Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review: Mad Men "A Little Kiss"

Non Spoiler Review:
After one of the longest waits I've ever endured for a series, Mad Men returns with its fifth season. Opening about six months after the finale, we find Don about to celebrate his 40th birthday as he and new wife Megan live in a lavish Manhattan apartment. SCDP continues to struggle with finances, but things appear to be stable—although Roger has become something of a dead weight given he's bringing in no business, and that causes friction through the office. Joan is enduring her somewhat single-mother status (as hubby is stationed at a military hospital).

It's always a bit of a struggle to catch up with everyone, especially after such a long hiatus, but A Little Kiss succeeds in bringing things up to date, all while the civil rights movement and women's liberation provide a backdrop, and promise a lot more development as the season progresses.

I'm excited to see what directions this season takes, given there are so many possibilities in the little tidbits we see this week. Visually, the episode looks amazing, including a memorable musical number that will likely stick in your head. Costumes and sets are vibrant and sexy and make the whole two hour premiere a really great experience—welcoming back all the characters that both endear themselves and annoy us. 

Spoilers Now!
With the civil rights movement in full swing, protests in front of rival ad firm Young and Rubicam prompt some employees to toss water balloons on the picketers below, and creates a minor scandal in the press that Roger takes delight in rubbing their nose in. He posts a fake equal opportunity ad for new secretaries in the paper as a joke. Unfortunately, Joan, now with her new baby and very passive aggressive mother—who wants nothing better for her daughter to stay at home and never go back to work—sees the ad and is distraught that the firm has abandoned her.

It's Memorial Day, and the kids are staying at Don and Megan's swanky Manhattan apartment, celebrating Don's 40th birthday early. Megan and Don go into work together, as Don takes pleasure in doing as little as possible, while Megan works under Peggy in creative.

Pete still feels he gets no respect, especially from Roger, who has garnered virtually no new business but still maintains his large office while Pete is stuck in his tiny nook. Pete and Carolyn are now living out of the city and have a child. Pete is especially outraged when Roger shows up at all his client meetings (flirting with Pete's secretary so he can get a peek at his calendar) and takes delight in belittling Pete as much as possible.

Peggy presents a campaign to Heinz, but they're not fond of it at all, and when Don shows up for his customary appearance, he sides with the client. Peggy is annoyed that the old Don would have sold the creative rather than send them back to the drawing board. He's too agreeable and patient these days. Meanwhile, Megan needs Peggy's advice for a surprise party she's throwing for Don. Peggy immediately warns her Don hates surprises, but Megan just wants help with who to (and not to) invite (and excludes Joan).

Pete meets with Don to advise him Mohawk Airlines wants them back and Don is the big draw. But Pete wants Roger's office in order to make an impression, and calls a partners meeting to discuss. Roger walks out when Pete wants to put it to a vote. He knows the rest see he's right but Lane won't extend their credit any further for more office space.

The night of the party everyone gathers at the apartment given it's a surprise for Don. Peggy is still dating Abe, and Lane and his wife are still together, as well. Megan takes Don home from dinner, but they run into Roger and his wife at the front door about to knock. Don realizes it's a surprise and reluctantly goes in. 

As everyone gets to mingling, Roger offers Don some advice about his younger wife, who is off laughing with her younger friends—that being that they're not laughing about him. Peggy gets a little lippy about redoing the Heinz pitch after a few drinks. When it comes time for Megan's present to her husband, she sings Zou Bisou Bisou, which is a tad sexually suggestive and makes Don squirm. 

Afterwards, tired and ready for bed, Don asks her not to use her money to embarrass him again. He's been 40 for half a year (as Dick Whitman), but only he knows that. He never had birthdays when he was growing up and he doesn't like them. Megan leaves him to sleep and goes to clean up.

At work on Monday, Roger wastes no time in mocking Don. Don warns him not to make fun of each others' wives.

Lane finds a wallet in a cab, but doesn't want to leave it to the black cabbie to return it (though he does tip him). He and his wife are having money troubles with their son's private school, as well. He finds a photo of an attractive woman, Delores, and gets her on the phone. They have a flirtatious conversation as she claims she's the man's gal. He oversteps himself by suggesting he deliver it personally to her, but then they both decide she'll come in to the office to pick it up.

