Episode 1 - A Little Kiss
28 March 2012
So Mad Men is back and as far as I can tell hasn't lost a step of its season four swagger.
In fact most of the characters are simply stepping into one another's shoes. Pete has now reached Don's state from season one. He sees himself as the lynch pin of the company but doesn't feel appreciated. He is riding the train home to a family life that doesn't make him happy and battling with Roger. Don has shifted into Roger's place with his hot wife and relaxed attitude to work. Roger meanwhile is scrambling to avoid becoming as irrelevant as Bert while his marriage slowly degenerates because of the lack of connection between him and Jane. None of them can seem to learn from the patterns around them and that's why Mad Men reflects back real life so well at times.
I loved the surprise party as a choice for how to show us the state of Don's new marriage. Of course he wouldn't want to be so exposed like that nor spend his spare time with his work colleagues. Between the dance, the chatter and the gift of a cane it all reminded him of his age too. I loved Roger assuring him that the 'kids' weren't gossiping about him, how wonderfully paranoid the position of the sugar daddy must be. The "Zou Bisou Bisou" also brought us a wonderful picture of how many today think of the 1960s. Meagan's underwear did a similar job.
Roger Stirling has become one of those indispensible characters. The writers made sure to give him one zinger after another whether it was teasing Don, yelling "Kiss Ass" at a secretary or cutting Harry off mid-sex story with "I don't wanna hear that!" Of course he also said "There's my baby" when Joan and son appeared which was exactly what you would expect. His running battles with Pete made for great TV and once brought out the spoilt child in him more than once.
Lane and Joan had good chances to shine too. Lane was beaten (literally in 410) into taking his wife back and yet still clings to the thought that he could join Don and Roger in having a young partner. Joan's relief and tears at seeing how much she was missed was a lovely moment and her relationship with her mother leaves us in no doubt where she developed her acidic skills. Harry is playing douche as well as ever while Ken's coolness contrasts nicely with Pete's furrowed brow. Peggy seemed defined here mostly by her relationship with Don but doubtless she will get her own stories soon.
Don of course is consumed with Meagan. I did like Peggy pointing out the change in his behaviour. Last season he was fuming and claiming that he could win any client over if given a meeting. Now he seems mentally checked out and claims that he doesn't care about work. We know he's deluding himself and his infatuation with his new wife won't last. Their angry sex play was another great choice. For now their attraction will keep them happy but the cracks have begun to spread.
Speaking of which did we really need a baby ass close up? Yikes.
The Vietnam debate and the civil rights story which bookended the episode also reminds us what is going on outside the office. It will be interesting to see what the attitude of all these middle class white people turns out to be. Lane may have adored his chocolate bunny but did he keep the wallet because he didn't trust a black taxi driver?
As you probably know I thought season four of Mad Men was much better than the first three. It was more focussed and much clearer in its intentions. That does mean that the show has become, well, more like a TV show. I found the first three seasons slow and impenetrable at times. Here we get some fairly on the nose moments. Did we need to see Roger falling for Pete's Staten Island prank? ┬áDid Joan have to confess her loneliness to Lane and point out that her husband has been away for a long time? Those were moments I can't imagine having seen in the first three seasons.
The writers clearly need to work hard to walk the fine line between being engaging and seeming real. Every show does of course but Mad Men has such a pedigree that it can't afford to stumble. So far I see no signs of that. This was rich character drama. Funny, intelligent and interesting. Welcome back.
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