It is the beginning of the end, or “the end of an era,” as AMC is touting it, for Mad Men, the cable TV drama that legitimized a fledgling network and awed critics with its deliberate, singular, inimitable style. With its Douglas Sirk meets Richard Yates style of melodrama, Mad Men seemed like nothing else on TV and I’m not sure we’ll see anything like it again. In an era of television that is made to be binged watched, Mad Men is like the fine wine that you sip and savor, and I’m making sure to enjoy every last taste before it’s gone forever.
Besides some new mustaches and hairdos, you wouldn’t think tonight’s episode was a season premiere, and that’s because it really isn’t. The episode was meant to be episode eight of a 14-episode season, until the network decided to milk the series for all it’s worth and split the season up over two years. Tonight’s premiere doesn’t have that catching up with your old friends feeling, it’s just the next episode in the story, and that story begins in a familiar fashion – with sex.
The newly single Don Draper orders model after model to pout and pose with a fur coat, coaxing them to show their smoothness while flaunting his own. Mad Men always seemed to be sold on its sexuality, but the ads never hint at the darkness that hides in the sultriness, and though this episode features plenty of the passionate iteration of the word sex, it seems far more interest in the more formal, gender-based definition.
The most striking scene of the episode found Peggy and Joan seeking assistance from their new colleagues at McCann Erickson. The two women sit at the conference table with poise and power, two trailblazers that earned their positions through hard work and compromise, nefarious or otherwise. Yet, despite all of their achievements and how high they have climbed, they are still demeaned and objectified by their male counterparts. Joan may be rich and Peggy may have a fantastic career, but they’re still not viewed as equals. In a show that highlights the hollowness and artifice of maintaining the image of the American Dream, Joan and Peggy are the flag-bearers. In the Sterling Cooper & Partners offices, only the girls auditioning as models get the real attention.
But that’s just one of Mad Men’s many salient themes. Another focuses on how time waits for no man or woman, it’s relentless, always barreling forward and leaving people displaced, irrelevant, and lost in its wake. Don starts thinking about his past and Rachel Menken, season one’s fling, and when Topaz Pantyhose is searching for an exclusive deal with a department store, Don sees it as the perfect opportunity to check back in with the one that got away.
To Don’s dismay and shock, he learns that Rachel has passed away of leukemia after dreaming of her. In the time since we last saw her, Rachel built a life similar to the one that Don had at the start of the series, the one that Don was trying to flee. It seems that in the back of Don’s mind that Rachel was a point in time that he always wanted to revisit, but that’s not how time works. In all of his confusion, he tries to search for meaning and solace in a waitress that resembles Rachel, trying to repeat his experience with his former mistress or make sense of it all, but you can’t go back in time and you can’t make sense of death.
The more people that die in Don’s life, the more silly clothes and mustaches that pop up on his co-workers while he soldiers on with his Cary Grant style, it just becomes more evidently clear that Don is a relic of an age that has passed. The future is about change, and if there’s one thing that we’ve seen from Don, it’s that change isn’t something he’s particularly good at. Instead of looking backward at the Rachel Menkens of his life, Don needs to forge ahead and adapt, or he’ll truly be left behind.
The Best of the Rest
- Ken Cosgrove is as close to a perfect person as we’re going to get on Mad Men. After his father-in-law retires from Dow Chemical, Ken has an argument with his wife about quitting his job, which for all we know is the first argument that they have ever had ever. The next day, Ken is serendipitously fired when McCann remembers Ken’s past slights, like quitting their agency to rejoin Sterling Cooper, and Roger goes right along with it. However, Ken gets the last laugh when the shake-up at Dow Chemical leaves their head of advertising position open, and Ken then becomes the client, promising to be difficult in spite.
- Ken and Pete’s scene had so many layers of resentment and insincerity; I love the complexity and history of their relationship.
- Don talks openly about his impoverished childhood, except this time fudging a couple of the details.
- Harry Crane looks like Peter Griffin at this point. The Topaz people think Mr. Potato Head. I say we’re both right.
- Mathis sets Peggy up on a date, which starts off abrasive, but after a few drinks becomes sort of great. Buzzed Peggy wants to go to Paris with her new beau after a conversation but cant find her passport. The next day, she finds it in her office and seems disinterested in pursuing the guy she had such fun with. Her mind, just like her passport, stays at work. More evidence of this can be seen when Peggy finally loosens up on the date when she hears the kind words Mathis said about her. She cares more about the opinion of a co-worker than the date sitting across from her.
- Ed is pretty pleased with himself that he can make a Pop Tart. In that case, guess I should be a lot more proud of myself.
- HOLY MUSTACHE, ROGER AND TED!
- After facing degrading talk from men, Peggy and Joan turn on each other, both getting in great barbs. It’s just a shame that they’re forced to reduce and belittle each other because of their sexist environment.