I’ve heard from some people that they were disappointed that not that much happened in last night’s Mad Men premiere. I admit that while I thought the episode was stellar, I was looking for more plot than the subtext we got. But the more I thought about it, we witnessed a bean ballet that even Peggy would have been proud of. I have two important takeaways:
First, my expectations were too high about the amount that would happen. I’d forgotten that this is a show of subtle shifts, not major ones (which is why the biggest shift on the show–the move from Sterling Cooper to SCDP–was so memorable). Weiner loves to mess with expectations, so it makes perfect sense for him to have what feels like a middle-of-the-season episode as the premiere after an 18 month layoff. What better way to screw with people than to satisfy them with exactly what they’re least expecting? Don’t be surprised if you see something major happen next week solely because we don’t expect it.
Second, I think the subtle shifts we were supposed to take out of this episode are all about power dynamics. We’re used to seeing Don and those in the office being in charge of everything, but they’re being accosted on two fronts: by the civil rights movement and by the Beatles’ generation.
The civil rights movement was the more obvious of the two as they’re now being forced to change by backing themselves into a corner on hiring an African American. My guess is that a good amount of the plot tension will arise from here this season.
But, Mad Men has never been about the plot (or at least, it’s never been a plot-driven show). This leads to the second area and it plays into the relationship between Megan and Don. We all assume that Don is firmly in control of that relationship, but is that what’s actually happening? She had no trouble standing up to him on almost everything. The best example of this is Don’s birthday party. I’m sure all of us watching thought the party was a terrible idea and that Megan’s song and dance routine was cringe worthy (at best). But you know who seemed to enjoy it in a non-ironic way (I’m sure the SCDP folks loved it just to see Don embarrassed)? Megan’s younger friends that were there. The SCDP folks are our proxy, so we identify with them and their reading of the situation, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see that this season’s “bad guy” is the Beatles’ generation? They’re a direct assault on the button-up conservatism of Sterling Cooper Draper Price.
If that’s true, that’s immensely interesting because we already know how it turns out: our heroes lose.