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Sad(der) Men: “Time Zones”

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That picture. Think about who Peggy is supposed to look like and understand that that picture is how we are going to view Mad Men‘s whole season.

Peggy, perfectly poised as a woman of her times, is now broken by life and by her work. It’s clear that 1969 is a time for change in Mad Men. Through Freddy, Don asks us if we have time to change our lives. The answer remains, at least at the moment, unseen.

This episode, the beginning of the end (1), is all about where you are and not where you want to be. Peggy is shut out of contributing to SC&P and she is utterly alone at home. Don is forced out of even being at SC&P and doesn’t really have a home. Pete says Don is “bicoastal” but that’s spinning the reality of living between two apartments his estranged wife picked out, one that’s broken and cold and the other with no place for him (2). The best Don can do is employ Freddy Rumsen as his mouthpiece. Freddy is just as out of place as a smooth-talking pitch-man. He sounds happy about it but he knows he can’t juice forever without someone finding out. Ted clearly hates California but can’t come back to New York. Ken has become a metaphorical monster but can’t give up the prestige and power of being head of accounts. Roger is trying to die in the middle of an orgy and still doesn’t know how to talk to his daughter. In fact, the only two folks who seem to be in the right place and doing the right thing are Pete and Joan. Even unflappable Joan is uncomfortable, if growing confident, in her new role in accounts. It’s really only Pete who seems happy as a clam in California.

Well, what of all that? Though I said in “Selling Mad Men” that “Season Seven will be right back to running away,” I also said that if there’s any hope in Mad Men, “the transition to California… will mean the difference between acknowledging change and accepting it.” If the Mad Trinity of Pete, Peggy, and Don are to find happiness, they will first have to acknowledge change and then accept it. We know Pete (and Joan) have. Don and Peggy haven’t. Don tells everyone he “has to get back to work.” Peggy keeps treating Lou Avery as if he were Don or Ted (3). Once they accept that the position on the ground is different, they can alter their attack (hello, Nixon!). Will this look like a new agency? Probably not. Will they pass through the doors of change and come out still dreaming? We hope so.

Weiner and Co. signal this need for change at the episode’s end with the incredible cover of “Keep Me Hanging On” by Vanilla Fudge (4). What raises my eyes in light of my predictions for season seven is that the song is about being unable to get away from what you know is bad for you. Further still it’s this psychedelic version of a popular song. Its dreamlike quality envelops you in a way that The Supremes never achieved. If Peggy and Don must change the conversation, how can they when life won’t let them go? While the song isn’t recognizable while Peggy is crying, it begins with her and connects her to the closing scene with Don. It’s not love that traps and teases Peggy and Don. It’s their life: work. It’s the only thing they have left and they’re only hanging on.

“Time Zones” is the heaviest of Mad Men’s season openers, and though it closes with a shot of Don freezing in New York’s January, the beginning of the end is Peggy’s breakdown, alone in her Upper West Side rat hole. She’s unnecessary at work and ineffectual at home. She’s mirrored by Don who, although he finds the strength to reject a brilliant brunette (5), knows that he’s broken everything in his life—except his work, which he can only touch through a proxy.

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Speaking of proxies.

Don left Megan in California because he “had to get back to work.” More importantly for Don, though, he rejected Neve Campbell (do we ever learn her character’s name?) by deploying the exact same excuse. When Don is in danger of losing something he tries his best to save it (6) and since working at SC&P (7) is the only good thing he has left, he’s fully committed, even if that commitment involves Freddy Rumsen (8). So we are presented a Don who has scaled back on his drinking (he has one on-screen drink: when the TV is delivered) and is on the top of his ad game but broken in everything else. When he’s with Pete and Freddy he is at Don Draper apogee. But with Megan he is an out-of-touch fuddy-duddy, a husband who thinks expensive gifts solve everything and that sex is always the answer, the kind of a guy a hippy would call a g-man because of his shoes. Alone he is the terrified child, caught again in something he doesn’t understand. Will his competency at work be enough to save him? Especially when he can’t actually go to work (9)?

But what about Peggy? SC&P is the only thing she has left, too. But Anti-Don Lou Avery (10) doesn’t care about her work or her. Peggy’s been the golden child for eight years of her decade on Madison Avenue. It’s not that she can’t handle rejection. What she can’t handle is indifference and this jokey, arrogant, ignorant sonofabitch of a creative director who cares more about getting work done than getting good work done (11).

So what that comes down to is that even if Don and Peggy have work left, it’s hardly a good thing to have. SC&P New York is a terrible place to work now. Lou ignores Peggy. Peggy yells at Stan. Ken yells at everyone. Even Dawn powertrips over Ginsberg. They might as well all be working at McCann. The only person who is doing anything right is Joan (12).

Outside of all things SC&P nothing is any better. All we see are 1: Roger’s orgies and his meeting with Margaret (13), who has clearly joined a cult (14); 2: Don and Megan (15) and Neve Campbell; and 3: Peggy’s brownstone and breakdown.

