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

The weekend ends, and Don catches the red-eye home. Seated next to him is not a "man with a hair-piece eating a banana," but Neve Campbell. She offers him a sleeping pill. He declines. But it's Draper Time. He flirts pretty hard. She flirts back. They exchange some soul-baring truths: he's a horrible husband, she just spread her husband's ashes at Disneyland.

Their scenes together on the plane had a dream-like quality that reminded me of the train sequence in The Manchurian Candidate, where Janet Leigh and Frank Sinatra first meet. Her husband died of thirst, but what does that mean? Alcoholism? Or was the thirst she vaguely describes more symbolic, like an unquenchable thirst for the Fountain of Youth. (See Lost Horizon's Shangri-La.) "Then a doctor told me he'd be dead in a year," she says, before cryptically adding. "All of them would be."

All of whom?

They fall asleep together on the plane, with her head on his shoulder. When they awake, he smells her hair and kisses her head; she absolves him of his rocky marriage and offers to give him a lift, literally and figuratively. For once, he declines, claiming he has to get back to work -- which appears to be an obvious lie.

Their chance encounter in the skies might not have led to the mile-high club this week, but no one would be surprised of Campbell's character pops up again. She never introduces herself to Don in the episode, yet the post-show credits list her as Lee Cabot. A show wouldn't bother with an official name that's not mentioned during the show unless she plays some future role. Would they?

Don is back in New York in time to watch Richard Nixon's presidential inauguration on TV. Freddie Rumsen drops in, and we learn that Freddie didn't become brilliant overnight. His Accutron pitch was Don's work; he's been working as Cyrano de Bergerac, feeding Freddie his best ideas for ad jobs all around town. Nixon drones on in the background:

"We find ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit; reaching with magnificent precision for the moon, but failing into raucous discord on earth. We are caught in war, wanting peace. We are torn by division, wanting unity. We see around us empty lives, wanting fulfillment. We see tasks that need doing, waiting for hands to do them. To a crisis of the spirit, we need an answer of the spirit. And to find that answer, we need only look within ourselves."

Weiner recently told The Atlantic how Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities influenced his writing this season, and Nixon's rhetoric underscores the divergent spiritual well-being of Mad Men's characters, as well at the best/worst of times dynamic between New York and Los Angeles. But it's more than that: Nixon is president. After all the promise and hope that the 1960s symbolized, after all the marches, and all the upheaval, the American people went to the polls in 1968 and elected... Dick Nixon, the Republican candidate from 1960.

The country is right back where it started. American failed to correct itself, and ignored its mistakes. Until now, Don Draper has followed that same self-destructive path. Was declining Lee's airplane proposal the first baby step in his rehabilitation, in breaking the pattern, in escaping from his personal purgatory? That night, he puts down the bottle instead of opening it, he turns off the TV, and he goes outside in the cold and just sits, as Vanilla Fudge sings, "Set me free why don't you babe. Get out my life, why don't you babe," and, "Why don't you get out of my life. And let me make a new start?"

A new start. Remember to pay attention: this might the beginning of something.

Just Spitballin' Here...

Let's just make a rule that if someone's daughter calls during an orgy, you don't hand daddy the phone. Poor, Roger.

Did anyone else see Pete Campbell's L.A. wardrobe and immediately start singing, "Constance Fry... Constance Fry..."

Who was the late-night guest on The Joey Bishop Show? I couldn't place her.

Seriously, why can't L.A. make a decent bagel?

If someone was dying of "thirst" for the Fountain of Youth, there are worst resting places than Tom Sawyer's Island at Disneyland.

"You're all a bunch of hacks who are perfectly happy with sh-t. Nobody cares about anything." That will make a nice epitaph, Peggy.

Do you think Don is "damaged goods" now in the eyes of the WASPS that run SCP? Part of me thinks he'll never be invited back through the front door.



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