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Published on April 30th, 2012 | by willok


Mad Men Episode Reviews: A Little Kiss (5; 1)

Mad Men returned to our shores (albeit courtesy of an imported UK channel) this week and I now find myself with a week in between to mull the complexities of the episodes. In the spirit of embracing US TV terminology, the season premiere took a moment to catch on; I felt uneasy reacquainting myself with the characters, worrying for a minute that in Season 4 the sheen might slip. I was always catching-up, courtesy of box sets and had inhaled the episodes at pace and re-watched with anyone willing to road test the series. There were never any suggestions that quality had faded – what if now that I was to watch and discover along with the rest of the baiting TV audience and find the stories were stretched, the characters exhausted. The pace seemed off in early scenes – period details are being observed, civil rights are on queue to offer various highs, lows and parallels as the season progresses and life had continued for all, but where was the significance, the early sweep of foot that heralded back Mad Men with a bang? It didn’t come but I was silly to look for it, I should have known better than to think we would have some easily spoon-fed season opener and as events progressed, the episode swelled to a wonderful re-visiting of all the dynamics at play and affirmation that their story is far from through. 

Harking back to the close of Season 4 I couldn’t but wonder whether history was repeating itself in how Don’s latest engagement and presumed marriage was coming to be; Melanie was hopeful, charming and appealed to Don is ways that probably even he can’t explain but that certainly put him at ease – had Betty been this type of person when they first met, did she seem the perfect role-model wife which Don thought might fit the life he wanted to construct? What had gone wrong and would the same fate befall Melanie? Getting to know Melanie this episode, now recently the third Mrs. Draper, she seems no less complex than any of the women she shares screen time with by virtue of being at odds with them in their thinking and problems, but she is distinguishable from Betty by attaching herself to a liberating future to come, rather than the constrained strictures and maternal shadow Betty has always struggled with. Don has put his trust in her, revealing some if not all of his Dick Whitman past, and while they are instinctively drawn to each and do work, there is still an uncertainty when at peace and in conflict as to how to engage with each other. The outright highlight of the episode, in one full of many lights, is a moment between the two, after a surprise birthday party of mixed results where Don refers to his Whitman self and Melanie asserts, not in an intentionally hurtful way, that no one loves Dick Whitman. The sudden change to Jon Hamm’s face is masterful; it exposes Drapers unending ability to process the ties to his past , his new wife’s words telling his story in a nutshell, the man he was, at ease with in California looking for jobs to fix cars and re-paint living rooms and nobody loves this version of him. 

The full treatment of all characters in the opening episode is a prime grounds to suggest this show belongs to more than Draper: Joan is out of her depth as a single mother, missing a husband not all that pleasant to be around, Pete has all the pieces of his life in place, akin to Don 4 seasons earlier yet still can’t command the control he wants, Peggy is at her best in the confines of the office and Lane is circling the liberty a State-side existence offers him. A wonderful sequence sees Joan re-visiting the office, helming baby but looking to reassure herself that she has a part to play in the office. All the interplays work; Pete and Peggy awkwardly left with a buggy; Joan letting down her defences in conversation with Lane and of course Roger, king of the quip, dropping either knowing or unknowing clunkers about his baby. The histories these people share is prime for more story and Mad Men has made a sure-footed return. 

Some thoughts:

What of Betty? Can she find relevance (and fans) being so disconnected from events on Madison Avenue?;

How strong a theme will the issue of race play in the episodes to come?;

Can Lane please do a silly dance every episode?;

Peggy: “I don’t recognize that man. He’s kind and he’s patient.” – where two for Peggy and Don and their camraderie with Melanie now under Peggy’s stewardship. 


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