So pretty much everything’s a mess and anyone whose personal life we’ve been introduced to has gone to hell. Except for Pete. Pete’s great! Thanks for asking! And I don’t think he’s being insincere. Pete’s finally away from the crushing obligations of being a Dyckman (16); note that he mentions spending time with his brother and Tammy and his in-laws but doesn’t even mention Trudy. He’s free to be. At least someone’s happy.

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And now, some (semi-random) observations:

1: Fire Lou Avery now. I hate him and his smug face.

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See this face? Let the hate flow.

2: Is Pete dating that real estate agent or are they just snuggly Cali-Hippie types? They’re dating? Yes?

3: Ken has become a monster because he’s a Cyclops now. Yes. We get it. The real story is that Ken can’t hack it as head of accounts and Pete could: Don and Lane and Bert were right to take Pete and not Ken to SCDP. Also: it’s only been two months—is the eye gone or still healing?

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You’ve come the wrong way, baby!

4: Peggy: Hire a super. You could use a little Schneider in your life. Note to Weiner & Co: yes I would watch Peggy’s Brownstone or whatever 1970s spin-off you want to make.

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Did anyone else want Schneider to be their dad? Just me?

5: The juxtaposition of Don opening the window on Neve Campbell contrasted with him being unable to close the sliding glass door in his apartment is something that will be worth revisiting as the season progresses.

 

Predictions for next week’s episode, “A Day’s Work”:

1: Sally and Betty will show up. Expect them to be fabulous.

2: Megan’s lover will appear, even if unidentified as such (it’s not her agent).

3: Bert Cooper and Bob Benson will make appearances.

4: Peggy, Don, and Pete will have a meeting of some sort.

5: Lou Avery won’t be fired yet (sadly).

 

Endnotes

(1) Part of me hopes Weiner & Co will quote Eliot before the season is out: “In my end is my beginning.”

(2) “Did I say my house, Don? Oh surely I meant to say our house. I’d never imply that I have already moved on!” Megan, internal monologue.

(3) A probable reason Avery dismisses Peggy is that he was brought in by Duck and it would not be unlike Duck to punish Peggy for rejecting him. Never forget that Duck called Peggy a whore.

(4) “Keep Me Hanging On” was also used at the beginning of the end of The Sopranos (it’s Tony’s wake-up music in the final episode and also played as Phil gets whacked in front of his wife and grandkids). Weiner, of course, was a writer and producer for The Sopranos and although we was not responsible for the final episode, certainly was more than aware of the use of this song. While Weiner won’t resort to any tricks like vomit-inducing head-crushing (though the oyster scene from season one’s “Red in the Face” comes close), it’s touching that he references his earlier work here.

(5) FINALLY!

(6) Just off the top of my head: being good for Betty, taking care of Anna, his “I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to hire you” speech to Peggy, and getting fired from PPL to start SCDP; though when he knows he has lost something he can really be a jackass, see “throwing money at Peggy to go to Paris.”

(7) I’m not the first to note this (I think that was Tom & Lorenzo but don’t quote me on it) but Don is the D of SCDP and now that it’s SC&P he’s become a poor, twisted little thing. Poor Don.

(8) Freddy was already “the warning sign about the man that Don could be if he didn’t tighten it up” and now that he’s the Christian to Don’s Cyrano the symbolism-foreshadowing bells should be ringing through the valleys.

(9) Also: does Megan know Don was canned?

(10) I will pay a writer to kill him off if it hasn’t happened already. Weiner’s only written through show nine of this season.

(11) It’s not for nothing that Avery was brought to SC&P by Duck Phillips. Avery is the consummate “creative answers to accounts” director Duck wanted in the first place. What’s worse is that everyone knows Lou’s a joke but what can they do? The (unintentional?) consequence of shelving Don is that Cooper has finally cut everyone’s balls off. Who is going to speak out against bad work now? If Don isn’t immune then no one is.

(12) Joan is kicking ass. “You’re  going to need another pad.” Hell yes, Joanie. But of course this comes at the expense of being yelled at by Ken (question: aren’t Pete and Joan still partners? Why is she letting Ken be a jerk?), belittled by the shoe guy (until he needs her) and mistaking an offer of information exchange for a pick-up line. But seriously, I think without Joan SC&P wouldn’t have survived the holidays.

(13) I don’t think much can be made of it other than brilliant writing and directing but in the scene with Margaret and Roger there is a smoking cigarette placed perfectly so that smoke is always rising between the two of them.

(14) Seriously. While I couldn’t find a match for “anger can be vanquished by love” that predates “Time Zones,” the sentiment and Margaret’s statement that she wasn’t going to any church Roger would recognize point to some kind of cult (cf. Paglia and that bibliographical note). If I were going to be radical in my predictions, I would say that MSH has joined a Mansonite cult and is going to murder Megan Draper. But that’s just wild speculation. I will say that Margaret Sterling Hargrove is the Chekhov’s gun of season seven (as Bob Benson was for season six).

(15) Is it me or is Megan’s distance and nervousness a bit troubling? I wouldn’t be surprised if she was sleeping around. Casting couch and “turnabout is fair play” and “free love” and all that.

(16) Though, of course, as a transplanted New Yorker he has to complain about the sorry state of bagels.

G.M. Palmer lives on a poodle farm in North Florida. Find his work at www.gmpalmer.com.