Mad Men‘s final journey has begun. Split into two seasons, the show will have fourteen episodes to say farewell, in detail, to its 1960s drama. “Time Zones” spent most of its hour on Don and Peggy, the crux of the show, setting up where they are in terms of where they’ve been. It’s not clear yet where they’re going, only that the struggle is not yet over. There was a sense, with them and elsewhere (particularly with Joan and Pete) that change is in the air, and, dare we say, hope? “Time Zones” was mired in a lot of bleakness, but all of the airplane imagery might be suggesting the only way forward is up. Hit the jump for more.
One of Mad Men‘s hallmarks — and most frustrating qualities — is a lack of fundamental change. Settings change, marriages come and go, but the people essentially remain as they always were. Don in particular. Last season’s finale suggested something different was happening, though. After a season filled with old patterns, consequence started to have their place. Don’s marriage to Megan is breaking apart, and she leaves for California, his affair with Sylvia collapses in flames, and his alcohol consumption gets him tossed out of the workplace (still collecting a paycheck, though). A down-and-out Don (as much as he ever can be) confronted his broken past, and opened up to Sally. Surely that was a sign of things to come?
Yes and no. Don is confronting himself in the most honest way we’ve yet seen. To the woman on the plane (Neve Campbell!), Don admits that he’s not a good husband, and that Megan knows it. But he sticks to his sobriety both with alcohol and with women, thwarting any sexual advances with Neve (may I call you Neve?), although, it’s unlikely that introducing an actress like that will end with one plane ride. These self-imposed restrictions are not something Don takes lightly — the final shot of him on the balcony, sitting out in the cold, alone and sober, shows a change at least. Whether it’s one that leads up or down remains to be seen. His seat-mate tells him her husband died of thirst, and his doctor had said he’d be dead in a year. “They all will be.” Don as well?
Mad Men has often been, in part, a struggle between the old guard and the new revolutionaries, reflecting the themes of its time frame. In “Time Zones,” everyone was confronted with the past, and often the stodgy and out of touch. Peggy is at odds with Lou Avery, Don’s replacement of sorts, who has none of his talent, and none of his ability to see Peggy’s talent. In fact, Peggy is again relegated to being treated like a secretary, crying out to Stan that no one cares anymore. Similarly, Ken Cosgrove is harsh and dismissive with Joan, as is the professor she visits to trade info and talk business (her hesitation at him saying “do you have anything to trade?” shows what she’s learned, too).
Los Angeles has always been a place of escape for the show, and the fact that so many characters are bicoastal now seems telling. It’s not so easy to escape, though. Roger is always attempting to flee himself, doing his psychedelic drugs and sleeping in a group bed; but in the end, his old sins catch up with him through his daughter (indoctrinated-into-a-cult-daughter?). Then again, there’s Pete, all tanned and preppy-set in the tar pits. He seems to have made it to the other side. As a kind of Don-lite at times, Pete shows what California could have offer. But Don being Don, it’s not so simple.
“Time Zones” was a moody and reflective episode that, in two shots, showed the highs and lows of Being Don Draper (opening with “I’m a Man” by the Spencer Davis Group, and closing with Vanilla Fudge’s cover of “You Keep Me Hanging On”). Which way will he go from here? Don’s path is not the only uncertain one. As Peggy collapses on the floor, exhausted from giving everything for a job which is giving her less and less, the hour feels on the brink of catharsis. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope it’s one that leads to — as Pete might put it — some better vibes.
Episode Rating: B+
Musings and Miscellanea:
— There were so many great small elements to this episode. Starting things off with Freddie Rumsen breaking the fourth wall and pitching a mesmerizing ad was a bold and fantastic way to start, especially since it turned out to be Don’s idea all along. Don allowing Freddie to take the credit, but showing he still has the magic, was an important moment (as was Peggy trying to one-up the idea, but realizing that Freddie/Don’s version truly was better, per usual).
— Many are mentioning that the foreshadowing with Megan in a Sharon Tate kind of role is becoming overwhelming, particularly now that she’s out alone in the canyons with only the coyotes. But we’ve thought much of these dark portends before and were wrong, so who knows. Anything is possible. It seems that Don is looking for a good out regarding the marriage now, despite that sleek scene to introduce him. The girl in the mini driving the convertible — his wife — is a glitzy image that hides the less exciting truth of their faltering relationship.
— I like Stan and Peggy bonding (and him understanding about her awkwardness with Ted), but hated she lashed out at him about being a hack (though her points were valid).
— “The air is brown but I love the vibrations” – Pete. His entire outfit … amazing.
— Absolutely loved Joan in this episode, from her taking charge and learning business on the sly, to going into Kenny’s office, taking a drink, and telling that little prick Mr. Barnes what is what. The show kept up its humor even after such a harsh moment as Kenny throwing her earring back at her and saying to stay out of his office with the fact that his eye patch / lack of depth perception made him miss the throw entirely.
— The mention of Megan evoking strong emotions, and the comment about her teeth, was so meta.
— “I always hope the person next to me looks like you, and not a man in a hairpiece eating a banana” – Don.
— “Blame Madison Avenue.”