Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mad Men 3.1

There are a lot of spoilers in the following.

I’ve seen Mad Men’s season premiere twice now. Brent used the word elegant to describe it, and after my second viewing that word seems about perfect. Last season’s first episode was more leisurely and mysterious; in retrospect, an apropos start to a season that had a long, slow burn before going pretty deep and dark in the last few episodes. If this episode is any indication, the third season is going to be more action-packed.

Back to the elegance, though. The episode opened and closed with Don Draper thinking about birth stories, Dick Whitman’s and Sally Draper’s. The opening flashbacks reverberated, both in the closing moments, when Don recalls for Sally the circumstances of her birth (which were very different than his own), and in a fleeting moment of a hotel hallway. In the latter scene, Don takes advantage of an elaborate lie (built on a flight attendant's misunderstanding of the name on his luggage) to admit to someone that its his (meaning, Dick Whitman’s) birthday. To me, he seemed just as alone here as he did in the episode's opening moments.

The long scenes with flirtatious flight attendants paid off, again, when the hotel’s fire alarm sounds and Don accidentally finds Sal making out with the hotel porter. It was a nice touch that the married man using a fake name to have an illicit affair and the engaged flight attendant each jump out onto the fire escape wearing only jackets; the gay men in the room below have to take the time to get completely dressed.

Contrast was a big theme elsewhere in this episode, between gay & straight; single & married; American & British; Pete Campbell & Ken Cosgrove; and, as usual, between the genders.

For the second season in a row, the premiere episode had Peggy Olsen scolding a secretary. This might be because Peggy is very serious but it also speaks to her different experience of the professional world. It’s hard to imagine any of the men’s secretaries being as lax and irresponsible as Lola seems to be working for Peggy; she’s earned her defensiveness.

On the other hand, there was John Hooker, who insists that he’s not a secretary, even though everyone (including his boss) regards him as one. It's another sign of the show's thoughtfulness; as Peggy struggles to be taken serious in a male culture, John struggles to be taken more seriously than his female counterparts.

I'm not sure what to make of Don's veiled advice to a terrified Sal ("Limit your exposure"). On the one hand, it seems like if anyone can appreciate the stress of a secret identity, it's Don Draper. On the other, I wonder if this admonition was for Sal's sake, or Don's (as in, "don't make me have to take a stand").

Also, Don continues to be a pretty terrible monogamist, even after his pledge at the end of last season. Even at her stage of pregnancy, Betty Draper is, by far, the less affectionate parent.

The show continues to have very funny, quotable dialogue, e.g.:

  • “I picked it for it sensuality.”
  • "I told them it was a stupid idea, but they don’t always get our inflection.
  • "Help yourself… not the Stoli."
  • "I’ve been married a long time. You get lots of chances."
  • "She’s taken to your tools like a little lesbian."

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