Mad Men Season 5, Episode 1: Recap and Review, Zou Bisou Bisou
Before I went to college and became acquainted with the harsh reality of sharing a television with people, Mad Men was one of my favorite shows on television. At that time I was in the middle of season 3 and tried to keep up with the show by watching it in the shady corners of the internet the day after it aired. I got tired of the viruses and quit at the end of the season, figuring that my time with the show was over and crying like a schoolboy bitch.
When I heard that the show was coming back for another season, I figured it was season 6 and I’d be too far behind to catch up in time and cried like a schoolboy bitch. It turns out that it was season 5 that started yesterday; I should really stop figuring things.
So while the 18-month hiatus between seasons chafed most fans of the show, it allowed me to get up to speed by watching 13 episodes instead of 26. So I did it this weekend and sat in front of my laptop for close to 11 hours, most of them belonging to Saturday, with the intention of writing a hebdomadal (hello, Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day!) column for each new episode, starting with last night’s premiere, for which I got drunk and wrote my thoughts as I watched.
Mad Men usually leaps pretty far ahead in its timeline in between seasons, partly because show creator Matthew Weiner wants to toy with a lot of different parts of the 1960s and partly because the actress who plays young Sally Draper can’t stop growing during all these long gaps where there is no filming. Accordingly, the first episode of each season is exposition, and Weiner drops clues as to how things have changed around the office, what year we are in and what storylines from last season have been resolved (for now). It’s tedious groundwork for a late-season reward.
In very beginning of this episode, we see the Civil Rights movement on the screen for the first time, meaning it has finally become pervasive enough to penetrate the privileged, insular cocoon of Madison Avenue. “Negroes” protest the discriminating practices of one of SCDP’s rival firms, Y&R. Some juvenile assholes drop water bombs on them from their window and the firm gets into a public relations scandal. Don, on the cutting edge as always, places an ad in the next days’ NYT saying “SCDP, An Equal Opportunity Employer,” to rub Y&R’s nose in it. Somehow, he does not foresee that applicants will take the ad seriously, and at the very end of the episode he walks into a lobby full of black applicants, of whom one must be hired lest they get bad press as well, forcing change to come to the firm in abrupt (uncharacteristic for this show but I like it) and intriguing fashion.
Don’s personal life with his new wife slash former secretary Megan is the primary focus of this episode. Megan’s French-Canadianness is apparent throughout. It is telling that for the isolated subculture of SCDP—and Madison Avenue in general—a woman from Montreal is considered exotic. Indeed she is more open and carefree that can be seen as progressive for the time, and these aspects of her are highlighted when she says to Peggy, “Everyone’s gonna go home from this [party], and they’re gonna have sex.” Her words ring true at least for Harry Crane, according to his splendidly TMI conversation with Roger. That might be because of her birthday present to Don, a rendition of “Zou Bisou Bisou” that was way too suggestive to perform in front of an entire party be it 1966 or 2012, but especially if it be 1966. But hey, that’s Megan the French-Canadian, sex-kitten (according to Harry Crane again) extraordinaire.
Near the end of the episode, when she is pouty over Don not appreciating her surprise party, she teases him by cleaning up the apartment in her underwear, taunting him for being too old. Then Don uses a problem-solving technique you should never list on your résumé, diffusing the tension with a firm tug on her hair and carpet sex. The whole thing had a role play vibe—could Don have found his match made in kinky heaven?
Other subplots included a growing rivalry between Pete and Roger, whose increasing obsolescence (as well as the hardship the firm still endures) is made apparent through his former secretary Caroline, who now tends mostly to Don’s work even though she is theoretically supposed to assist Roger half the time. Bert Cooper is back, presumably to be irrelevant except for an old-man wisecrack every once in a while and to disagree with Peggy’s boyfriend about the motives behind Vietnam (stupid old man, believing in the Domino Theory!). Certainly Bert is a possible future for Roger, and he responds not by applying himself but by trying to poach Pete’s clients. Roger is the same drunk one-liner machine, which worked when he had Lucky Strike’s account to his name, but probably not for long now that he is what we in the business like to call a non-contributing zero.
Meanwhile, Pete is clearly on the rise, and is peeved that everything is getting better for him except his wife, who now dares to leave the house in her robe and slippers. Joan is unfulfilled without her job (maybe suffering from post-partum depression), and Lane’s wife has agreed to come to New York, but for how long and what’s up with him and the girl from the picture? We also learn that while Lane loves chocolate bunnies (a.k.a. sexy black women), he does not trust black cab drivers with $100. Pete seems to be the only partner who isn’t bigoted, obviously because he is the youngest.
So I didn’t do much reviewing, but it is hard to judge an opening episode since its purpose is to set up the rest of the season. I have written 1,000 words about it, which must mean I enjoyed it. Hopefully I will get better at judging as the season goes on, so I can rely less on summary and prediction.
Finally, I would like to introduce a little statistical analysis to the show. When I was burning through season 4, I noticed how often Don says “Thank you,” particularly to women. So I came up with the Don Draper Thankometer, which will track and record every “Thank you” this season. Last night I only heard one instance, maybe because I was too drunk and into the show (I didn’t know it was a two-hour episode, so this problem shouldn’t come up again).
I’m sure he thanked Sally for her birthday present, but children won’t count. Note that he did not thank Megan for the party or sexy dance.