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TV Diary | Mad Men – “A Little Kiss”

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TV Diary | Mad Men – Episode 5.01/5.02 – “A Little Kiss” – Original Airdate: 3/26/12

Episode Grade: B+

It’s been a strange two-year gap since Mad Men last aired an original episode and, as such, this is the first time I’ve written about the show on the blog so – much like with Community – it comes with a small amount of trepidation. It’s often such a dense show that it can be difficult to unpack so I hope that I’m up to the challenge. Let’s start by resetting things to see where we actually are. I actually had to go back and watch the season four finale, “Tomorrowland,” before diving into “A Little Kiss” simply because it’s been so long and I needed a quick refresher course on Mad Men‘s universe. Obviously, the Don and Megan union/engagement/thingy was the big occurance that happened in that finale and, picking up nine months or so after the events of “Tomorrowland,” “A Little Kiss” drops us into Memorial Day Weekend 1966. Don and Megan are indeed married [1] and are still working together at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. This seems to be a point of contention for the other copywriters – particularly Peggy – as Megan is viewed as someone who finds herself in the position she’s in simply because she’s sleeping with – and married to – the boss. It’s also a source of awkwardness for Megan who, despite her best intentions, doesn’t seem to be taken as seriously as she wants to be. To that end, throwing a lavish surprise 40th birthday party for Don and inviting the whole office – and then performing an alternately sexy and embarrassing rendition of “Zou Bisou Bisou” in front of everyone at the party while Don sits stupefied and mortified on a chair watching it unfold provides “A Little Kiss” the major conflict that Matthew Weiner essentially bases the entire episode around. Don essentially dresses Megan down after everyone has left, pointing out that he’d forbidden Betty [2] from doing anything similar to celebrate his birthdays in the past, while Megan is taken aback by the fact that her husband would not only show such callous disregard for what she perceived as a gesture of love, but that he’d speak to her as almost an underling in their own home. Meanwhile, Joan has had her baby and is adjusting to motherhood at home with aid from her own domineering mother, while wondering if perhaps her absence at SCDP has rendered her obsolete. After visiting the office to assess the situation, she’s relieved to find that they seem to miss her and her skills more than even she missed the office and – call me crazy – but it seems like the groundwork may be in the process of being laid for a potential hookup between Don and Joan down the road. Hell… it could even be as early as this season. Joan makes mention of Don’s looks [3] and Megan seems less than thrilled to see Joan back around in the way that one lion eyes up another when there’s a gazelle around to feed on. I could be wrong, but I’m not sure that I am. If a potential Don/Joan pairing is in the offing and is one of the first narrative threads unspooled in this fifth season, clearly another is the growing pissing match between Pete and Roger. Pete, at this juncture of the show, seems to be the only one taking business at SCDP seriously. Roger is hitting on secretaries as per usual, Don is completely preoccupied with Megan [4]. Lane is getting soused at business meetings, and Bert Cooper is Bert Cooper – so inconsequential at this point that no one bothers to include him in meetings. Pete is the only one actually doing his job, and throws this fact in Roger’s face by trying to stage a coup of Roger’s actual office. In a great scene, Roger manages to convince Harry to give his own office up to Pete for the greater good [5], a gesture that Pete confirms was not his aim. He wanted Roger’s office as a means of metaphorically kicking Roger in the teeth. That Mad Men could take the better part of two years off and come back with an episode(s) as strong as “A Little Kiss” is a testament to Weiner’s talent and how in tune he is with his characters. While some have complained that the show can be obtuse at times [6], “A Little Kiss” does a fine job of reestablishing the new status quo while also setting the tracks for the road that this fifth season is to travel. Expecting that the show will at the same time re-entrench itself as one of television’s best is almost a given.

