“Mad Men’’ returned for the first half of its seventh and final season Sunday during an evening of much-tuned-to-TV. “Game of Thrones,’’ the MTV Movie Awards, “Veep,’’ “The Good Wife’’ — sometimes we can only process so much must-see TV in one evening. If you happened to miss the opener, fear not, we’ve broken down the top-level talking points to get you through the day before you can relay to your DVR. Here’s what’s worth knowing:
What time is it?
It’s immediately on your mind, when Freddy “I had an accident’’ Rumsen’s face fills your screen with a pitch for the final season — but it’s really for a watch, or is it? Regardless, it’s January 1969. The bi-coastal setting doesn’t allow for an immediate seasonal placement, but Richard Nixon’s inaugural address pinpoints the season opener’s timeframe. As Vulture points out, “we are little over two months from the end of season six.’’
A creative shift
When Peggy Olson took her rightful seat in Don Draper’s empty office at the end of season six, we couldn’t help but wonder if she would fill his shoes in the interim. But Lou Avery, from rival agency Dancer-Fitzgerald, has stepped in as Don’s replacement. Avery made his appearance at the end of season six with headhunter Duck Phillips and an ominous “Going down?’’ dig as Don made his final exit from the building. And perhaps we were naive to think he was just the first of many to be courted before the agency made the proper decision to shuffle Olson into the role. The blow was a disappointment that Peggy has not taken with stride, unlike the rest of her department, who has fallen into mediocre creative complacency, as she continues to demand excellency and expects more from everyone around her — perhaps more than they’re capable of. Stan, Ginsberg, and the faceless creatives who continue to be allotted a quota of a one-liner an episode — they all appear to be aimless under the new regime. Well, except Peggy: “You’re all a bunch of hacks who are perfectly happy with shit. Nobody cares about anything.’’
Megan and Don: So happy together?
The first we see of Don, he’s shaving in the mirror of an airplane bathroom. My obsession with a Don Draper/D.B. Cooper conspiracy reels. Turns out he’s just flying out to the West Coast to see Megan, who is looking foxy as hell and seems to still adore her husband despite their season six finale blowout. (“You want to be alone with your liquor and your ex-wife and your screwed up kids!’’ Truth.) She has a shiny new convertible! An agent! And a promising callback! An apartment with coyotes and a spectacular view! And she’s getting her teeth fixed! Also, she’s drunk. She can barely keep it together during Don’s first night in Los Angeles and awkwardly babbles her way through their first evening together. Despite it all, she can still put the coq au vin on the table. Mrs. Draper takes poorly to Don’s “gift’’ of a luxury television set being delivered to her apartment. “Everybody I know is starving,’’ she says. They can barely get through an evening of intimacy together without nervous tension. Remember the days of “Zou Bisou Bisou’’? The dynamic between the couple is clearly broken. Don later admits that he is a bad husband to a woman (Neve Campbell!) sitting next to him on the plane back to New York. She is returning after dumping her late husband’s ashes on Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland. She invites him back with her, he declines.
Speaking of Don, he doesn’t have a job.
Turns out, he’s ghosting for Freddy and is actually the brilliant mind behind the Accutron watch pitch that Peggy so fell in love with. We mean, of course he is. Draper says he’s still on payroll despite his involuntary leave from the company, but continues to tell Megan and the mystery woman he meets on the plane that he has to go to “work,’’ without ever defining what that means. It becomes clear that Don Draper still has it. He’s good at his job. Why he hasn’t asked for forgiveness and an opportunity for redemption in the eyes of Sterling Cooper & Partners is clear, but why he hasn’t gone to another agency is not. Is it loyalty? Or is it pride? Perhaps it’s a little of both. All these new associations that are unfamiliar in the realm of Don Draper.
Also, to get the conversation going:
— Ken Cosgrove is now a total ass with an eye patch. He spends most of his appearances this episode berating Joan, who has single-handedly preserved the Butler Footwear account after their new head of marketing decides to bring the work in-house. “If I have no underlings, I’m useless,’’ he roars. “This is a hierarchy, do you understand that?’’
— Peter Campbell loves California — and life in general, so it seems. Ted Chaough, who did not leave his wife after a botched affair with Peggy, not so much. And Bob Benson is still kickin’ around and working out of the SC&P Detroit office.
— Roger’s daughter Margaret has something up her sleeve. She also appears to be well aware of his group love situation, but is all smiles about it. Roger has a girlfriend, who has a boyfriend, who has another girlfriend. This is shockingly the least exciting storyline of the episode.
— The music on “Mad Men’’ continues to be top notch. Piped in this episode: “I’m a Man’’ by Spencer Davis Group and a “You Keep Me Hangin’ On’’ cover by Vanilla Fudge.
— Poor Joan. Seriously.
And then the only thing better than the episode itself, here are our picks for recaps worth reading, which dive much further into the psyche of the premiere than we ever will:
— The Mad Men Season 7 Premiere: The Same Old Don Draper? (The Atlantic)
— ‘Mad Men’ Season Premiere Recap: Nowhere to Hide (Rolling Stone)
— Weiner’s World (Vanity Fair)