This is the first post recapping an episode of Mad Men‘s seventh and last season. All seven episodes will be covered as they come out; then the show will stop for a year, during which I’ll be watching the previous six seasons and occasionally writing about them. A year from now we’ll be facing the second part of this season, going episode by episode again, and raising one last glass of whiskey before 12pm. Until then, let’s make the most of it.
The fact that the opening line of Time Zones is delivered by Freddie Rumsen, the guy who got a leave of absence for drunkenly pissing himself but who is now back and sober and looking straight at the camera, couldn’t be more meaningful. Quite straightforwardly, the first part of the season is called The Beginning (while the second is The End of an Era), but it’s more than that. I never thought I’d write this, but that man pitching Peggy a pretty clever idea for a swiss watch ad is what Don Draper needs to be aiming at right now. Not the pitch itself – in fact, we learn later on that Freddie was merely being Don’s vessel – but the sobriety. I’d say forcibly taking a break (aka being fired) from the agency is hitting rock bottom. But more on that later.
Time Zones gives us an update on where each character is standing after two months since the season six finale, opening new intriguing storylines for each – so let’s approach it one by one.
After Freddie, she’s the first character to appear on screen. Peggy is by now second only to Don, someone who has been fighting hard for the last six seasons to hold a position of power at the office, until then denied to women. In the previous season finale, we see her from the back, sitting in Don‘s chair – an angle that strongly resembles the last shot of the opening sequence, as if hinting that she’d be taking his position. Well, not quite.
Freddie pitches his idea, and Peggy is impressed (not knowing that was essentially Don speaking). However, she can’t help but try to top it, giving the tagline her own touch. But this is not the decision of someone in power: shortly after we see her and the creative team enter Don‘s office – but on the door it is now written Lou Avery. He is the one replacing Don, and he’s making her life miserable.
Right as they walk through the door Avery
says Who do we have here? Gladys Knight and the Pips?
, directly offending Dawn
. It is clear that this man is old school, and he will make sure you know it. He gets into a small fight with Peggy
over the right pick for the swiss ad – the guy wants to go with Accutron is Accurate
– that ends with him saying I don’t care what you think
. God forbid he went with a woman’s pitch. Here’s her I will kill you in your sleep
This is a huge fall for Peggy. She will spend the entire episode trying to convince Avery to take Freddie’s initial idea, with no success. Then finally she stops:
Peggy ends up crying on the floor of her apartment, alone.
As it turns out, the good times of drugs and sex orgies are not over for Roger. We’re introduced to him when a phone rangs, in what seems to be a hotel room, where he is sleeping. On the floor. Naked. Surrounded by at least five women. Also naked.
And it’s his daughter on the phone! Which leads to an awkward lunch at the Plaza, where they both meaninglessly insist on forgiving each other. We’ve got John Slattery and his comedy skills, here.
Roger ends up wondering what the hell he is doing
sharing a bed with a woman and some random guy.
This has always been a favourite character of mine; one of the few who seemed immune to the craziness of Madison Avenue, a nice guy. Until he became head of accounts, replacing the neurotic Pete Campbell. So Ken is now one eye short and popping pills, clearly struggling to handle the pressure of his new job, for as he so eloquently put it, I don’t have time to take a crap. It’s rather sad, but there’s also an element of comedy to it: first, the ridiculous eyepatch; and then this:
Ken ends up with terrible depth perception.
Finally, it seems like everything is coming up Pete. He is in California alone and free, cheerfully wearing sunny clothes and landing accounts (and women). We know appearances can be deceptive, but for now we’re left with happy Pete.
Pete ends up awkwardly hugging Don.
Just like Peggy, Joan still struggles to hold her position as partner and is still facing prejudice, since the Jaguar incident. With Ken swamped there’s an opportunity to prove her worth, and she ceases it. Joan gets to handle a client by herself, and if at first she thinks she’s in over her head, she soon overcomes her insecurities, and by the end of it she’s got the client asking her What do I do?
Joan ends up kicking ass.
