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Mad Men “Time Zones” Review (7×01)

14 Apr

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“She knows I’m a terrible husband.”

As we move into the final season of Mad Men, our characters are being stripped down to their most basic parts; no longer do they have anything to hide, for try as they might, they can’t stop the world from spinning and losing them in the shuffle. A sense of exhaustion permeates the atmosphere in “Time Zones”, one that portrays a group of people who’ve been stuck before and are stuck now.

The musical montage set to Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m A Man” perfectly encapsulates this idea: it’s full of Hollywood imagery and slow-mo and fancy colors and upbeat music, but it’s merely an idealized image of a relationship on its last legs. We’ve seen how Don craves control in his previous flings, but here, he’s in the passenger’s seat, limping through life, standing on a moving walkway in the airport as the world spins around him. Reality and fantasy have never been so far apart, and there are serious cracks in the facades.

When Don meets Neve Campbell on the plane, it first comes across as yet another one of his impending flings. However, it’s different this time. This time, he refuses; Don Draper, adulterer and liar, says no for once. This isn’t the mark of a man who’s getting better, though, but rather the mark of one who’s digging himself deeper and deeper, perhaps trying to convince himself to stay faithful to Megan–even as she’s deliberately and quietly crafting a new life for herself– or realizing just how empty of a shell he is, how he himself might be “dying of thirst”. Dying of thirst is slow and painful, and it’s because of a lack of a fundamental aspect of life: water. Don seems to be lacking so much more.

To avoid this–the foreshadowing is evident, though–he claims he needs to go to work. Work is an excuse, though, and as we all know, he’s been asked to take a leave of absence from the company. We later find out that he’s been writing through Freddy Rumsen–fittingly, the only person suffering from alcoholism who’s managed to improve–unable to separate himself from what’s always been a constant in his life. He’s a creative man, but he’s in a situation in which that creativity can’t be fostered.

So it goes for Peggy Olson, as well. When she collapses to her knees and sobs in her empty apartment, it carries the weight of everything that’s been piled on her over the years: Ted, Stan, the gender roles of the time, etc. She’s a resourceful and brilliant woman, but how can her creativity–one aspect she shares in common with Don–be fostered in an environment that just doesn’t care, with a boss who just doesn’t care? Season 6 allowed her a Don Draper moment with that back-of-the-head shot, but at the end of this episode, it’s these two who are suffering the most.

There are moments of triumph in this episode, but according to The Mad Men Rulebook, “and so it is declared that all characters shall struggle in some way from this day forward.” Joan, for example, is on her way up, but she’s reminded of the way she initially got there: using her body. Like Peggy, she’s an extremely resourceful and intelligent woman, but the sad truth is, she’s come to expect the worst (as we see tonight, with her expecting a “proposition” to mean entirely something else). Joan’s hopefully going places, but there’s no denying that she’ll have to overcome the obstacles of the time.

Elsewhere, Ken’s become angry and snappy, breaking under the mountain of stress that’s been placed upon him, and Roger’s confronted with a moment of genuine honesty and forgiveness (even though I wouldn’t say Margaret has the higher moral ground here; she’s just as bad as Roger) that he doesn’t have a clue how to respond to; it’s orgies and drinking for him, man. Ironically, it’s Pete Campbell who seems to be doing the best, and it seems as if Weiner’s emphasizing that general irony about the entire situation on the show: if anyone should have his shit together, it would not be Pete Campbell.

Perhaps it should be Don Draper. He’s handsome, intelligent, and rich, and he started the series with a family that loved him. Where did all that go, though? As he shivers on his balcony at the end of an episode–in an image evoking one of an inmate or someone going through alcohol withdrawal–he’s truly alone, just barely hanging on. As “You Keep Me Hanging On” plays and we pull back, we see a battered and broken man, slumped in a chair, not exuding any of the power that a central shot like this should contain. He’ll always be Don Draper, but the problem is that this Don Draper isn’t the Don Draper he wants to be.

Fade in, and Rumsen informs us that it’s the beginning.

Fade out, and we realize that it’s nearly the end.

GRADE: B+

OTHER THOUGHTS:

-Ken with that awful earring toss is a bright moment in an episode certainly lacking in bright moments.

-Don’s sobriety is definitely something that will be addressed throughout the course of this season.

-“I’ll say one thing about this girl — she evokes strong feelings!” Nice one, Weiner.

-“Lost Horizon” is certainly a thematically appropriate film for Don to be watching.

-That’s Jessy Schram as Bonnie Whiteside, Pete’s real estate agent. Pete’s line about her turning it on for everyone is a nice addition to the arc Don goes through in this episode.

-Neve Campbell! Don’s going to be angry when he finds out that she was going to take him to see Denise Richards. Also, she’s aged well; she looks good.

-Speaking of looking good, Jessica Paré and Christina Hendricks.

-That’s some clever junk-covering, Slattery. You and Allison Williams should make a show together.

-This premiere takes quite a bit of time to get going, seeing as it has to remind us of what happened and where the characters are now. The last segment, though, is fantastic.

-On the next episode of AMC’s Mad Men…people say stuff! Doorways open! Oh man, I will miss these promos when the series wraps up next year.

-Speaking of wrapping up, I’m apprehensive about the split season. This has always been a slow burn kind of a show, and I don’t know how modeling the season around two 7-episode arcs will do it any good.

-Welcome to my Mad Men coverage. I’m looking forward to having you all along for the final season of one of my favorite shows. Seeing as I’m not regularly covering Game of Thrones–I find that difficult to review on an episode by episode basis–I should have these reviews up quickly enough. No promises, though.

Photo credit: AMC, Mad Men

 

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One Response to “Mad Men “Time Zones” Review (7×01)”

  1. Pop Eye April 15, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    An excellent review of an excellent season opener. Don’s hampering apartment balcony door doesn’t bode well: will it lead to what we’ve been shown in the opening credits all along?

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