Each episode of Mad Men is tightly veiled in mystery. Even when we think we are getting let in on a preview for next week's episode, nothing is actually revealed. At the end of every episode, that AMC narrator voice says the leading phrase, "on the next episode of Mad Men...", and the previews that follow week after week are notoriously vague. It's just a bunch of clips of characters saying out of context sentences or a reaction shot of Don looking befuddled.
Try as you might to guess what may happen next, but odds are these previews just trick us into believing one thing or another that never actually happens. And still I stay tuned for these previews and try to piece together these nonsense scenes into having meaning. It never works - I have yet to guess any upcoming plot point correctly.
Anyone wanting to have some insight into the episode they are about to watch, should probably spend some time analyzing the title of the episodes instead. With a title like "Severance" we could have all guessed there would be at least one severing of ties in the season opener - be it a work or personal relationship or even both. Maybe some of you out there did make this connection, I, however, was off thinking in lala land as the episode started and didn't pay attention to the title. I was then rather surprised when the episode included the death of a character from the past and that one of our friends from SC&P was let go.
Turns out there was lots of severing going on. But let's first go back to the beginning.
The initial scenes of Mad Men's return on Sunday had Don Draper looking happier than he has in recent memory. This may have been because he was overseeing the casting of an ad that "forced" him to be alone in a room with a bunch of leggy women. Their only job was to seductively gawk at themselves in a mirror while being draped in an expensive Chinchilla coat. [Side Note: There is a shout-out to the accumulation of a literal binder full of these women models later in the episode. Mitt Romney would be proud.] But Don actually smiled! Work is good again!
It would appear that his life is as well, as Don is next seen retelling a hilarious tale about toasters to three women in a booth at a diner. This moment is totally upstaged when Roger f'ing Sterling waltzes onto the screen with what can only be described as the grandest white mustache to ever grace a man's face. That reveal will be going on my list of favorite small comedic moments in the series. Between that 'stache and their jumpsuit clad, big haired female companions, it is real - the show is definitely moving into 1970s chic.
While still at the diner, Roger calls their waitress over for the check (he calls her Mildred Pierce - a reference I finally understand!) and Don looks perplexed. He instantly feels like he has met this woman before. More on that later.
When returning to his now permanently Meganless apartment, we find out that: a) Don did not bring home that big haired jump suit woman. b) He has a phone answering service - this old timey way of life seems so strange now. That some random person knows all about your life and who calls you would be weird. But for Don it works out great, since the woman in charge of his messages just deals out women's numbers like she is his own personal dating service. c) He is now a carefree millionaire who doesn't want to spend time crying over a bunch of spilled red wine on the carpet. Just throw a blanket over it, baby!
The Monica Geller in me would not be able to sleep just knowing that there was a giant wine stain in my bedroom, but to Don it's no biggie. He just goes to sleep, where he ends up dreaming about Rachel. Remember her? It took me a bit to place her in the series as well. She first appeared way back in season 1 and Don wanted to run away with her. Leaving us all to question - is that who the waitress in the diner reminded him of?
Other people at Sterling Cooper & Partners are also busy and running into problems - one project is bringing together Peggy and Joan to work on that classic ladylike item, nylons. They got to throw in a reference to L'eggs Eggs, so that's a good thing. This partnership lead Peggy and Joan to a meeting with three men who could be seen as the equivalent to today's "bros", just with a tad more sexism and objectification thrown in.
These ladies are smart and professional, so you can't help but cringe and get furious for both them as they try to remain calm while handling these immature men and classily steering the conversation back on track. Even though, I think we all would have preferred to see Joan knock each one of them out instead.
Back in the elevator after their meeting, they let out their frustration - Joan a tad more than Peggy. "I want to burn this place down", should be the new slogan of the feminist revolution.
Although, even lady to lady appreciation is difficult for these two. Peggy admitted that Joan, who is also now a millionaire, wears clothes that she feels purposefully attract attention. She then continues that Joan's new wealth could allow her to dress more dowdy? I'm not really sure where Peggy was going with this, but either way, these women could learn a little something from each other.
And through the episode we see as this tense argument steers both of the women off in directions that are a little out of character.
Joan comes to work wearing a high necked blouse, otherwise known as her attempt at a very "Peggy" top. (Let's be clear here - Peggy has a ton of cute clothes too.) Although, that doesn't last for long. Joan obviously realizes she doesn't have to change, but does take some of Peggy's advice. She quickly runs out of her office door to try on some designer duds and spend some of that new dough.
When the gal at the dress shop recognized that Joan used to work there (remember that? I had forgotten the time she took another job!), I very much was rooting for a Pretty Woman moment. With all that Joan has accomplished in the last few seasons, that scene was just asking for power Joan to swivel around in a dramatic turn and say, "Do you work on commission? Big mistake. Huge!"
Peggy on the other hand decides to channel Joan a little and accept the offer of going on a blind date. Over the course of the dinner, and with the assistance from a lot of wine, Peggy lowers her strong inhibitions to this guy who originally seemed to annoy her. Next thing we know these two kids are as thick as thieves and talking about jetting off to Paris. When Peggy can't find her passport, the drunken trip is called off. Probably for the best anyway, since in the light of day any Joan magic dust that was cast had worn off, and Peggy is back to her old work oriented self.
There is a lesson in here somewhere - don't back down about your morals, keep being a powerful woman, but have some fun now and then too.