It looks likes California suits Megan, as she comes out of a fierce looking sports car in a pastel blue mini dress, looking beautiful and fresh. She’s got a place in the canyons, and promising job offers. Megan seems to be living the dream, but Don is not a part of it anymore. It’s clear that their marriage is going through a rough phase, possibly even doomed.
She’s no longer attracted to him (how she managed that I have no idea), and she’s picking stupid fights – so she has a new house, pretty clothes, and a killer car, but he can’t buy her a new TV set? There have been parallels drawn between her storyline and Sharon Tate. On top of it all, she doesn’t even know that her husband is no longer working.
I guess Megan ends up relieved that Don’s leaving.
Surprisingly or not, the show’s leading man doesn’t make an appearance until some minutes in. And when he does, it won’t bring you to your knees: He’s shaving his face wearing a white t-shirt, but when he comes out of the airport into the sunny streets of California, he’s not sporting the fresh looks of the woman who’s waiting for him, Megan.
He’s visiting her for the weekend, but California is clearly doing nothing for him. Throughout the episode he looks older, tired, slightly confused, and utterly passive. He’s bicoastal, he belongs nowhere. This Don Draper
is nowhere to be found. Nonetheless, he’s still a matinee idol
(as a clearly homosexual friend of Megan
‘s points out) and hasn’t lost the ability to be funny: when that same friend assures him that he has nothing to worry about when it comes to Megan, Don
replies I feel completely at ease
. Yeah, no one thinks you’re making a move, my friend.
As usual, nights are a dark time for Don, and we find him alone staring at the TV, where it reads: In these days of wars and rumours of wars — haven’t you ever dreamed of a place where there was peace and security, where living was not a struggle but a lasting delight? Of course you have. So has every man since Time began. Always the same dream. Sometimes he calls it Utopia — Sometimes the Fountain of Youth — Sometimes merely “that little chicken farm”.
Ahhhh, it’s this kind of stuff that makes Mad Men even better. The show is becoming increasingly symbolic, with songs, show bits, and real historical events shedding meaning into the character’s lives. And it won’t stop here.
Later on, he’s flying back to New York. On a airplane he meets a woman, played by Neve Campbell
. He can still flirt too, though admittedly not as smoothly as before – and certainly not with the same confidence. And so he comments that he flies a lot, and goes something like this: I’m always hoping I was seated next to, well, someone like you… instead of a man with an hairpiece eating a banana.
She laughs. But why would I expect anything else?
And here it comes, as she replies: You can blame Madison Avenue for that.
Just like that, his face changes, and the lights on the airplane go out.
A few scenes ahead the woman is telling her late husband’s story – how he died from thirst. Don sees a little too much of himself in him, and comforts the widower in a way that makes her remark: If I was your wife, I wouldn’t like this; He replies, She knows I’m a terrible husband. He thought he could be faithful, but he can’t. So, doomed it is.
At last, Don is home, and Nixon is on TV – again, a scene drenched in symbolism as he says We have found ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit. So now we know it’s January, 1969. Freddie comes in, and we find out about the pitch. There’s an open window in the living room that Don can’t seem to close. He points out that nobody has called Don, to which the latter replies that he’s still being paid. But that is obviously not enough. Freddie shyly urges Don to get back on his feet, for he has been there and knows Don won’t like the feeling of being damaged goods.
In the final scene Don tries once again to close the window. He can’t, so he walks right through it. Symbolic gesture, anyone? He sits outside, freezing. It’s pitch black, but we can still see that he’s looking terrible as hell. And now the songs hits its climax – it’s You Keep Me Hanging On, by Vanilla Fudge, and it goes something like this:
Set me free
Why don’t you babe?
Get off my life
Why don’t you babe?
You really don’t want me
You just keep me hangin’ on
You really don’t need me
You just keep me hangin’ on
– We see Don at home, still in his pyjamas, looking miserable with a bottle of alcohol.
– Dawn saying to another black woman: Keep pretending, that’s your job
– Pete suggesting: Why don’t we start our own agency? Because this wouldn’t be a new season without the creation of yet another advertising agency.
– And some other vague stuff.
phew, I’m gonna keep it shorter next time – I didn’t even have time revise this!
So what did you think of Time Zones?