Sunday, April 13, 2014

REVIEW: 'Mad Men' - Freddy Rumsen Gives a Pitch While Don Visits Megan in Los Angeles in 'Time Zones'

AMC's Mad Men - Episode 7.01 Time Zones

Don makes a new friend. Joan meets a client for drinks. Peggy hears impressive new work. Roger has a puzzling phone call.

Every season of Mad Men is a crescendo. Each finale is a narrative conclusion to that season's story. It puts a period on what has happened in the twelve episodes prior. In the process, it usually destroys the basic premise of the show. Yes, we can expect the show to be about ad people working on campaigns and Don Draper trying to become a better person only to fail because of some new woman.

And yet, the show has changed so much since it started back in 2007. Nearly a decade of time has passed. "Time Zones" opens in January 1969. The show is quickly approaching the end of a decade. It too is coming to the end of its run. Season 7 will be the series' final season split up with 7 episodes airing now and the last 7 episodes airing in 2015. Yes, that airing pattern is extremely odd especially considering all 14 episodes will be produced at the same time - meaning the final 7 will be in the can almost a year before they debut on the network.

"Time Zones" - like most Mad Men premieres - is a table setting episode. It starts up the new status quo for all of its characters. The sixth season finale saw Don being forced to take a leave of absence by the rest of the partners because of his pitch to the Hersey executives. What is this show and who is Don Draper if he is not an ad man? The premiere makes no effort to reinstate him in his former position as quickly as possible. Hell, it takes us 7 minutes into the episode until we even first see Don Draper. The world around him is still moving and carrying on. The other characters at Sterling Cooper & Partners are still working and going through their various ups and downs.

Don too has come to respect what other people think of him. He knows that the partners will reach out to him when they want him to come back. He knows that Megan knows he is a terrible person. He's not out to change the status quo. He's in this very weird limbo. He has the opportunity to be living in his life and having a lot of fun. He no longer has to do work in advertising. Megan's off in Los Angeles really trying to make a name for herself. Instead he's really trying to do better by the people in his life. He makes the effort to go out to Los Angeles and support Megan. However, the two aren't quite on the same wavelength they once were on. She's nervous around him. Yes, the spark is still there but there's reason enough for her to pause before being intimate with him again. And then, he just goes out and buys a color television for her without her knowledge.

What's most interesting about Don's story here is that he meets an attractive woman on his plane back to New York - played by Neve Campbell - who is the exact type of person he would sleep with. They have a deep and intimate conversation. They talk about life and death. We're being led to believe that he will falter in the same way that he always does. Instead, he declines her offer and goes back to his apartment. He's making the effort to change. Of course, he's tried to change before and he always falls back into the same self-destructive patterns. But at least right now, we're hopeful that change could be something coming for Don.

Additionally, the premiere opens on the last person we expected it to - Freddy Rumsen giving a very Don Draper-esque ad pitch to Peggy, the person we believe is in the Don Draper position at the firm. It is a home run pitch. It wows Peggy and the audience. We believe that sobriety must be doing wonders for Freddy's work as a freelancer. Instead we learn by hour's end that he is working with Don. That friendship feels very potent for wonderful interactions in the future as Don was kicked out of the firm similar to how Freddy was earlier.

Also, minutes after the great pitch, we see that Peggy is not in fact the new Don Draper at the firm. Last year's finale ended on her confidently sitting in Don's chair in a classic stare at the city shot. She may not have got love but she got the job she wanted. And now, only two months later, she's stuck in the same position that she was last year. However, she and Don had such a nice rapport. They understood how the other worked and thought. They couldn't help each other that much in their personal lives but when it came to the work they were of the same mindset. Now, her new boss, Lou Avery - played by Allan Havey - works differently. She tries to present her best work but can't get him to understand her the way that Don did. Things get even more painful for her as she watches Ted come back to the New York offices for a few days. He left so he wouldn't be tempted around her. She cries in her new apartment - where she's a super - because it's hard. She's worked so hard to get as far as she has but she too is in a holding pattern. And she's unsure of what more she can do.

Joan, on the other hand, is a partner and still out to prove herself to the male-dominated world around her. Travis from Cougar Town doesn't take her seriously as the person he's meeting with. And yet, she makes the effort to seek out the knowledge to better herself and prove her worth. She's the one who comes up with a solution. Sure, it may cost the firm the business. But she's working proactively - a value this firm cherishes a ton. Ken may be overwhelmed by the amount of work and stress his new position holds but Joan is at his side trying to help.

So overall, "Time Zones" was a very strong way to kick off the final season. I'm sad it's almost over but I'm also really excited to see where Matt Weiner plans on taking these characters to.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Time Zones" was written by Matthew Weiner and directed by Scott Hornbacher.
  • Ted left for Los Angeles to work on his marriage and yet he's still as bitter as he ever was. The new sunny locale hasn't lifted his exasperation at all. Everyone's expecting him to have a tan instead he's the same person that he was before.
  • Pete on the other hand has really embraced the LA lifestyle. Just take a look at the outfit! His marriage is over and his mother is dead but he's found a place where he can smile again.
  • Pete's real estate agent is played by Jessy Schram and I only give it a couple episodes before they're sleeping with each other.
  • Also, Roger meets with his daughter for brunch and she forgives him for everything that he has done to their family. He doesn't understand her reasoning but she's making an effort to have a relationship with him. He's still living a very self-destructive lifestyle. He ends the premiere back in the same bed with two people but he's also more contemplative of life.
  • Bob Benson is off working in Detroit, meaning no one got to yell "Not great, Bob" in the premiere.