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From her Hollywood hills pad, Megan Draper appears to have it all: a rockin' house with a view; a vibrant acting career; her man back at home.
Still, she confesses to feeling "nervous...about everything" whilst in bed with said man — a place that might have once been her ultimate safe haven.
And that, people, is the take-home lesson of the episode.
As season 7 unfolds, Megan is in good company. Back East, episode 1 shows us tension spreading like a virus throughout SC&P. Peggy's lonely and not the star she might've been in a post-Don agency; Joan fills in as an ad man with aplomb and gets little thanks for it; Ken's swamped and still eye-patched; Ted, back from SC&P West for a short stint on Madison Avenue, can't stay busy enough as he, it appears, tries to keep Peggy off his mind. (If the awkward coffee-in-the break-room scene is any indicator, that mini-romance is in no way completed. And kudos to Stan for the sensitivity. Savvying the tension between Ted and Peggy, Stan offers a sincere, "Buck up chief.")
I won't call what permeates this episode a pervading sense of doom; it's more of big, pulsating mass of potential. There is potential for very good things to come, or very, very bad things.
Meanwhile, "Mad Men's" legion viewers only add fuel to the fire amid loads of speculation as to how show creator/master storyteller Matthew Weiner will complete his tale — speculation fraught with dread and visions of people falling out of windows. We know the show is ending, and we know that Weiner has calculated a very fitting ending for the series, but, knowing what we know about our heroes, that ending could play out in wildly different ways. That's the thing with "Mad Men"; it's made to keep us guessing — to "change the conversation" as it were, as many times as needed.
What's more, our characters — many placed at major crossroads at the end of episode one — seem to reflect that expectation of great change or something big brewing. Time seems to be speeding by for us and them (Accutron watch, anyone?) in a season that deposits us in January 1969, with Richard Nixon taking office (read: history's own harbinger of big change).
Fully aware of how wildly these character pendulums swing, here's a look at where they major players (who appeared in the episode) stand at the beginning of season 7.
Don Draper: We first see Don primping in an airport mirror; a shave and a few motivational slaps to the cheeks later, he saunters out (with Spencer Davis Group's "I'm a Man" as his soundtrack) to meet Megan, who picks him up in a gorgeous British green Austin-Healey. They are still married, and, indeed, doing the bicoastal thing Don suggested at the end of season 6 — she's in Hollywood, rocking her acting career; he's back in New York, working. Sort of.
Still on leave from the agency, Don continues to fashion ad campaigns through longtime colleague Freddy Rumsen (played by a great Joel "brother of Bill" Murray) — a Cyrano act to stay in the game. Indeed, when Freddy presents what turns out to be a Don pitch to an unsuspecting Peggy (and audience), she and we love it. It's classic Draper and we might've guessed that as soon as Freddy dropped Don's elegant slogan for Accutron watches: "it's not a timepiece — it's a conversation piece."
So Don's still got it. But can he keep it up? While he seems sober, focused and sincere in his efforts to better relate to his wife — he even manages not to cheat on her with a willing new friend (a very good Neve Campbell). But come episode's end, back in New York, he's a sad-sack loner on his cold, blustery terrace, on the edge, in more ways than one. He manages not to drink alone.
Megan Draper: Living alone in a rented Hollywood hills home overlooking a canyon. To Don, these are dangerous digs: too isolated, too many coyotes, and, as Megan points out, too much potential for wildfires. Weiner is making me increasingly nervous about the Sharon Tate parallels that some critics won't shut up about.
As Don arrives for a visit, Megan is nervous. She takes him to a dinner with her agent — a sleazoid sent over straight from central casting, who's advised her to get her teeth "fixed" — and gets too drunk for any subsequent romance. When they do manage to seal the deal, it's not the most romantic of encounters. Before they can try again, Don is back off to NYC — any progress in their relationship put on hold once again. The bicoastal thing feels exhausting to all involved — viewer included.
Peggy Olson: Season 6 left Peggy in Don's office, perched in his chair, ready to work. Come season 7, she's pitching like mad to a less than hip boss, Lou Avery. He's the anti-Don: a grandfatherly sort from the old school who seems to favor efficiency over aesthetics. Peggy can't relate to such low standards and perhaps realizes she's more similar to Don than she'd prefer. As Peggy tries in vain to turn a pitch her way, Avery dismisses her (better) ideas repeatedly. At one point he tells her, "I guess I'm just immune to your charms, Peggy." Of course, Don's said far worse to her, but criticism from someone like Avery seems to stick extra hard in her craw. Peggy does not appear ready to let this one go and here's hoping she challenges Avery's creative judgment at every turn. She's got the team to do it, but will she have the gumption?
Meantime, she's a solo landlord at her Abe-less apartment. At the end of a very long day, she uncharacteristically crumples to the floor in tears.
Roger Sterling: Appears to be living (and sleeping) with a handful of hippies — including one man — camped out in his apartment. One woman appears to be Head Girlfriend, who has no interest in monogamy. Pretty sure even he is in over his head.
Meanwhile, his mercurial daughter Margaret invites him to brunch. He is apprehensive, but hardly expects her announcement that she forgives him for all of his past transgressions. In one of the episode's greatest scenes, he simply cannot buy her sudden generosity of spirit. "Are you going to church?" he asks, incredulous. She says she isn't (sort of), but it sounds like she might've picked up on the transcendental meditation movement somewhere along the way. I hope. Her return to the story came across as a curveball.
Joan Harris: Remains a portrait of grace under pressure. When a client meeting falls into her hands, she manages a sticky situation beautifully (despite the dismissive attitude with which it is given to her and received by the client). Butler Footwear wants to move its advertising out of SC&P to an in-house department, per its new marketing director. Advertising is just a piece of the firm's marketing plan, he tells her; they can manage it on their own. She asks for some time and SEEKS THE ADVICE OF A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR to get the edge she needs to convince Butler to stay. OK? She WENT to a college to get expert advice for her client. This is what professionals do. Joan is a star and will continue to be a massive asset for the agency.
Now, if only her colleagues would get the picture...
Pete Campbell: Who, in my mind, is now "California Casual Pete." Campbell, now set up in SC&P West, appears the happiest of the lot: he's tan, successful, emotionally sincere. He HUGS Don when they meet for lunch and says California's allure lies in its good "vibrations." Did we ever think we'd hear such a report from formerly preppy Pete? Pete maintains his spot as one of my favorite "Mad Men" characters simply because he's full of surprises; he has the capacity to be a good man and he might just finally go for it — and I loved those checkered pants he was rocking at his lunch date.
As for his marriage, not much discussion spent on that topic.
Marisa Nadolny's writing partner Kathleen Edgecomb is off jet-setting like Don Draper. We hope to resume our regularly scheduled "Man Men" correspondence next week.