The season premiere of Mad Men kicked off in January 1969. “Time Zones” is set just two months after the sixth season finale, around the inauguration of Richard Nixon. Don, Peggy, Joan and Roger steal the night and our hearts.
- Director: Scott Hornbacher
- Writer: Matthew Weiner
- Cast: Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Elisabeth Moss, Robert Morse, Rich Sommer, Aaron Staton, Kiernan Shipka, Christopher Stanley, Jessica Parè, Kevin Rahm, Jay R. Ferguson, Mason Vale Cotton, Ben Feldman, Harry Hamlin, Neve Campbell, Teyonah Parris, Allan Havey, Sola Bamis, Elizabeth Rice, Jessy Schram, Jerry O’Donnell, Dan Byrd
Episode Title: “Time Zones”
Don changes coasts while Joan meets a client and Peggy hears a great pitch.
- One: It always gets worse before it gets better. Don ended last season by being honest with his children, but he still hasn’t learned to extend the same courtesy to his wife. His first appearance is drastically different than the next. Don’s sad shave at the airport contrasts with his slow motion greeting with the sharply dressed Megan. Though Megan is flourishing with her sleazy agent in L.A., she’s still under the impression that Don is working at the agency, which now goes by S.C. & P, Sterling Cooper and Pryce. Of course he is still working, that perfect open of Freddy Rumsen’s powerful pitch for Accutron watches was a Draper exclusive. Don seems ever more desperate and broken, sinking low to play a ghost copy editor while holding onto hope for his old stomping ground. Freddy’s urging not to become damaged goods falls on deaf ears; the last shot of Don sitting in the cold, drunk and shivering showed how low he still is.
- Two: Well this isn’t where we expected to find Peggy. When we last saw her she was working out of Don’s office, of her own choice, quietly assuming her eventual inheritance of the throne creative director office. Instead, the new honcho Lou Avery barely considers the work she presents. Freddy/Don’s brilliant Accutron ad is trampled first by Peggy’s desire to better perfection (“It’s time for a conversation.”) When Avery disregards the concept for, “Accutron: It’s accurate,” something inside Peggy breaks. Small minds would account it to Peggy working for someone unaffected by her charms for the first time—the real reason is the work. Don and Peggy truly are the halves of the same coin. They took different routes to the top, but for them life only makes sense when the work does. Watching Peggy shake and cry on the floor truly unified the two characters. They’re both lost, with very screwed up personal lives. Without wholehearted work, they’re nothing.
- The Switch: Some people were born for the West Coast and Pete Campbell is one of them. It makes you recall the Don-hating Pete of yesteryear when you consider Pete’s the only one Don called in California. He’s tan, dressed like a preppy country clubber, and likely crushing on that real estate agent Bonnie. Matthew Weiner is a fan of balance. Don and Peggy are falling apart because they need each other to be successful. So a drastic change in Pete’s character has caused some irreputable damage to our beloved Ken Cosgrove. Slightly overweight and still retaining the use of only one eye, Ken has inherited all the accounts of S.C.&P., and some prick-like tendencies as well. He starts the night by screaming at some underlings, insulting Joan, and tasking her to make an annoying marketing exec go away. Tossing an earring at Joan to close the night cinches his new begrudging position as office jerk.
- An Uprising: There is a silver lining to Ken passing off clients on Joan, and that would be the chance to watch her work. After angling to be a partner responsible for more than just running the office, she’s being shouldered with tasks without any fanfare. Cougar Town’s Dan Byrd guest stars as the new head of marketing Wayne Barnes. News that they might be losing a client drove Joan to seek out a professor’s guidance, a deft move for sure. Take note, it’s one of the few times you’ll see an educator bemoan a man with an MBA now a days. Of course the professor’s remark about wagering a written report for something a little more from Joan would sting. She’s still reliving Jaguar. But Joan rallied and used the professor’s help to keep Wayne Barnes and Butler in line.
- Age of Aquarius: Roger’s position is perhaps the most mysterious. He’s hauled up in a hotel somewhere with his very progressive mate. At first sight, they’re sharing their room with a bevy of beauties, in the second and last another man. We hardly needed Roger’s long haired free love paramour to explain their bed is welcome to all others. It was pretty obvious. This is probably most reminiscent of LSD Roger, a favorite for sure, but this time he’s much different. We felt the cold and lonely echo of solitude in the midst of the masses immediately. And that’s why his daughter’s spontaneous call and brunch invite felt so important. Though she claimed the reason for her sudden forgiveness of all of his transgressions was unexplainable, it felt ominous. Roger never once set foot in or even referred to the office last night. His carefree lifestyle and his despondent attitude have us concerned that he might be wasting away.
- Bi-Coastal: So Megan and Don aren’t doing well, big shocker. Pete and Megan refer to Don as, “bi-costal,” but he’s pretty much hiding out in New York. The real surprise was seeing Megan set so many parameters for her rule-less husband. She didn’t let him drive her fantastic convertible, told him not to flick his cigarette butts into the woods and not to rip ads out of her Playboys. Megan’s hesitation to sleep with Don seemed to hinge on the words she uttered when his surprise expensive television gift wasn’t to her liking: “You’re not here long enough for us to fight.” Their relationship is in limbo with no room to talk about it, which is why Don’s rebuff of his red-eye seatmate was so astonishing. Neve Campbell’s surprise guest appearance was shock enough, but Don refusing a woman he has obvious chemistry with isn’t something we’re used to.
- Peggy: “Wow Freddy. That’s a home run. Actually it’s kind of an end run. That is not what I expected.” Freddy: “There’s a nice way to say that, and then there’s the way you just said it.”
- “Don’t get excited Don. She turns it on for everyone.”— Pete
- Ken: “I’m walking into this office everyday and I barely get ahead of things before I get Bob calling from Detroit around noon and Pete from L.A. around two.” Joan: “Is this Avon related or did you just need someone to hand you a tissue?”
“Time Zones” thrust us back into the work of our anti-hero, Don Draper. His fate is still tied to his protégé Peggy, and his marriage is crumbling. As premieres go, it’s not the most earth-shattering. For the final season, the normal plot twists are buried, rooted in more pain and normalcy than ever before.
Mad Men airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on AMC.
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