The seventh season of Mad Men may have premiered last week, but after shaking off the cobwebs from the hiatus, Mad Men finally returned this week with a brilliant madcap Matthew Weiner episode that deftly mixed humor, cultural politics, frustration, and a heavy dose of heart. In what may go down as one of the series’ best episodes, Weiner not only gave viewers a sense of triumph, but an unusually touching ending for the typically gloomy Mad Men, and along the way, he created what the show has missed for so long: It’s own Joffrey. Mad Men officially has a Big Bad now, and I cannot wait to see him get his comeuppance.
“Is this a partner’s meeting, or the most tedious wireless program I’ve ever heard?” — Let’s begin in Los Angeles, where Pete landed the Chevy dealership account, only to have it taken away from him by Cutler and given to … (*drumroll*) … Bob Benson. So much for Pete’s good mood last week. He’s in existential crisis again, and making weird allusions to the Lost finale: “Sometimes I think I may have died, and I’m in some kind of, I don’t know if it’s heaven or hell or limbo, but I don’t seem to exist.” And for those of you who have Pete in your Mad Men death watch, was Ted’s response foreshadowing? “Just cash the checks. You’re going to die someday.” (And recall, Pete did offer to fly to Detroit to meet Bob Benson, and offered to “bring oranges.”)
In either respect, Pete’s a petulant teenage girl again, throwing fits, refusing to talk to Ted, speaking condescendingly to his girlfriend Bonnie and treating her like her job doesn’t matter as much as his. In other words, it’s good to have the old dickbag Pete back again, complete with terrible pick-up lines. “I want to chew you up and spit you out again.” Uh, OK?
Bonnie’s counter to Pete’s pity-party was also instructive: “Our fortunes are in other people’s hands, and we have to take them.” So, either Bonnie is Lady MacBeth, or she’s going to end up conning him out of all his money, just as his mother got conned out of hers by Manolo. Mad Men does love to repeat itself, after all.
“She has plans. Look at her calendar. February 14th: Masturbate gloomily.” – Meanwhile, Peggy is turning into Pete, too. One of the episode’s big thematic through-lines this week seems to be characters getting pissed off with other characters because they’re embarrassed with themselves. That was certainly the case with Pete’s treatment of Ted, Lou’s treatment of Dawn, Don’s initial anger with Sally on the car ride, and of course, Peggy’s treatment of her secretary, Shirley. Peggy mistook Shirley’s flowers as her own, which led to a cringeworthy comedy of errors in which Peggy made an assumption about Ted, embarrassed herself, and then took it out on Shirley, ironically telling her secretary to stop acting like a child.
Peggy is in a bad way this season, adrift without Don or Ted around to help guide her. She’s falling apart, and with Rizzo going out on a Valentine’s Day date, we can also put the Peggy/Stan ship on hold a little longer.
“Hello Dawn. Hello Shirley.” — The one thing that Mad Men didn’t really need were stereotypical sassy black women, but credit Weiner for transcending the stereotype. Teyonah Parris — who plays Dawn — was f**king outstanding in this episode, beginning with that brilliant exchange with Shirley (“Hello Dawn. Hello Shirley”) establishing that, as the only two black women in the office, everyone at Sterling Cooper confuses them with one another.
“Keep pretending, it’s your job,” Dawn advises Shirley in her dealings with Peggy, perfectly summing up six seasons of Mad Men.
By the end of the episode, in fact, Lou Avery has become Mad Men’s Joffrey in part because of how we have quickly come to sympathize and adore Dawn, who Lou boots from his desk for not devoting all of her attention to him. Knowing she can’t be fired, Dawn is the only one so far that has really stood up to Lou, and her exchange was the perfect balance of rage of hurt. “I skipped my lunch to buy your wife perfume. If you had been thoughtful enough to get her a gift when I told you about it ten days ago, I would’ve been here.”
“Don’t you understand, it’s not my problem.”
And that, folks, is how Lou Avery became maybe the most hated man in Mad Men history. Suddenly, all of Don Draper’s problems in the office seem trivial. Don may be a philandering drunk, and he may lash out, but he’s loyal to those who are good to him. Two episodes in, and I already cannot f**king wait for Don Draper to return and rain some poetic justice down on Lou Avery. Screw the Megan Draper theories: Let’s hope that Lou Avery is Sharon Tate.
Meanwhile, Joan served up a little of her own poetic justice, replacing herself as Head of Personnel with Dawn, as Joan — thanks to Cutler — moved up into an account executive’s office. That was a wonderful f**k you to both Lou and Bert, who insisted Joan pull Dawn off the front desk because racist Bert is racist. It was a triumphant night for Joan and Dawn, both of whom got well deserved promotions and the respect they deserved.