Having had enough of her mother, and in fear for her job options, Joan opts to take the baby to SCDP. She has an awkward exchange with Megan, given she wasn't invited to the party. Roger shows up and makes some thinly veiled quips about the child being his. She finally meets with Lane who explains that wasn't an actual ad, but a barb from Roger. She's in no danger of having her job phased out. Joan vents about her frustrations raising her baby and being out of the loop at the firm given no one came to visit her, but Lane puts her mind to ease and they share a laugh as he fills Joan in on the party.

Harry gets caught talking about Megan's performance, so he assumes he's in trouble when he gets called in to see Roger, who wants Pete and Harry to trade offices. He even offers Harry a personal bribe to sweeten the deal. But Pete isn't happy with the new office change, given that's not the point.

Megan is angry with all the fallout from her party, and has words with Peggy about her Heinz remarks. She breaks down and tells her everyone at the firm is so cynical and doesn't know how to have fun. Peggy apologizes, but Megan needs to go home. Peggy goes to Don to set things right about her comments, but lets him know Megan is kind of upset about the whole thing, so he heads home himself.

The owner of the wallet arrives, but absent his gal, so Lane goes out to greet him (but not before keeping the picture of Delores). He returns the wallet, but the man makes a point of checking that everything is there, leading to a tense moment before he remarks that it's all good. Lane refuses to take a reward, and the man comments his girl said he was real polite and sounded foreign. So he tucks a bill into Lane's coat and tells him that's the way we do things here.

Don returns home to an angry Megan cleaning the house in her underwear. After some bitter barbs and roughness, they have sex on the floor. Don didn't want the party because he didn't want those people in his home. And all the problems in the office were there before Megan. She wonders if going to work with him isn't a good idea anymore. He doesn't care about work. He wants her, not her at work.

Pete sits in his new office and tells his secretary to let Roger do whatever he wants and pencil in a 6 AM appointment with Coca Cola on Staten Island.

Don and Megan arrive at SCDP in the morning and the lobby is full of black people applying to Roger's joke ad. They have no option but to go through with the interviews, otherwise be taken to task like Young and Rubicam (who also just happened to send over an African idol with a resumé that everyone in the lobby saw). Don suggests they just hire one. Lane goes out to thank everyone for coming and collects their resumés.

The Verdict:
Don and Megan are really a charming couple (and Megan is just so awesome and a great boon to the show). But I'm getting the impression that perhaps Don's actions are going to turn our lovely Megan into a Betty. If she happens to get pregnant, I could see her become the lonely stay-at-home housewife that turned Betty into the unhappy thing she is. But Zou Bisou Bisou stole the entire episode.

Roger's the loose cannon more than ever, unhappy in his own marriage and wandering around SCDP causing trouble. After enduring his shenanigans last season (Lucky Strike, the Japanese, etc), I'm wondering if this year he'll do something so destructive that he'll force the other partners to act. He's managed to create sympathy for Pete, who has achieved a level of respect (if not likability).

Sally appears to have matured considerably, but until we see what her home life is with Betty, I don't count her out of the woods yet. And if Megan should get pregnant, I imagine the Draper children aren't going to be happy about it.

Lane's subplot was an odd one, but it was a nice little parallel in how his treatment of the cabbie got thrown back at him by someone far beneath his station, and a pretty awkward scene for everyone. His marriage looks to be pretty frigid, which makes his scenes with Joan so enjoyable. They have amazing chemistry.

There's not much to say about the rest, aside from catching up with Peggy, Kenny, Harry and Stan. The civil rights movement has finally come to the forefront. It shouldn't be too hard finding a secretary to fire at SCDP and provide an opening, given the amount of incompetence we saw this week.

I would still like some answers to lingering questions—how does Joan's doctor husband not know he's not the father? Watching Peggy hold the baby makes me wonder if we'll ever see Peggy's child who must now be around five years old? I thought Bert left after Don's anti-smoking letter. Will we ever see Sal again? So many lingering plot points after four seasons, I hope some get addressed.

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