Mad Men, Season 5, Episodes 1 & 2: “A Little Kiss”
Written by Matthew Weiner
Directed by Jennifer Getzinger
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on AMC
The feature-length season premiere of Mad Men rejoins us with Don and his team at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP), as writer/creator Matthew Weiner resumes the show’s exploration of smoking, drinking, gender and race relations…this time it’s May 1966.
True to form, the show throws an eclectic range of conflicts at its characters in the opening episode of season five, which should tantalize its devoted viewership. Set against the backdrop of Memorial Day ’66, we find Don roughly seven months into his marriage with his former secretary Megan. Pete, who seems reasonably content with his home-life, remains steadfast in the procurement of success at SCDP. Peggy grapples with Don’s apparently changed demeanor and Joan, who remains off work, deals with the strain, and care, of her newly born child.
The fifty-third episode opens on a few fleeting moments with Don and his children, during which Sally steals one or two curious glances in the direction of her father and his new wife. Is this Weiner hinting at perhaps another ungainly Sally experience? Having followed the ups and downs, and the eventual demise of Don and Betty’s marriage, we witness nothing but passion and attraction from Don and Megan early on. As the first episode (or the first forty seven minutes) unfolds, we find them flirting in Don’s office, canoodling in the corridor, and Megan singing in French at Don, while dancing suggestively in front of a room full of party-goers.
At SCDP, Don now employs Megan as one of the copywriters, alongside Peggy. It is immediately clear that this debases the tireless work Peggy has accomplished in order to climb the ladder herself and her frustration at this more than likely manifests itself in her outburst at Don’s birthday party. Either way, Don and Peggy’s complex, but beautifully written, relationship looks set to undergo new challenges this season. Naturally, conflict equals drama and so the first episode concludes with a drunk Don chastising Megan for throwing him a birthday party, and besides, he concludes, “I’ve been forty for half a year”. Had it not been a double episode, we would have been left to ponder the ramifications of a vexed Megan. Instead, in subtle Mad Men style, the very next day we follow a noticeably less affectionate couple into the offices of SCDP.
Meanwhile, Pete’s ambitious disposition continues, and his already prickly working relationship with Roger intensifies. Weiner’s penchant for meticulous plotting and patient pacing again pays dividends this week. Altercations between them have noticeably exceeded the merely passive aggressive, verbal jousting of the previous season. Finally, it seems Pete is ripe to topple Roger from his perch. This, in turn, presses Roger into a somewhat bizarre mindset, applying desperate measures to retain his value to the agency, and ultimately preserve his ego.
Further evidence of the show’s continued quality comes in the form of several tightly plotted, well-directed and acted multi-episodic sub-plots. Joan’s two-episode story commences in the confinement of her small apartment. Greg is away. She has a newborn and the terrible confliction of the baby’s real father. Yet, this story boils away subtly in the background. Making matters worse, but making her plight more sympathetic to an audience, her only harbor for solace is her visiting mother, whom she seems to clash with and who offers very little helpful advice. Fearing for the security of her job at SCDP, (an idea that is implanted by her mother and an apparent advertisement in the newspaper) Joan visits Lane Pryce. Lane, who’s in the midst of a relatively trifle subplot involving a lost wallet, (which also happens to leave him appearing less virtuous, and probably more sordid) redeems himself by lending Joan much needed support and assurance.
In fact, the episode ends on an unconventionally upbeat and encouraging note for Mad Men, with Don and Megan making up (with echoes of Sean Connery and Honor Blackman in the hay, during Goldfinger), and SCDP accepting applications from black Americans, despite the racial divides at the time. It may seem unfair to say that season five will just be another season of Mad Men, but that’s intended as a positive indication of the continued strength and consistency of this special show.