“If a person survives an ordinary span of sixty years or more, there is every chance that his or her life as a shapely story has ended and all that remains to be experienced is epilogue. Life is not over, but the story is.” – Kurt Vonnegut
Let me start by saying, boy is it great to have Mad Men back on TV. Since HBO’s True Detective ended, TV has been a veritable wasteland (for me personally) other than my guilty pleasure Bar Rescue. Let me also say that this was a difficult review to write, as this season’s premiere was quite excellent and very dense. Normally I avoid the Facebooks and the Twitters when my favorite show is on and I’ll miss it, but luckily for me the internet was absorbed with Game Of Thrones spoliers, so I was safe.
SIDE NOTE: Don’t complain about spoilers on social media. Just stay off if you want to avoid spoilers. Also, don’t complain about spoilers when your show is based of a book series that’s existed for quite sometime.
Anyway, back to Mad Men.
At it’s core, Mad Men has always been a show about emptiness, and the fear of ending up irrelevant. These characters constantly bury themselves in work, sex, drugs and alcohol, to avoid staring their emptiness in the face, but it only ever works temporarily. Don Draper has always been a man with the uncanny ability to constantly rise from the ashes and reinvent himself. But the overall feeling of “Time Zones” is that it’s just not going to work for these characters anymore. Despite how beautiful and brilliant they are, the world has moved on from their story.
Don is certainly handsome as ever, but his charm seems to be fading. When he’s picked up at the airport, Megan shows up in a sexy convertible and a sumptuous dress that screams 1969, and it makes Don, in his suit and Fedora, look so old and out of place. Megan, who once couldn’t resist Don, now makes excuses to get out of sex with him, and is eerily distant. She speaks of “her” next house, and then corrects herself to “our” house. Don is fading from her mind. The title “Time Zones” is certainly a reference to Don’s traveling between L.A. and NYC, but I think it’s even truer meaning is that all the characters seem to be out of sync, and on different wavelengths.
When Don buys Megan a big expensive television, she gets angry with him, wondering how it’ll make her look to her artist friends. This is a thought process Don couldn’t possibly understand. As someone who grew up in the depression, Don wants to show off wealth, he wants to seem better then he is, and he’ll lie if he has to. He doesn’t understand that Megan wants to look worse then she is. This misunderstanding is the very reason their marriage isn’t working. The two live in two different time periods.
Although on the flight back to NYC, Don is able to charm the woman next to him. It’s more because they have a candid conversation than it is bravado. In the end he isn’t even interested, because it’s not the woman he wants, yet he claims it’s because he has work to do.
We all know that isn’t true. Don literally sits by the phone waiting to hear from Sterling Cooper, but they aren’t going to call. In the mean time, he pitches ideas to Peggy through Freddie Rumsen. Peggy loves the idea, but she too is powerless, unable to pass it along because her boss isn’t interested in good ideas, or her opinion for that matter. He’s more interested in maintaining the successful business than anything else, asking Peggy “why parachute through the ceiling when you can just walk through the door?” This doesn’t sit well with Peggy, because like Don, she pours herself into her work to avoid her emptiness. She screams at Stan, complaining that she’s the only one fighting for quality, but Stan tells her to stop, saying that “It’s dead baby”, but he doesn’t mean just the idea, he means the way things used to be.
This theme of powerlessness is what we see over and over in the episode. Roger Sterling faded from relevance in the company years ago, but now he’s even fading from his loved ones. His daughter calls him to dinner and he expects that she’s upset with him or angry and needs help, but she doesn’t. She calls him to dinner just to tell him that she forgives him for everything he’s done, as if to wash her hands of him. Roger is angered by this. He’s unable to face his mistakes and asks if she thinks he owes her an apology, but she says she doesn’t want one because “you can’t make it better”. Even Roger’s new “love interest” (I use the term loosely) doesn’t really care where he’s been or what he’s been up to. Although this may seem nice to the common lothario, Roger is irritated by it because it means even she doesn’t care about him.
The episode’s themes are most obviously outlined by Richard Nixon’s inauguration speech in which he declares:
“We find ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit; reaching with magnificent precision for the moon, but failing into raucous discord on earth. We are caught in war, wanting peace. We are torn by division, wanting unity. We see around us empty lives, wanting fulfillment. We see tasks that need doing, waiting for hands to do them. To a crisis of the spirit, we need an answer of the spirit.”
These characters are indeed ragged in spirit, and they have no answer for it. The episode ends with Don’s balcony doors opening and letting the freezing cold barrel into his apartment. But Don is too powerless to even close the doors. They’re stuck just like him. Instead, he decides to sit out in the cold where his life has left him, and watch his story end, but his life continue.
– I loved the opening of the premiere. The frank and direct camera angle on Freddie is at first jarring and awkward, but it’s brilliant, because it’s the camera angle they’d use on Don if he were pitching. The camera angle is playing a trick on us. We think we’re watching Freddie, but really we’re watching Don.
– Although Sterling Cooper is prospering and they don’t seem interested in bringing back Don, everyone who works there seems so lost without his leadership. Ken is overwhelmed, Joan is underutilized, and Peggy can’t even pitch an idea correctly.
– Enough with the eye patch already Matthew Weiner!
– Everyone has been pushed back to the shadows. Peggy tries to operate undercover through the art department, Don operates through Freddie, and Joan must operate through Ken’s office.
– California was once a safe haven for Don. He literally would run away to California, but now it seems so perplexing to him, this is especially evident when he meets up with Pete who is living it up and enjoying his life. His exuberance makes Don seem like such a fish out of water.