This week on the final season premiere (if you don't count AMC's weird scheduling anyway) of Mad Men
, Don Draper has the most depressing plane meet-cute of all time, Peggy struggles at work, Pete has started dressing like the yuppie villain from an '80s teen comedy and Ken Cosgrove's lack of depth perception gives us the best moment of the night.
"Do you have time to improve your life?" Freddy Rumsen asks during his pitch for Accutron watches. It's the question Don Draper seems to be pondering, as he takes one step forward and two steps back in his own attempts to put his life back together.
We pick up only a few short months after Don has blown everything to hell in the Hershey pitch (Hershey: taste the sad!
) and took his kids on the most depressing vacation of all time.
Plenty has changed in that time period, including a newly zen Pete Campbell, but the changes in Don haven't been as dramatic as the audience might imagine. After all, Don might be the master of reinvention, but his demons have always stayed the same.
Don's drinking less and spending more time on planes, living a bi-coastal lifestyle with Megan even though their marriage is still decidedly on the rocks. Yet those bad habits of Don's just keep creeping in.
On the plane ride back to New York, he's already chatting up seatmate Neve Campbell, having the weirdest meet-cute by bonding over her alcoholic dead husband. Her description of her husband, how he was "thirsty," how he seemed to get better and then got worse and finally how she spread his ashes at Disneyland, all seem to strike a cord with Don. It's a path the audience can very well see Don traveling. He certainly does love Disneyland.
Does Don have enough time to put his life back together before he's being sprinkled across Tom Sawyer Island? Can he really change? Right now, Don is still outside in the cold, stuck in limbo. He's technically still getting paid by Sterling Cooper and Partners, but he has to sneak his work in through Freddy Rumsen. He's technically still married to Megan, but everything about their relationship seems off kilter. He doesn't even have a coast to call his home.
The episode ends on a haunting shot of Don Draper out in the cold, sitting sadly on his balcony looking through his sliding doors that won't shut. "Keeps me hanging on," the song sings, but how long can Don Draper really hang on before he either falls or pulls himself up? Freddy warned him not to become known as damaged goods, but Don is worried he's already "broken the vessel."
Will Don be able to change or is he doomed to repeat his mistakes? We've got a whole final season to find out.
California, Here We Come!
Unlike most Mad Men premieres, we have to wait some time to find out what's going on with Don Draper. Our first shot of him is in an airport bathroom, getting ready to meet Megan out by her new convertible. Life looks different in California, more drenched in sun and filled with color. Yet Don seems to stick out like a sore thumb in the LA heat, whether it's buying Megan an expensive television or just the old-school hat he wears.
Two people who have fully embraced the Cali lifestyle are Megan and Pete. Megan's career seems to be on the rise, with a tentative pilot deal at NBC. She seems happy in LA but not quite as happy with Don. After she gets angry at his impulse television purchase, she points out they see each other so infrequently there's really no time to fight.
Considering that Don is still flying back and forth between California and New York, it seems assured he hasn't mentioned his leave of absence from work. While it might have been surprising to return to the Mad Men universe with Don and Megan still together, the couple is clearly falling apart at the seams.
Pete, however, is tan and loving life in the sunshine state. He has acclimated to California in a way that is hilariously endearing. Maybe all Pete ever needed to be less of a slimeball was some extra Vitamin D and the opportunity to pick a fresh orange.
The episode opens with Freddy, talking straight to the camera, selling in a way only Don Draper really can. So it's not a complete surprise when it turns out Don has been using Freddy as his advertising Cyrano.
Peggy, however, is pretty bowled over by how good Freddy's Accutron pitch is. She immediately tries to get Lou Avery, the new creative director, on board, but he's not biting. While Lou seems like a more reliable guy, and certainly less likely to throw up in a trashcan and show up to work blitzed, he's also less creatively ambitious than Peggy used to. It's a weird world where you miss your alcoholic former mentor, but Peggy does seem to miss Draper's swing-for-the-fences attitude.
"Open the door and walk in," Avery says of Peggy's insistence on using Freddy's superior pitch over the one he'd already chosen. "You don't always have to parachute in through the ceiling."
But parachuting in is the only way Peggy and Don know how to operate. It's their underdog disease, the thing that keeps them striving even when other people have taken easier ways out. Peggy only got to where she is because she was willing to strap on that parachute and fly into any open window. Don Draper is the ultimate in pulling the rip chord and hoping for a soft landing.
If Don can't walk in through the door, he'll get Freddy in instead. If Peggy can't get Lou to agree with her vision, she'll try to get some extra storyboards drawn up to convince him the long way. Mentor and mentee have a pretty established "Jump first, hope the parachute opens later" mentality. And yet it's Peggy and Don's pain that closes out the hour. Endless striving comes at a price -- sometimes the parachute doesn't always open.
Joan Moves Up
The whole of SD&P is in a flux thanks to Don's removal and the new LA office. While Ted comes to visit without a tan to make things difficult for Peggy, poor Ken Cosgrove is dancing faster than ever to service all the accounts on his watch. Still half-blind thanks to Detroit, Ken conscripts Joan to take his meeting with the new head of marketing over at Butler Footwear.
While Joan seems more than happy to take on added responsibility, especially after last season's Avon bid, she isn't at all prepared for the rain of bullets she's walking into. It turns out the head of marketing wants to move all advertising in-house, meaning SD&P will be down one client.
Joan goes to see a business professor (how she knows him is left intriguingly vague. Is she taking his class?) to get some advice. There's a great moment where the professor asks for something in return, and Joan immediately jumps to the saddest possible conclusion. It's subtle and great work from the always great Christina Hendricks that she can evoke the whole disgusting Jaguar ordeal with just a look. Joan has made some big sacrifices to get where she is in her career, but they didn't come without a cost.
Of course, what the professor wants isn't her body, but her mind. And sure enough, Joan knows all the information he just assumed she wouldn't be able to understand. In exchange, he helps her find an approach that works for Butler Footwear, convincing the head of marketing that in-house talent won't be able to place ads like an established agency.
And just like that, Joan is on accounts. It's what she's always wanted, but maybe a little faster and more abruptly than she expected.
Elsewhere in Swinging 1969...
-- Roger is really enjoying the free love movement (and its drugs) to the fullest. While his daughter Margaret has probably joined some kind of weird sister-wife cult of forgiveness, Rogers seems to be spending most of his "work" hours at orgies.
-- The relief on Dawn's face is palatable in every scene with new creative director Lou. I'm guessing it's nice to not worry if your boss is going to come into the office drunk or have you patch through calls from his many mistresses.
-- Oh hey, Richard Nixon!
-- Best moment of the premiere: Ken tries to casually toss Joan her missing earring and it sails past her and hits the wall. One of the worst parts of being a pirate is the lack of depth-perception.
What did you think of the premiere? Do you think Don can really change or will he just revert back to his old ways? And how about the random Neve Campbell sighting? Sound off in the comments!
Mad Men airs Sundays at 10pm on AMC.
(Image courtesy of AMC)