While these two ladies are struggling, Ken Cosgrove (aka the guy who wears an eye-patch now) isn't having the best week either. For those of you who forgot like I did, we got to be reminded last night of a very important fact - Ken's wife is Alex Mack. Thankfully we got to see her at least one last time. After gathering with her parents, in honor or her father's retirement, Ms. Mack encourages her husband to quit SC&P. She feels Ken is always stressed, which the audience can attest to, since whenever we see him on the show that is always the case. Well, unless he is dancing.
According to his wife they have plenty of money and she doesn't want him to waste his life away working like her father did. She feels he should get back to doing what he wants - like writing his book. "You gave them your eye. Don't give them the rest of your life," she said. She has a point and at the same time delivered another really great quote. This episode was full of 'em.
Alex Mack may be very right, but for some reason Ken doesn't want to take up this offer to move on with his life. Unbeknownst to him though, the company had other ideas. Now that McCann owns 51% of SC&P, they have a say in a few things. They want Ken out. It's as simple as that.
Well, they probably should have first thought a little bit more about how Ken was connected, because he is not going down without a fight.With what seems to be simply out of spite for SC&P, Ken accepts a position at his father-in-laws old company as the head of advertising. Oh, yeah, that company is also a client of SC&P's. Ken making Roger Sterling's and Pete Campbell's life a living hell could make for an interesting story coming up.
With all of these plot developments, the season is starting off very strong, with some highs and lows for numerous characters. Don is not exempt. We have reached the point where his high in the beginning of the episode begins to fade.
Don still has the same secretary as last season - who is only second in hilariousness to Mrs. Blankenship - and she delivers some upsetting news. Rachel, the gal who appeared in his dreams, had died just recently.
What is interesting here is this is another circumstance where Don is seeing ghosts. It is a consistent theme that is always following him. In the first seasons this could be tied to an allusion of his past. That his secrets were haunting him. Now, it could be the same, but now it's not secrets, it's his regrets that can't get out of his mind.
Since this episode is very focused on dreams, that could lead to making sense of an interesting run in Don has with that waitress, Diana, from the diner in the beginning of the episode. This scene that happens later in the episode has Don going back to the diner where Diana quickly alludes to "knowing what he wants". What follows is a rendezvous (wink, wink, if you catch my drift) out in a dark alley. It's sort of an odd scene, even for the escapades of Don Draper. In that way I can't help but wonder - did this actually happen? Or was this diner scene a dream? It could go either way, but it seems pretty clear that Diana reminds him of Rachel and seeing her is helping him through finding out about her death.
In other ways to mourn, Don shows up at an apartment where Rachel's family is sitting shiva. Her sister greets Don at the door and she know exactly who he is - he's Don Draper, everybody knows that guy. He finds out she had children and lived the life she wanted, all happily with her husband and kids before dying of Leukemia. She was content without him and then just died. That fact only seems to make him distraught.
The last scene of the episode finds Don back again at the diner. Diana is there again, but he just wants to talk and have a cup-o-joe, instead of a repeat of that same business in the alley. He tells her about how he had a friend that died and they talk about understanding death. Diana tells Don that when people die we want to make sense of it, but there is basically no point.
It's true - we don't know for sure what life means and when it comes death, all we can do is always think about those that have departed and just keep sipping on our coffee in a diner. It seems difficult and there are so many questions, but there's not much else we can do.
Again, is this just Don working out his feelings for Rachel and about life in a dream? Or is he actually talking with this woman? To me it doesn't matter, because it's just more contemplation and showing that Don is still lost, but trying to figure it all out. It's like he's answering Cooper's beyond the grave song and dance from the finale last year, about how, "the best things in life are free".
If that musical number wasn't a set up for what this season will bring for Don, I don't know if anything else will. He has money and work is going well, so maybe that means his relationships can finally begin to soar again.
That is the biggest question of all - where will this season take Don and his life?
Playing over the last shot of Don sitting in the diner (and earlier in the episode as well) is a song lyric that asks, "is that all there is?" Do we all just live life the best we can only to eventually pass on, just as we saw for Rachel?
For Don, maybe what we've seen so far in the series is all life will bring for him, but what a perfect interlude to finding out if there is more. We've got six episodes to find out.
Until next time.
For anyone who is more interested in a live-blog format: below are my frantic first thoughts that I typed out directly following the end of the episode:
Don looking happier than ever until he finds out about Rachel
Roger sterlings stache
Definitely into the 70s with fashion hair jumpsuits
Dont cry about spilled wine. Just throw down a blanket and call one of your girls. He's so carefree until death comes knockin
Peggy and Joan talking leggs eggs
Ted Chaough also has a 70s stache.
Alex Mack is eye patche's wife!! We finally see what is under the patch. He's not happy and she wants him to quit.
Sexist interview with a group of stereotypical old timey bros
Ken from accounts is losing accounts, Ferg in particular is pissed.
I want to burn this place down - Joan
Her and Peggy have a righteous argument in the elevator. Joan is a zillionare and could dress better according to Peggy.
Don sees ghosts! Also his secretary is the best
What is happening in that alleyway with that waitress. Does she remind him of Rachel or one of those gals from the house he grew up in? Aahh why does he care what she is reading, Roger called her Mildred Pierce.
MIT Romney would be proud of that binder full of women they have for the chinchilla coat ad or whatever they are auditioning women for.
Joan is about to pull a Pretty Woman on our asses - big mistake, huge. In that Oscar de LA renta dress.
Peggy on a date, off to Paris?
Next morning that high has REALLY worn off. She needs to learn how to have a little fun. Why so serious.
Ken is going to make their lives a living hell, being their client now and all.