After 15 months of boring hat-less TV, rumours that the show might not return and finally, enough publicity to overwhelm the Kardashian clan, Mad Men was back last night. Thankfully it was good. If it hadn’t been, Twitter may well have burst into flames. Well it was back for people with access to Sky or a knack for internet chicanery anyway. I don’t blame any anti-Murdochians waiting for the box-set and they can rest assured, there were no bombshells in this opening double. As we all know, Weiner is the master of the slow-burn.
There has always been something intoxicating which wriggles to elude description about this show. Yes, the one-liners are perfect, the characters ridiculously watchable (finely polished yet more vulnerable than an intern on Roger’s lap) and of course, there’s the drinking. But for me one of the most irresistible things about Mad Men is the way it tells a historical tale of change without slavishly crow-barring reference events in at every opportunity.
You could barely watch an episode of Pan Am without Christina Ricci trying to meet JFK or someone watching a lunar landing, yet in this return, the writers introduced race and the civil rights movement without us even realising it. We started with the clowns from Y&R chucking water-bombs at marching black protesters and finished with Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce interviewing a collection of black women. “Secretary?! We can’t have one of them out there!” said Sterling, who if impossible, is doing even less work and more hedonising than before.
The grey-haired heart-attack magnet gets most of lines this time out and if they didn’t come from him, they were about him. “Why wouldn’t you want Roger there? There’s no-one better at turning a meeting into a bender..” said Ken Cosgrove when Campbell got angry about his clients being tapped-up.
If Mad Men had just one theme it would be change, and that has never been more prevalent than now. Rabble-rousing women and black people notwithstanding, the office decor is getting funkier, the skirts are getting shorter and family units are becoming looser. Yet the one man seeking to bring these shifting times home to the boardroom is Pete Campbell. Not only does he display the ability to refuse a 10am scotch, but he bans smoking (another important theme) in his office. Roger Sterling has never been speechless, yet his eyes definitely boggled for a second. At one stage I thought he was going to drop one of his drinks.
Yet as ever, Don Draper was the cold little centre of everything and within the first hour, we saw some inevitable cracks in his marriage to Megan. She had organised a surprise party for the old man and even performed a raunchy little number for him, to his acute embarrassment. “I wonder how handsome that man blushes..” says Joan when she finds out, or words to that effect. She’s stuck at home looking after her baby, but her gravity-defying figure will be returning to the office soon and her cleavage – which is twice as big as everything that has ever existed – will be coming with it. No sign of Betty and her hubby though.. or ‘Morticia and Lurch’ as Don nails them.
Megan and Don used their defining characteristics to reconcile by the end of last night’s offering, but we all know that he’s lying when he tells her that he “loves work because she’s at work” stands as much chance of enduring as Campbell in a drinking contest. “You only like the beginning of things” Faye Miller told him at the end of series four and she was dead right. What Megan did do was highlight the atmosphere within the company, which was even more redolent last night. Roger never stops sniping, Campbell’s tail was up and even Peggy got in on the act at Don’s party. “You people don’t smile, you smirk..” sobbed Megan as she wailed that her husband doesn’t like ‘nice’ things. We’ll give her another week in that office. Women haven’t come that far just yet..