Mad Men season premiere recap: A tale of two cities

Don is still adrift as season 7 begins. And Peggy has a new boss.
Ep. 01 | Aired Apr 13, 2014

Megan rushes Don to meet her flamboyant agent Alan Silver, who gushes over the central-casting couple and reassures Don that his interest in Megan is all business. ("I feel completely at ease," says Don, with the hint of a smirk.) Alan is in a celebratory mood: Megan has a call-back for an NBC pilot called Bracken's World, a melodrama about low-level Hollywood players that ran for almost two seasons beginning in 1969. Perfect, since Megan is already practically living the life of a character from Bracken's World. She doesn't blanch in the slightest when Alan tells her the promising news means she shouldn't have her teeth fixed just yet -- she's heard that before, of course -- and you get the impression that if Alan told her she had to completely shave her hair for the part, she'd start pulling it out at the table. This is a different Megan Draper than the one we knew in New York.

Back at her proudly-spare mountain cabin, she resists Don's romantic overtures and is eager to sleep. She begs off his invitation to celebrate again the next night, and ultimately claims to be nervous around him. Is this related to her miscarriage in the fall? Is she afraid of getting pregnant again and how that might disrupt her acting career? Or is Don's visit more a nuisance than anything else?

In some ways, you can almost sense that Don is losing her to the glamour of Hollywood, that Megan has become enamored with the west-coast Shangra-La. It's no coincidence that Matthew Weiner, who wrote the season premiere, put Don to sleep his final night in L.A. with Frank Capra's 1937 movie, Lost Horizon, on the black-and-white. "In these days of wars and rumors of wars, haven't you ever dreamed of a place where there was peace and security, where living was not a struggle but a lasting delight?" reads the opening-credit scroll. "Of course you have. So has every man since Time began. Always the same dream. Sometimes he calls it Utopia -- sometimes the Fountain of Youth -- sometimes merely 'that little chicken farm.'"

In the film, and the 1933 novel by James Hilton on which it is based, a British diplomat's plane crashes in the Himalayas, and his group is rescued by a mysterious tribe that resides in an isolated mountain paradise called Shangri-La. Once there, most of the survivors fall under the place's spell and decide to stay under the protection of its Buddhist-like leader, but the diplomat decides to return home with his thickheaded brother and a beautiful 20-year-old native woman. Once out of the magical oasis, however, the woman ages decades in an instant... withers... and dies.

I don't think Megan is ever leaving her Shangri-La.

She'll have company there, because Pete has also found peace in the sun. With a sweater knotted around his shoulders and smile that makes him look mildly medicated, Pete welcomes Don with a hug and talks about the city's favorable vibrations. He doesn't even mind that much when Don gives his new real-estate girlfriend -- a California Betty Draper Francis, if there ever was one -- some serious Draper smolder.

The only person who hasn't been seduced by L.A. is Ted, who's quite miserable, according to Pete. He's back in New York, conveniently, while Don's out west, and his idea of a fun weekend is catching up on all his work at the New York office, where his equal in misery, Peggy, sneers at him for abandoning her and fleeing to L.A. with his family.

Poor Peggy. The only men in her life are Julio, the neighbor's boy from upstairs who complains about the toilet, and her handyman brother-in-law, who can't be persuaded to spend another moment away from his beloved wife.

Roger is also suffering through another period of malaise and disillusionment -- even as he embraces the psychedelic drugs and free love of the youthful counterculture. He's living with a bunch of young hippies who share his bed, but any serenity he was enjoying is interrupted by his daughter, who clearly is in the midst of her own spiritual awakening. Last year, she was withholding her grandson unless Roger backed her husband's business venture, but now she's at peace and forgives her father for all his transgressions. Roger suspects another financial ambush or at least a guilt trip, but for now, Margaret is just "sick" with whatever bug bit Pete.

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