Contrary to popular belief, absence doesn't always make the heart grow fonder. There have been several instances -- Futurama we're looking at you -- where a show has left the airwaves for a prolonged period of time and, after some initial discontent, we got used to it being gone. Then when it returned, it seemed noticeably diminished; the familiar elements were there, but the magic was missing. (Honestly, we have the same fears about the upcoming Arrested Development reunion. The finale ended the series on a perfect note; to quote the Beatles, let it be, guys.) So we approached the delayed Season 5 premiere of Mad Men -- the first new episode of AMC's flagship series to air in 17 months -- with a fair amount of trepidation. Would it still be the smart, witty show we instantly fell in love with when the pilot hit the airwaves in 2007? Had creator Matt Weiner decided to flex his creative power (and get back at AMC for dithering during the negotiations) by giving some of our favorite Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce characters abrupt Sal Romano-style exits during the hiatus? Could Jon Hamm still pass as the handsomest leading man on TV with Timothy Olyphant rocking that Stetson hat week in and week out on Justified?
The answer to the above questions (minus the second one, fortunately) is a resounding yes. Last night's two-hour episode "A Little Kiss" was vintage Mad Men, reminding us what makes the series so unique and readying us for what looks to be a pretty fantastic season. You can read our recaplet of the episode for the play-by-play -- look for the full recap to follow later in the week -- but we wanted to use this space to list the five reasons why "A Little Kiss" made us so happy to have Mad Men back:
Matt Weiner Doesn't Do Exposition
Say what you will about Weiner's occasional obtuseness as a writer -- we love that he makes the viewer work to keep abreast of all the goings-on at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. There are no info dumps in a Mad Men episode, scenes where the characters pause the action specifically so they can explain to the audience exactly what's going on. That device must have been particularly tempting to employ in "A Little Kiss" if only because so much time has elapsed between seasons, meaning that viewers might need a little extra hand-holding to get back up to speed. But no, Weiner just drops us right back into the fray, never even going out of his way to explicitly state what year we're in (it's 1966, by the way). All of the details regarding the new developments in the characters' lives are introduced in wonderfully subtle ways too, whether it's the sight of Pete riding the commuter train into work from his new house in the 'burbs or Roger attempting to get back some of his mojo by wining and dining with Pete's clients. In fact, the episode's single biggest revelation -- that Don has shared the secret of his Dick Whitman identity to new bride Megan instead of locking it away in a drawer -- is communicated in a single line of dialogue. Now that's narrative economy for you.
Watching the Times A-Change
It's been six years in show time since we were first introduced to Don Draper and as much as things have changed for him, the world around him has been going through even bigger upheavals. For example, "A Little Kiss" brings the Civil Rights movement literally to SCDP's front door when their prank at the expense of a rival agency results in a wave of African American job applicants showing up, resumes in hand. Peggy, meanwhile, remains the show's standard-bearer for the rise of women in the workplace. Watching her confidently pitch a ballet-themed spot for beans to the Heinz folks, it's hard to remember the time when she was Don's nervous new secretary. (Sorry the Heinz folks didn't get it, Peggy -- it sounded pretty great to us.) The way the production design has steadily evolved to reflect the changing times is marvelous to track as well; with its sunken living room and bright, warm colors, Don and Megan's Manhattan apartment is mid-'60s mod and worlds apart from the stuffy suburban home he previously shared with Betty. And we're just waiting for the day Sally brings her first lava lamp home...
Dialogue So Intoxicating, It Leaves You Dizzy
Every episode of Mad Men contains at least three or four lines that are so remarkably hilarious and/or trenchant, you want to scribble them down and preserve them for posterity. The bits of dialogue we enjoyed the most in "A Little Kiss" were as follows:
"Why don't you sing like that?" "Why don't you look like him?" -- Roger and Jane snipping at each other after Megan's birthday performance for Don.
"Nobody loves Dick Whitman." -- Megan to Don, easily the episode's most shocking, revealing line.
"I can't do that and I don't know that I have to do it. Do I?" -- Harry, arguing why he deserves to keep his office.
"Lane made it very clear we're not hiring anybody. I don't care how buxom his mother is." -- Don to Joan, stating the obvious.
"Is it just me or is the lobby full of Negroes?" -- Roger also stating the obvious after seeing a roomful of African American job applicants that have descended upon SCDP following their "equal opportunity employer" gag.
Getting to Know Her
After spending the previous season hovering around the edges of the frame, the new Mrs. Draper moved front and center in a big way in "A Little Kiss" and her dynamic with Don is already unlike any we've seen from his past relationships. With Betty, Midge, Rachel, Bobbie and Dr. Faye, he was the one in control. While he still believes that's the case here, it becomes clear during the course of the episode that Megan may have the upper hand. Because their marriage is still fresh enough that Don lusts after her and wants to please her, he's willing to endure things like her performance of "Zou Bisou Bisou" (an incredible scene by the way and not just because Jessica Paré rocked those fishnets like whoa) and that strange seduction she pulled on him later, cleaning up after the party in her lingerie, insisting that he doesn't deserve to look at her or have her. It'll be interesting to see when and how Megan continues to flex her muscles going forward. Clearly Don is in for more than he bargained for when he picked her over Dr. Faye.
The Gang's All Here
More than anything, it's great to have Mad Men back because we've missed these characters so much. From troubled Don to smarmy Pete to kick-ass Peggy to bitter Roger to everyone else at SCDP, we enjoyed every last second we got to spend in their company again. (And, believe it or not, we're even looking forward to seeing Betty again, if only to hear what she has to say about Megan.) Here's to another great year with the most flawed (and most fascinating) TV characters around.
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