Monday, April 14, 2014


Mad Men, Season 7 Premiere: Is This Where the Fire Starts?

Mad Men is back! I’ll be writing about the show all season. Though we don’t get a glimpse of Sally or Betty in the last night’s season premiere—an episode called “Time Zones” set in January, 1969, in which Don travels to L.A. to see Megan and back—there is plenty to talk about with regard to Megan, Peggy, Margaret, and Joan. Oh, and then there’s the appearance of a woman played by Neve Campbell—where has she been lately?

Also back in the rotation is Freddie Rumsen, the guy who was forced to take a leave of absence from an earlier iteration of Sterling Cooper due to drinking too much. He’s freelancing for Peggy, while Don is now the guy on leave from the ad agency (for two months, at this point) for essentially the same reason Freddie was let go. By the end of the episode we’ll learn that Freddie is actually delivering Don’s work to the agency—Peggy always was a sucker for Don’s messaging, though she doesn’t appear to know it’s his work—but in the beginning we see just the broad face of Rumsen, eyes big and earnest to the camera, pitching Accutron watches. Peggy loves the final line, rejiggers it a bit as her own, and pitches it to her new boss for a slam-dunk. But he doesn’t bite.

And so it becomes clear: Though the end of last season brought Peggy into the spotlight as Don’s heir apparent, it just as quickly pushed her back down again, forcing her to contend with a male boss who doesn’t seem to care about the work. He tells her he guesses he’s just "immune to her charms." This is new territory for Peggy: Don may not have been in love with her, but he certainly felt a strong creative and also paternal connection to her, and her former boss, Ted Chaough, fell head over heels for his mentee. Peggy’s feeling like just about everyone is immune to her charms these days; when her relationship with Abe ended she was left alone in their apartment, having to deal with tenant issues that he used to handle. In the workplace, even her friendship with Stan seems strained. At the end of the episode, she enters her apartment, falls to the floor, and starts to cry. We’ve all been there. But in Peggy’s lowest moments, she has seemed to possess a kind of dignity and power over her situation, an ability to get through it. Now, it seems like she’s perilously close to breakdown.

With every success there are downward steps for others, too. Megan, who’s in L.A. with a burgeoning acting career, is talked down to by her producer, an unctuous fellow who calls her “girl,” swoons over Don’s “matinee idol” looks, and tells him “it’s important to me that you know the man your wife is spending so much time with” (hint, hint?). Joan is partner at the agency but still haunted by the incident in which she was pimped out by her cohorts. She’s never really going to get over it, even as she tries valiantly, because of the expectations of the men around her—whether it’s Ken Cosgrove, who sends her to deal with his Butler Footwear client, that client, who belittles Joan and wants to deal with a man, or the professor Joan goes to for help convincing the shoe guy he’s wrong, who tells Joan he doesn’t know if she’ll even understand what he’s talking about. For the record, she does.

Don arrives in L.A., land of dreams and aesthetic perfection, and Megan picks him up, the camera cutting to slow-motion as she gets out of the car. But their relationship is clearly no longer a dream and hasn’t been for a while. She takes him back to her new house, which offers views of the canyon, the sound of coyotes howling in the night, and the threat of impending forest fires. He doesn't understand why she'd choose to live in such wilderness. Megan tells Don not to throw his cigarette butts off the deck, because “they can tell where the fire starts”—he's a fire-starter, a trouble-maker, a man who must be watched because he is inherently untrustworthy. (She even doesn't know he's been suspended by the agency.) Later, when he orders a TV to her house, she asks him, “Why did you do that?... You’re not here long enough for a fight.” They sleep together, but like their relationship, it seems rote and without pleasure. Megan is somewhere in limbo, not quite done with Don, but not sure she wants him (or can afford to deal with him) anymore, either. And Don… he’s just going through the motions. 

In our first scene with Roger, meanwhile, he’s surrounded by nude women and men in a dark hotel room, woken up after an apparent orgy by his daughter Margaret calling to tell him she wants to meet him and talk to him. He demands alcohol at their meeting, where she tells him, over and over again, that she forgives him. Margaret is suddenly in a kind of power here, but it’s unclear why, or how, or what exactly she’s got up her sleeve. Later, Roger returns to his hotel room to crawl in bed with a woman and a man (she tells him, “you know anyone is welcome in this bed”) and he stares at the ceiling, because nothing is really OK.

The only person who seems blissful and tan and worry-free in this episode is the new California Pete, who’s bouncing around wearing a sweater over his shoulders and introducing Don to delicious lunches and blonde real estate agents. (I don’t think Pete is exactly OK, but for the moment, he’s at least enjoying his new West Coast vibe.)

In the end, Don flies back to New York, a woman played by Neve Campbell seated next to him, a brunette much like the woman he last fell for. Her husband has “died of thirst” before the age of 50, and this sounds like a warning to Don, also thirsty—though not, at the moment, drinking—and also in his 40s, whether he chooses to acknowledge it or not. There’s a moment in which you think Don will return to his old ways, that he and this woman are going to join the mile-high club or at the very least go home together when they get off the plane, but he merely admits he’s been a terrible husband; she falls asleep with her head on his shoulder, and it’s time for him to get back to work, or reality, or the new reality.

