After an 18-month hiatus, “Mad Men” is back with electric car windows, tacky polyester and even a bit of health consciousness. (“Please, no smoking.”) SPOILERS ahead!
UPDATE: AMC’s “Mad Men”‘s two-hour season five premiere pulled a record 3.5 million viewers for the series. Last season’s “Mad Men” premiere was the highest-rated episode of season four, with 2.9 million total viewers.
Season five started off on a ballsy note, showing us a trio of characters we don’t recognize. They look vaguely like the young men of Sterling Cooper Draper Price, and are pranking a group of black protesters on the street below their office window. We find out later these casually racist imbeciles are employees of Y&R, a rival ad agency. After a media uproar surrounding the insensitive prank, Sterling Cooper Draper Price puts out an ad labeling itself as “An Equal Opportunity Employer.”
Don and new wife Megan have upgraded digs to a wood-paneled, white-carpeted shag pad, where we first see Sally Draper awkwardly gliding around and interrupting Daddy and new-Mommy during a post-coital lounging session. Megan has made the irkingly rapid transition from secretary to junior ad woman at SCDP, much to the barely tolerant chagrin of Peggy. When Megan brings up her plans of a surprise 40th birthday party for Don, the look of schadenfreude is detectable on Peggy’s face, even as she good-naturedly warns Megan that “men hate surprises.”
The party goes about as disastrously as Peggy could hope for. Megan, looking like Agent 99 from “Get Smart,” performs a French song-and-dance routine, while the men in the room watch in a state of lust mixed with supreme discomfort — Don most of all. Megan’s hopes for a party where “everyone goes home afterward and has sex” don’t pan out. Once the guests have left, Don flops on the bed, ready to sleep off his humiliation.
Meanwhile, Joan is at home looking after new baby Kevin and spatting with her mother. Upon seeing the “Equal Opportunity Employer” ad put out by SCDP, she immediately worries that her post-pregnancy-leave position is in jeopardy. Little does she know that equal opportunity employment is more of a playful promotion gimmick for Don and the boys than a serious aspect of the cultural climate. Lane reassures her of this during one of the episode’s best scenes.
Lane discovers a lost wallet in the back of a cab and, not trusting the black taxi driver to return the cash-filled wallet, takes on the obligation himself. This scene was a smart inclusion. In Season 4, Lane briefly dated a black Playboy Bunny, but here we see him blatantly judging a person’s credibility based on skin color. Racial fetish and racial acceptance are two different things.
Pete moves to a bigger office inside SCDP. He’s up to his usual hammy whining, but is also the subject of the episode’s best line of dialogue: “Is Pete going bald?”
The episode ends on a highly tantalizing note. It’s 1966, and an ad for equal opportunity employment is rightfully taken seriously, despite the thoughtless motives of the men who placed it. Don, Roger, Lane and Bertram find a lobby full of black applicants ready for job interviews.
Home is where the office isn’t:
All of the domestic spaces seem to be moving farther away from the office. Pete’s in suburbia, Joan’s talking about an eventual move to New Jersey, and Betty — so associated with domestic space for the first three seasons of the show — is nowhere to be seen throughout the entire episode. After an angry session of role-playing sex with Megan, Don admits one of the reasons he hated his surprise birthday party: He doesn’t want his co-workers anywhere near his home.
About that baby butt:
It was the most hard-to-miss shot of the entire two hours: A fatty baby butt with diaper rash cream smeared on it. This is our introduction to little Kevin, Joan’s son, whose father-figure is in service for the Vietnam War. (Kevin’s real father is Roger.)
“Mad Men” has always been great with body horror — the characters’ bodies spew out how they’re feeling when they themselves can’t verbally or emotionally express it. While the greased baby butt seemed like a visually jarring nonsequitor, I was reminded of it later during a completely unrelated scene. After an unsuccessful ad pitch, Peggy is told by a client that the close shots of Heinz beans she’s suggesting for a TV commercial will give the wrong vibe: Beans are “slimy,” and remind the client not only of wartime food, but also of the exposed guts of fallen soldiers.
So here we have two instances of seemingly inappropriate, slimy close-ups, either explicit or referenced. Will this recur throughout the season? If so, does it somehow suggest wartime anxiety?