Smart Mad Men Recap: S3E1, “Time Zones”

SPOILER ALERT: Mad Men is back.

Mad Men season 7 episode 1

Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) wears an adorable beanie-like beret in the Season 7 premiere of MAD MEN

Something about the way Peggy tilts her head, lifts her hand, and says through a slight squint, “That’s a home run,” is startlingly Draperesque. Mad Men has drawn parallels between Don and Peggy before (remember Peggy’s handjob in the movie theater?) and as we embark on its final chapter, it appears this show ultimately isn’t Don’s story, nor twisted to become Peggy’s. It’s about both of them, how an ad man and his secretary relate to each other, are related to each other, and relate to a time in history when all the rules were changing.

Matthew Weiner has dabbled in tongue-in-cheek self-awareness before, but I don’t know if we’ve ever gotten as blatant a meta moment as this season’s opener:

“Are you ready? Cuz I want you to pay attention. This is the beginning of something. Do you have time to improve your life?”

Everything before that last line feels intentionally direct, from Freddy addressing the camera to the tone of finality inherent in the assertion that this is a “beginning.” Self-improvement is Weiner’s season 7 thesis statement; he’s situating the time we have remaining with these characters as a period of possible redemption. Is there a difference between improving your life and reinventing it? How much of starting anew means saying goodbye?

The conversation between Don and his seatmate on the plane back to New York feels meta too. “He died of thirst,” the stranger says of her late husband, before moving on to matters of adultery. Don wonders if he has “broken the vessel” of his marriage, and she replies, “If you did, what can you do about it? It’s done.” It’s quintessential Mad Men, but Don turning down her halfhearted come-on, as well as Neve Campbell’s charming and vulnerable performance, prevent these reiterations of the show’s central themes from sounding too redundant. (Personally, I could do with fewer pointed thematic messages by way of late night television commercials.) Musings on alcoholism and mortality have become cliche on this show, but here they are uttered by a kindred spirit who has accepted all the realities Don – and perhaps Peggy, abruptly weeping on her knees – has been resisting. Maybe by starting to accept his own flaws, Don is making progress to eradicate them.

The setup of California as a major backdrop, with Steven Winwood’s “I’m a Man” blaring, is just jaw-droppingly good. Megan’s slow-motion entrance is surely meant to mirror Betty’s grand introduction during the season 2 premiere; this Mrs. Draper and the gleaming green car she’s driving (nope, Don, you’re not driving!) blinds you with sheer fabulousness. Of course Los Angeles suits Megan just fine.

I can’t decide which is the most ridiculous part about Pete’s new look. It could be the hilariously chipper “vibrations” he’s exuding out of his tanned, receding hairline. Or the sweater tied around his neck just so. But let’s face it, it’s probably the pants. It’s only been a couple months since season 6 left off, and Pete’s status as a Californian is in its honeymoon phase. “You look like one, you talk like one.” Don’s reaction is our reaction.

Meanwhile, back in New York, the newest incarnation of a male boss who doesn’t appreciate Peggy’s genius says, “I guess I’m just immune to your charms.” How much of her frustration is justified? There’s a fine line between arrogance and moral outrage, and Elisabeth Moss knows exactly how to toe it. The stinkeye she gives Ted, who is visiting, is SO epic I almost felt bad for him. There are very few men in Peggy’s life who haven’t disappointed her in some way. I do hope her final chapter has some victories as well as the de rigueur, face-melting anguish.

“Excuse me, could I get a splash of whiskey in this?” asks Joan after Mr. Babyface Business Degree leaves their Butler Footware meeting prematurely. Christina Hendricks is good at a very quiet, subtle kind of comedy. I enjoyed the way she slipped on ice outside the college. And Ken throwing the earring was a great bit. He’s a one-eyed sourpuss now. Remember when that sci-fi novelist was the only genuinely sweet man on the show?

As for the reveal that Freddy’s pitches are coming from Don, it was gratifying to realize there was some truth to Don continually saying, “I have to get back to work.” Perhaps he isn’t so jaded and downtrodden that he’s willing to give up his craft. In season 4 we met wife-less Don. Jobless Don is focused, methodically working his way back into SC&P with the patience of a hungry wolf. Work is identity, yo.

It’s going to be sad to see this show go (in summer 2015, oy) but I can’t help but feel Weiner is going to nail this final season. How could a show packed with so much fatalistic yet stylish naturalism end without saying something profound about identity, and change, and the American dream? In this Golden Age of Television – which many agree will end when this show does – series finales often fall flat due to rabid viewers’ expectations. But this viewer has high hopes that Weiner & co. can stick the landing, if only because I’m certain all of these characters will end up in a place that feels true to their specific realities.

Stray thoughts:

  • Most dazzling period outfit might have to go to Joan’s emerald rain jacket, under which she reveals her typically sumptuous red dress and smart little scarf. It’s been too long since Tom and Lorenzo’s Mad Style recaps, which never fail to give me life.
  • No Betty (yay!) or Sally (nay!) in this episode.
  • That scene between Roger and his daughter was awkward, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of his story arc in this episode. Am I supposed to find Margaret a self-righteous twit? Does Roger serve any function in the agency anymore? And good God, in what orgiastic hellhole is he living??
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One thought on “Smart Mad Men Recap: S3E1, “Time Zones”

  1. Pingback: Smart Mad Men Recap: S3E2, “A Day’s Work” | Smart Reviews

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