[1] Albeit, the show does pull a nice little fakeout as the first Draper we see is Sally wandering down an unfamiliar hallway before the door to Don’s bedroom opens and he’s there getting dressed for work while a woman – whose face is obscured in the shot – lays half-naked on the bed. It’s not long before we find out that it is Megan after all.
[2] Who mercifully is entirely off-screen for what amounts to these first two episodes of the season. I’d forgotten how white-hot my hatred of that character was until I re-watched “Tomorrowland.” She really is a horrible, contemptible person.
[3] She says to Lane while asking about the birthday party she was unable to attend, “I can’t even imagine how handsome that man must be blushing.”
[4] Both early on in a newlywed way and later, following their conflict, by bolting from the office when Peggy informs him that Megan left early complaining of feeling sick. In both instances, his mind is clearly not on his work.
[5] And for $1,000 in cash.
[6] O.K… a lot of the time.

Miscellany:
*Some of the fun of Mad Men season premieres comes from the fact that they always seem to be disorienting (in a good way) as you – as a viewer – attempt to figure out when and where we are. There’s never any hand-holding and I respect the hell out of that.
*Don’s new “happy” – for Don anyway – personality seems to be giving Peggy pause. After her pitch of a “bean ballet” to Heinz goes over like a fart in church, Peggy is disgusted when Don sides with the client and doesn’t fight harder for her. The Peggy/Don relationship has always been at the heart of the show so it should prove interesting to see how Megan’s presence and influence changes that dynamic this season.
*Note: Happy Don Draper is weird. And off-putting.
*That Peggy wants nothing to do with Joan’s baby when she visits the office is a nice nod to continuity. Pete’s subsequent appearance makes things all the more awkward.
*Hey, Bean Guy at Heinz… good luck making baked beans seem cool. Speaking from close to 50 years in the future? It ain’t gonna happen.
*People in the 1960s who didn’t take the civil rights movement seriously were assholes, as evidenced by the illustration of the jackasses at SCDP rival Young & Rubicam. I also detected a bit of a note – particularly in the way that the Y&R workers described the protestors – of the feelings of the opposition to the Occupy movement as well.
*Pete does not seem entirely thrilled with his home situation, which in a lot of ways mirrors his circumstances at work. Clearly, the man’s going to need some kind of outlet and the question becomes: What’s that outlet going to be?
*I’m not going to say much about “Zou Bisou Bisou” other than that it happened. So there’s that.
*Harry making an ass out of himself in front of Megan was a completely Harry Crane thing to do.
*For everyone who says fart humor is low-brow – MAD MEN DID A FART JOKE.
*Jessica Pare in her underwear. I approve.
*Roger Sterling Line Of The Episode Part 1: “Why don’t you buy yourself a fancy hat or a mask or something?”
*Roger Sterling Line Of The Episode Part 2: “Is it just me, or is the lobby full of Negroes?”
*Bonus Roger Sterling Moment: Answering the phone for Lane’s assistant and using a falsetto voice is HILARIOUS.
*One Final Roger Sterling Note: This may have been one of my favorite exchanges in series history – Roger: “I have to go to Staten Island.” Jane: “What time is it?” Roger: “Shut up.”
*As you can tell, this was a strong episode for Roger.
*”When you’re forty, how old will I be?” “Dead.”
*”There was a time when she wouldn’t leave the house in a robe.”
*”A $10? Are you buying his formula or yours?”
*”Joan, he’s not going to allow you to work.” “Allow me?”
*”You ever seen beans up close? They’re slimy and they look like organs.”
*”I don’t recognize that man. He’s calm… and patient.”
*”I’ve got tickets to the bean ballet. And the curtain’s about to go up.”
*”It’s the Steinway of walking sticks.” “You could stick it up your ass and have a concert.”
*”Roger, I didn’t know you were invited. Or did you hear I was coming and just show up?”
*”Why don’t you sing like that?” “Why don’t you look like him?”
*”They’re all great girls, at least until they want something.”
*”I went home and Jennifer didn’t know what was coming…” “I don’t want to hear that.”
*”Pete’s office is a shithole with a support beam.”
*”OK… but you’re gonna owe me.” “No, I’m not. I just gave you a lot of money.”
*”The two of them together couldn’t operate a parking meter. They’re imbeciles.”
*”I should not be allowed to drink at work functions. Or at all, really.”
*I’ve missed this show

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