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Mad Men Season 5, Episode 1: ‘Have you ever seen a bean close up?’

March 28, 2012
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I felt really meh during most of this episode, to be honest. A lot of it felt like well-worn territory. Peggy is awkward, Pete is petulant, Roger is an imminently-expiring asshole, Lane is tweedy and repressed, Don hates everyone, etc.  The only character I found compelling was Joan.

It felt like Mad Men right back on form for me. For some reason I was anticipating some unnecessary gimmick or a complete left-field shocker. But it seems a honest, compelling continuation from where we left off.

Overally I thought the whole storyline of Don and Megan was the most disappointing. It felt like a Don and Betty episode, and those were always the ones I slept through. This season adds the extra wrinkle of them working together, but that just brings domestic strife—typically the least interesting aspect of Mad Men—into the office, typically its most.

Perhaps your interest in on-screen romantic relationships reached saturation point a long time ago. I empathise, they fall in love, they fight, they cheat, it’s all rather soap opera. But the Mad Men take on it all keeps me interested: everyone’s just searching for fulfillment and running into disappointments and diversions along the way.

I have a lot of faith in Megan, for some reason. The parallels with Jane are clearly going to be mined this year, but Megan seems a lot more open-minded (her blasé acceptance of Don’s past) and a lot less superficial. She’s got her fancy apartment, sure, but the party seemed to come from a genuine effort to make the man she loves happy, not just to show off.

This is clearly just the love-hazed honeymoon period. The interesting question is how things will settle once that wears off. Do we think they’ll still be married in 1970? Is it a question of when, or perhaps even – dare I say – if Don cheats on her? My money’s on some exploration of open relationships coming up…

It was an hour and 45 minutes long, and that’s about all I have to say about it, which is probably the worse sign of all. Usually these premieres feel like they’re laying the groundwork for the rest of the season, but with the potential exception of a black-secretary plotline, I didn’t see much here to get excited about.

Oh yeah, they have to fire one of the divs and get a proper black character in now. And what a genius way to do it. Had they randomly plonked a black secretary into that office from the beginning of this season it’d look obvious, lame and tokenistic. The ‘equal opportunities’ ad was a great way to force the civil rights issue into the office. Let’s see how the old boys try to live up to their promise

But I’m open to the idea that there were things going on that I missed. What’d you think?

Joan’s awesome! Complete with bitchy Mom! But yeah, once she’s back in the office, it’s only the Roger thing to sort out, right? This is in danger of becoming very predicable: Greg gets killed in ‘naam, Roger splits with Jane, they get together and raise the kid.

We only seemed to get a taste of Peggy so far. She’s frustrated by the realities of getting what you want: sometimes the clients don’t like your cool idea. She’s got her dream position, but has ended up pulling most of the weight. We barely touched on her relationship. How has this dude changed her?

Pete too, he seems to be properly on the ball and even professional. Until he finds something trivial to get he’s ego in a knot about. And aren’t you intrigued by the prospect of the Campbell marriage, arguably the best match on the show, descending into Don & Betty territory? They’ve got to do better. Don and Megan have to learn from the mistakes of Roger and Jane and Pete and Trudy have to learn from Don and Betty.

With Roger and Bert even more irrelevant, where is there to go with their professional lives? Roger has the baby and Joan on the menu, but unless he finds something else to offer the firm…

I’m less excited about Lane. He convinced his wife to stay and we’re still exploring his lust for younger women. I can’t see how this is going to stay interesting.

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