Mad Men finally returns to us after an agonizing 17 month hiatus & it proved what we all suspected: well worth the wait.
The episode, directed by Jennifer Getzinger (who also directed the wonderful season 3 episode “The Gypsy and the Hobo” & the epic season 4 episode “The Suitcase”), begins Memorial day weekend, 1966. Don & Megan are married, and Megan is proving to be the perfect woman. She sleeps naked, sips black coffee for breakfast, flashes her husband at work, works hard and throws smokey parties with endless liquor, a live band and a sultry performance of Gillian Hills’ “Zou Bisou Bisou” (which was also performed by Sophia Loren in The Millionairess) in her impeccably decorated apartment. Plus she looks like Snow White to Betty’s Cinderella. Those Draper children may have a lot of baggage, but every time they look at their parents or step-mother, they’re looking at a cartoon character come to life. I bet they think song birds are actually capable of landing on Megan’s finger after she purses her singer’s mouth lips together and whistles a happy tune.
I think I’m in love with her. I want to lie on white rugs with Megan while she wears sheer panties & teaches me French; everyone wants this. Everyone looks at what Don has and wonders if she’s the answer to all life’s problems, and it seems like, for the time being, she is. Don adores his sweetly seductive wife who plays naughty domestic games with him, but also allows him to stroke her like a kitten afterwards and assure her that her happiness is his own. His want for Megan is physical, but it’s a need; to observe her, play with her, smile and admire the lightness that has finally invaded his dim world. Megan is all the sweet acceptance of Anna with the cruel dark sensuality that Don craves. Like Anna, Megan loves Dick Whitman; like Betty, Megan is gorgeous & girlish; like all those other women who Don has grasped and who have grasped him back, who slapped, glared, shouted, gasped & clutched, Megan pleases Don. Megan is what Don/Dick feels he always needed.
Despite domestic hiccups that can currently be cured with power play sex games, Don is happy. You never see an inappropriate drink in Don’s hand. Don is playful with his children. Don is happy to arrive late to work, pretty wife on his arm, spend his day working a bit and return home to that simple, sprawling, gorgeous home. What’s worrisome is that this is going to affect Don’s work, as we saw in Don’s brief distracted appearance during Peggy and Stan’s Heinz presentation. In many ways Don is good at his job because he’s unhappy. He wasn’t a good husband, he wasn’t the best full-time father, he was a terrible boyfriend, but he was fantastic at his job. Now Peggy & all of us wonder: if Don is happy at home, will his work suffer; and if it does, is that bad?
The theme of the episode seemed to be Sad Old Men & the Women Who Love Them. We see each man in one way or another dissatisfied, in spite of their enviable achievements. Harry is the very picture of the man who married too young & now aches for a misspent youth. Pete returns home to his loving wife, healthy daughter & expansive home pining for his Brunette Barbie wife prettily decorated in a crinoline & curls in their darling city apartment, a roast waiting for consumption or to be tossed from the balcony, a drink freshly poured, everything in order, nothing busy, nothing so far from the life he lives all day; his home is suddenly the foreign place. Lane, back together with his wife, in New York where he fought so hard to stay, miserable, full of such an awkward lust that it makes one cringe to observe. As always, Roger watches Don effortlessly gain a duplicate of what Roger thought he had. “Why don’t you sing like that?” Roger asks his icily beautiful wife who was once his sweet eager young secretary. “Why don’t you look like him?” she fires back. Jane never was Megan. Roger will never have what Don has: not in business & not at home. Only Kenny seems well-adjusted, which I believe has been a theme throughout the entire series.
So we’re back to sex and dissatisfaction and a time period that’s perfect for telling the tale because amongst all these privileged beautiful people leading terribly discontent lives, true discontent exists in the world. “I thought there were going to be girls here”, the sailor laments while Peggy’s boyfriend, Roger & Stan are locked in a debate that concerns none of them directly. All they have to do is have an opinion, sit back with a drink rested on round well-fed bellies, and observe the world fall apart around them while they complain that they can’t find a woman to act out a Sophia Loren dance number for them on their birthday. But isn’t this a hopelessly unanswerable question? At what point do we stop complaining about what we’re not willing to change and, at the very least, learn to be happy with what we have? When do we stop and enjoy surprise birthday parties, handsome mates and impractical white rugs?