In New York, all there is is reality, reality and compromise, reality even when it's being hidden as something else. Ken yells at Joan for using his office (accidentally leaving an earring as a trace of her feminine presence). Freddie visits Don back in his apartment in New York, and tells him, “you don’t want to be damaged goods,” as if he could stop that from happening. Peggy weeps on her floor. Margaret tries to forgive her father for things she doesn't even know he's doing. Words are only words. And Don goes outside in the cold, on his porch, and sits, tragedy all over his face. This is bicoastal living.


Jen Doll is a regular contributor to The Hairpin and author of Save the Date. She'll be writing about Mad Men all season and invites you to gossip in the comments.

17 Comments / Post A Comment


This episode made me think a lot about being "too much" (read: a woman) in a male-dominated environment. Peggy and Joan struggle for excellence and no matter what, men read them as pushing too hard, getting too emotional, asking too much. They are excessive, always too present, as if their femininity could spill out and make a mess at any moment. So Joan drinks between business calls and Peggy cries behind closed doors.

Basically, B E E N T H E R E.




I'm so excited to have this show back. For 9 months my friends have been talking about how GoT is so much better, and I got into that, and they had me fooled into agreeing.

I watched GoT last night, and was like "Eh, slog through the final season of Mad Men" - then it started, and I instantly remembered why I love the act of watching this show more than any other.

The close especially blew me away. I think sometimes I get too caught up in "What might MM be trying to say?" instead of just enjoying it as a thing that just is.

But Don, sitting alone in the cold, trying to get right, hating himself - my flaws in life are a different set than his, but seeing him miserable, alone, sitting in the cold by himself - I actually felt oddly jealous. That moment at the end seemed less to me like the suicidal gesture some people took it as and more as the self-flagellation some of us need to force ourselves through if we are ever going to 'act right'.


@leonstj I sort of feel like The Good Wife is the show everyone thinks GoT is?


I really loved this episode. Am I the only one who was getting super cult-y vibes from Margaret? Maybe Scientology? Her "not in any way that you'd understand" line when Roger asked if she'd been going to church made my cult-antenna start spinning around.

ALSO how do we feel about the "Megan being murdered by the Manson family" theory? Her house overlooking the canyon seems like the perfect spot for it.

God I love this show.


@sophi Indeed, Margaret was acting very culty. I've been reading a Manson biography so I am probably thinking about these things more than normal. I had forgotten (until I read it on Slate, I think) that Helter Skelter starts out with a description of sound in the canyon which makes the "Megan dies by hand of Manson-like cult" even more possible! I think it would be weird to just rewrite history like that and actually make it the Manson family but who knows, it probably won't go anywhere, but I like theorizing!

Cat named Virtute

@sophi I definitely thought Margaret had a cult/religious conversion thing going on.


@sophi Is it the Jeff Guinn biography of him? I read that a few months ago! It's SO GOOD!

I think if it happened, it wouldn't be the Manson family, but a similar group.


@sophi I don't think she's going to get murdered, personally, but I'm super excited to see what they do with all that atmospheric, Joan Didion-esque creeping dread. Mad Men absolutely excels at building dread and anxiety and then never allowing it to really climax as much as people simply move onto other distractions...which is maybe not as satisfying, narrative-wise, as a murder or Don jumping off the roof, but a lot more true to life.


@sophi I've read elsewhere that Weiner has said that Megan won't be killed off. Take that for what you will.

Nevertheless, I caught up with "Time Zones" last night and I was very spooked at the unexpected nighttime doorbell ring at Megan's. Turned out to be the TV delivery guys, but really, I was almost expecting a home invasion at that point. Those coyote howls are creepy.

Edit: just realized that the ominous doorbell ring was brought about by Don Draper's need to lift his leg (Freddy Rumsen's phrase) on Megan's bachelorette pad. Also, Megan warns Don not to flick his butts off the patio for fear of fire. So: creepy, dangerous vibe == Don's presence?


@sophi That's the one! It has been good, I'm not quite finished. It seems like if it's true Megan isn't getting killed, then the Manson murders will be mentioned and perhaps happen very close to where she lives or touch her life in some explicit way.


I've really enjoyed Jen Doll's writing, so please take this as a compliment knowing that she can do more. Can we move away from the blow-by-blow recap and focus more on interpretive thought? I already know what happened because I watched it. I want to know what Jen/The Hairpin thinks about it all.

Cat named Virtute

@tunnyciegos Agreeeeeee very much. People can only get away with blow-by-blow recaps and still hold my interest if they're SCREAMINGLY funny, which isn't really the schtick here.


Hm, this is the second recap that misidentifies Megan's *agent*-- he's not a producer, he's an agent.

And I agree, blow-by-blow recaps are necessary to no one. I'm interested in interpretation and analysis.


@Lizzie_Lix I thought he was her agent too -- and I figured Don's "I'm not worried" reply was an amused nod to the agent being gay as all get out.


@Lizzie_Lix Yeah, her agent was super gay. I thought Don's "I feel completely at ease" was great because it's so obviously not true and also because it's totally true.


I hope Ken gets some New York help so he can go back to being a halfway-decent person.

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