It’s always difficult to get the momentum going again—“The Sopranos” had the same issue, as the gap between seasons continually lengthened. Last night’s two-part “Mad Men” opener got off to a slow start, Megan’s “ooh-la-la” routine notwithstanding. Things felt somewhat off-kilter during that first hour, all stemming from the same cause—the newly joined couple, Don and Megan Draper. This situation has skewed office relationships considerably—by the end of the episode’s second hour, when Megan questions the propriety of her continuing to work there, the entire world is going “Gee, Megan—think so?”
There was an even more important problem—Joan is not totally Joan unless she’s in the office, and one hour and 45 minutes of her at home with her new baby and her hyper-critical mother was no fun at all. Yes, we’ve seen her entertain dinner party guests with her accordian-playing prowess, but nothing tops Joan at work. And I didn’t even like her when the show first began. She reminded me of every office queen bee I’ve ever encountered—disapproving, territorial beyond reason and far from supportive of other women. But my opinion did a 180 with “The New Girl,” the second season episode during which, among other things, Don and Bobbie Barrett are in a car accident and Peggy comes to the rescue. And aside from Peggy’s finally calling her boss by his first name, Joan does her an invaluable service by telling her something she’s needed to hear for quite some time: “You want to be taken seriously? Stop dressing like a little girl.” Joan’s been one of my favorite characters ever after, and her wry “Whatever may be on your mind?” to Peggy after Don announced his engagement during last season’s finale made me fall off the sofa laughing. Even though Lane is somewhat weird (what’s up with Delores?), I’m glad he appreciates her worth to the firm.
Fortunately Joan’s return to her native habitat is imminent, and the universe righted itself once again though the fallout from Don’s surprise party continued. Harry made an ass of himself on more than one occasion, Pete swung his weight around, Stan was surprisingly funny (especially when he supplied the soundtrack for Peggy’s “Bean Ballet” commercial) and karma did Roger a turn in the form of a bogus 6:00 a.m. meeting.
As was expected, “Mad Men” nailed the appropriate cultural markers with the appearance of weed and equal opportunity picketers. But what makes this show so interesting are changes in the characters and their circumstances: Peggy’s total assurance in client meetings, even when the outcome is disappointing; Roger’s superfluousness at the agency and the souring of his marriage to his trophy wife; Pete’s ruthlessness in baiting and then minimalizing Roger; and Don and Megan’s train wreck of a marriage (he’s the loneliest character on TV and last night’s anvils clued us into how great an actress she is, albeit with a very dark side).
Coming attractions: Looks like we get more than a glimpse of Chez Francis next week with a healthy helping of Betty’s mother-in-law from hell. I’m curious to see their new house in Rye—bet it won’t hold a candle to Don and Megan’s penthouse (the house in Ossining did indeed pay off on resale). And with Sally on the verge of teenhood (my, how Kiernan Shipka has grown), the conflicts will be endless. Can’t wait.