsuccessful phone-sex with a women whose bikini-clad picture he finds in the back of a taxi cab.  Sterling is still charming and useless, much to the chagrin of the useful and un-charming Pete.  And Don Draper is getting old.

"Zou Bisou Bisou"
The central plot-line of the episode is Don Draper's 40th birthday (Dick Whitman turned 40 months before, we learn, but Don celebrates his pseudonym's birthday for understandable, government-document related reasons).  In a demonstration of both her youth and complete misunderstanding of her new husband, Megan throws an inappropriate surprise party (despite Peggy's blunt warning against it) full of co-workers, where she croons a cringe-worthy French song in a mini-dress and embarrasses Don so utterly that it remains to see if their relationship will recover. (Shagging on the shag rug at the episode's end doesn't a marriage mend.)  Everyone in the audience (ours and theirs) is left with the same thought: Betty would never have done that.  Even Dr. Faye (whom Don cruelly dumped for the more maternal Megan at last season's end) had the maturity, restraint, and pure social sensitivity to make that performance unimaginable.  At the end, Don is old, inflexible, and just as alone as always.

Recap being capped, I'm bringing you a delightful little treat for those of you who love "Mad Men" and love FX's "Archer." The latter is an animated sitcom about a ridiculous, selfish, alcoholic womanizing...spy (you thought I was going to say "ad agent," didn't you?) named Sterling Archer, and it's sincerely one of the funniest, raunchiest, wittiest shows on television.  Luckily for me, someone else noticed the similarities between scotch-swilling Sterling Archer and scotch-swirling Don Draper and created a tumbler called: Sterling Archer Draper Pryce.  They take scenes from "Mad Men" and caption them with quotes from "Archer."  I know, I know: your work day is officially shot.  Sorry, guys.  Click the link, and step into the DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANGER ZONE, you Mancys!

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Write comments
March 27, 2012 at 10:17 PM delete

Good review. Also, that website is amazing.

I've spent the past 10 minutes scouring your post looking for a way to make a "PHRASING!" joke, but I couldn't come up with anything worthy after reading through the Sterling Archer Draper Pryce website. I'm especially disappointed since the word "wiener" was included multiple times.


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