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'Mad Men': Season 3 premiere

Madmen Since the second season of “Mad Men” ended in October 2008, viewers have been bereft of their weekly dose of multi-martini lunches; Lucky Strikes for every man, pregnant woman and child; appallingly un-PC office banter and women in conical bras and breath-stealing girdles. When we last left our Emmy-festooned drama, the Draper marriage was in shambles, the nation was seemingly on the brink of nuclear war and Peggy Olson dropped the baby bomb on Pete Campbell (i.e., she told him she had their love child and gave it away).

At the start of Season 3, it’s now 1963 – the year of the Kennedy assassination and the cusp of Beatlemania -- and all of these issues seemed to have reached an oasis of calm. Of course, nothing is ever what it appears on “Mad Men” and fissures are already appearing on everyone’s polished veneers. The first episode reiterates the abiding themes of the series – questions of identity, culture wars and secrets and lies – but without big plot machinations. As my colleague Robert Lloyd wrote, this is TV as Japanese tea ceremony, with each moment having delicate but great impact.

So, what is happening? At the start, our enigmatic ad man Don Draper, heating up milk for his wife but staring off into the distance of the kitchen, experiences hallucinations about his birth. We learn that Don got his real name – Dick -- from a rather violent wish that his prostitute mother made on her deathbed, a sharp, funny detail in an otherwise dream-heavy scene.

Later on upstairs, his wife Betty, who even with insomnia looks like a sweet, gauzy angel, strokes her pregnant belly and worries about the future. “I just want everything to be perfect,” she said. “I want [our baby] to come into our home at its best.” Something tells me she’s bound to be disappointed.

Peggy Olson, the up-and-coming copywriter who still dresses like Jane of Dick and Jane fame, is her usual stiff-lipped self, not indulging her secretary in any flirtations with the male British secretary who objects to being titled as such, due to the feminized connotation of the word in the U.S.

Of all the characters on “Mad Men,” Peggy might be the one I’m most excited to see develop this season. It’s almost impossible to predict where she might go, but as creator Matt Weiner is aware of, Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” was published in 1963. In many ways, Peggy is Friedan’s ideal – a woman not defined by her husband or children. But can Peggy get all her identity from a place that demeans her and all the other skirts?

In other company news, the British have fully invaded Sterling-Cooper and seem bent on shaking up the system. The head of accounts gets the ax, setting into motion a competition between Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove; both were promised the gig. Naturally, Ken sees it as an exciting opportunity while Pete uses it to launch into one of his crybaby moments. Why can’t anything good happen all at once, he poo-poos, as his wife attempts to soothe him.

(By the way, Alison Brie, the actress who plays Trudy Campbell, has been impressive for some time now and this episode finds her in particularly fine form. Her cadences and tones of speech are like a John Cheever story  come to life. I was utterly disappointed to find pictures of her on Imdb clothed in the garb of our time. I don’t want to believe that this woman was born after 1945.)

The episode’s most riveting storyline belonged to poor ol’ closeted Sal, who actually got to have a moment of sweaty petting before an ill-timed fire alarm at his hotel spoiled his fun. Draper, traveling with Sal for a meeting in Baltimore, was also rendezvousing with a stewardess and on his way down the fire escape, he sees Sal and waves at him to get outside. But when he catches sight of Sal’s half-naked friend, he moves on with only a little startle in his eyes, nothing more. This is Draper we’re talking about, the maestro of secrets and smooth talking.

On the plane back home, Draper bounces an idea for the London Fog campaign off Sal, imbuing it with his usual mystic mojo that works best in darkened boardrooms with hungover ad men. Sal looks incredibly relieved to not be asked for anything more than his professional opinion. And then another look passes over his face – something like tender recognition. Sal now knows that Don understands what it is to have secrets. They are both not who they say they are.

If “Mad Men” is like a Japanese tea ceremony, the matcha has yet to be poured. We’re only at the beginning of this season’s formal dance. The tea cups have been set on the tatami mat; let’s see who’s the first to kick one over.

-- Margaret Wappler

Photo by Carin Baer/AMC

Comments () | Archives (6)

I have been waiting for this season premiere and wasn't disappointed. The first scene with Don reliving his early life, including his birth was disturbing and moving at the same time. Loved Betty's comment to Don after Sally broke his valise that she was 'taking to his tools like a little lesbian'

Must agree that of all the characters, I really enjoy watching Peggy evolve. Here is a woman that started out acting little a frightened little mouse and has now become a force to be reckoned with. If you could fast forward the agency 4o years, I think she and Joan would be running the place and taking no prisoners.

I have to admit, I didn't see the foreplay scene coming with Sal and the bellhop that came to fix the air conditioning. And the look that Don gives him when he sees him is priceless-amused, disturbed and understood all in that 30 second shot.

Mad Men is award winning because of scenes such as the one between Don and Sal on the plane.
When Don tells Sal sternly that he needs a honest response and Sal hesitates, yet says he'll answer, Don has gotten all the confirmation needed w/o even asking. Then to make the scene more incredible and thought provoking, Don paints the picture of the campaign almost as a way to allow Sal an escape from his newly exposed identity.

Weiner and his gang are incredible writers and storytellers.

this was the first time I had seen Man Men but won't be my last. I was hooked as soon as the first 5 mintues was over. I hope we see more of the handsome pilot who seemed to have secrets about the stewardess. I wonder if Draper will be blackmailed because he let his daughter have that pin! More to come!

The interaction between the characters, the carefully timed flashback sequences, the pre-PC setting; I've been hooked from the first scene of the first episode. This is adult drama at its best and each episode leaves me hungry for more. The producers have picked the right actors. Even the ones playing "minor", walk on characters have put on memorable scenes. I agree with Ms Wappler that Bryan Bratt and Alison Brie have been impressive and really gave their chararcters more depth in this episode. They gave me real feelings for them. But Jon Hamm's IS the show. Even his smooth approach to his daughter's confession about why she broke his valise and the moment she discovered the stewardess wings in his bag. When he has caught someone in an embarressing, vulnerable moment (Peggy, Sal) he shows the, "look". Is he filing it away for future use, or has he discovered a fellow traveler? All makes this series intruging, priceless and memorable.

I agree with your comments about the character Trudy Campbell (Alison Brie). She was excellent last night. They finally wrote dialogue for her to speak that sounds real. There was far too much artifice in the Campbell marriage in season two.

The part I like least in MM are the flashbacks. They don't provide me with insight. They seem contrived.

In addition to what was said in the article - and I agree wholeheartedly - I like the double meaning behind Don's London Fog idea of "Limit your exposure".


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