Mad Men Recap: What Do You Do With a Girl Like Megan?
Mad Men‘s first episode after an interminably long hiatus was not, as it turned out, really a Don episode. Nor was it a Pete, Roger, Peggy, Joan, or even a Sally episode (it was especially not a Betty episode). Like any brand that wants you to buy its newest, most modern product, the focus of Mad Men‘s Season 5 opener was answering the question that has plagued audiences since Season 4 ended: “What is Megan Draper like?” And, turns out, she is a nut! A French nut! (Une noisette!) And we like it! The show opens with four strangers, reminiscent of our boys but bizarro, who turn out to be executives at rival Y&R water-bombing a civil rights protest happening below. The splash-back victims make their way upstairs to confront the ignorant bros, and the story makes its way to the paper soon afterward.
Sally wakes up in a yellow bed and pads her way down the hall to Don’s bedroom, where she is greeted by her boxers-clad father. Not only has Sally’s voice changed (from a girlish lisp to a husky womanly lilt), so has her relationship with Don. A glimpse of stepmom Megan’s bare ass doesn’t faze her, which makes it seem like a fairly common occurrence. Don’s new apartment is a ’60s modernist dream, all bright colors and natural wood. Megan likes sunshine yellows and vivid corals and reds. Don drops the kids off at Henry and Betty’s house. Sally doesn’t even sulk about being stuck with her mom. They grow up so fast between endless offseasons! Pete Campbell tries to pretend he enjoys riding the train into work from the suburbs. He is so bored that he lets a boorish fellow commuter butt in with advice about how to use the length of the commute to cover for cheating on your wife in the city. Pete opens up about his disappointment that Trudy has given up on her vanity since giving birth. His new commuter friend bitches about his wife right back, and then they shuffle cards.
Joan is seen spreading someone’s cheeks, the reveal being that she is rubbing cream not on her husband or Roger, but her baby. Joan’s mother is helping her and driving her crazy in equal parts. At the office, Peggy, Pete, and Ken Cosgrove are waiting around for Don and Megan, as usual. Don and Megan are like Angelina and Billy Bob; always late, fucking in limos, and collecting vials of each other’s blood (hottt). New secretary Clara flirts with very tan old hand Roger, over Pete’s objections. Roger is thrilled about the Y&R scandal because they yoinked the Pond’s account. As a dig, SCDP opts to take out an ad in the paper about their diversity-friendly hiring policy. Megan, the heroine of our show (Mad Megans), appears in a Madonna circa “Blonde Ambition” ruffly black-and-white polka-dot blouse in her husband’s office. Don asks to see Megan’s tits before she leaves. She says “You’re a dirty old man” and obliges, which makes Don’s Dick Whitman face appear. It looks like this: O u O.
Don tells Pete that his dream client is still American Airlines, because they stood him up. Pete reminds Don that while they were out chasing their mistress American, they cut loose their long-suffering wife, Mohawk Airlines. Peggy has a hard time talking to Megan, since her autistic nature makes it impossible for her to soft-pedal anything, especially to the boss’s wife. There is also her proprietary feeling over Don and combo of relief and frustration that her role as Don’s switch submissive has been usurped by Megan. Megan says her parties are always so awesome that everyone goes home and bangs afterward, and that Don’s surprise 40th-birthday party will be great.
Joan hates sitting around the apartment all day, and misses going to work. Her mother begs her not to go back. Joan curtly reminds her mother that subservience and staying home do not guarantee a happy marriage. Pete shows up to his meeting to find out he’s been sharked by Roger. The clients, sufficiently fluffed by Roger’s hucksterism, greet the internally furious Pete with smiles. Peggy pitches Heinz a high-speed photography technique-centered commercial that is doomed from the first time we hear the immortal phrase “bean ballet.” Don comes into the meeting and fails to save the day, leaving Peggy brooding over her folder of rejected sketches of baked-bean pirouettes.
Pete is so mad on his way back into SCDP that he face-plants into a wall. He yells at Clara for letting Roger see his schedule over her shoulder. Ken tries to calm him down, but he launches into a speech about how he was a coxswain (I bet you were, Pete), and everyone has to row together. An ad agency divided cannot stand. The only person looking forward to Don’s birthday party less than Pete is Peggy, who can’t stand the new, mellower, “kind and patient” Don Draper. Pete returns home to a nightgowned Trudy. Even frumped up to look tired, she’s as cute as ever. Her positive pronouncements have no effect on his mood, and their suburban dream house looks like it’s right off Revolutionary Road. Her suggestion of a dog is the only thing that cheers him up.
Don dry-humps Megan in the apartment hallway, then she drags him to the door, where Roger and Jane Sterling are waiting to ruin the surprise. Peggy’s boyfriend Abe Drexler and the art department’s Stan Rizzo talk politics with Bert Cooper. Harry Crane gives Don a cane from Steinway (Roger: “You can stick it up your ass and have a concert”). Harry, greasier than ever, goes off to hit on an “unaccompanied redhead” friend of Megan’s. Peggy and Abe dance with the couldn’t-care-less air of true hipsters. Pete delivers a burn on Roger so sick it rivals Cher asking Amber “Was that you going through my laundry?” in Clueless. Trudy complains about the traffic noise, but it just makes Pete wistful for living in the city. Ken and his wife Alex Mack ask if the others want to smoke tea with Megan’s cool friends. Uptight Trudy laughs it off. We learn that Kenny married Cynthia because she thinks his poems are good, and you know what? I bet they’re great.
Peggy bluntly complains that she’ll have to leave the party soon to work on her new pitch. Megan rolls her eyes and gathers everyone for the centerpiece. She takes to the stage and sings “Zou Bisou Bisou,” a yé-yé girl girl song first recorded by 16-year-old French Bardot look-alike Gillian Hills in 1962. Megan’s performance gets her all worked up but leaves Don flaccid. Whether he was truly embarrassed by her fairly mortifying performance, just deep in self-hatred over his birthday, or really hates attention as much as he claims, he can’t or won’t touch her. He tells her she can do whatever she wants, presumably meaning to his body, which is so effemulating for her that she goes to have a nightcap on their gorgeous balcony instead.
Act 2 begins with Lane Pryce finding a wallet and deciding to return it himself. The repeated shots of Lane fingering a black-and-white photograph of a young woman named Dolores that he finds within the wallet, who he later has something adjacent to phone sex with, lead me to believe that this storyline is a riff on Lolita. Lane’s love affair with America has so far been shown through his love of its beautiful women. Lolita’s full name is Dolores Haze, and Lane Pryce, like Humbert Humbert, is a European caught between worlds. A man who grew up in a universe full of stodgy traditions but who wants to compose lush new ones. The seeming lack of resolution and real conflict in Lane’s plot are pure Mad Men. All it does is open up strange ambiguities. Lane falls in lust based on one pretty image and a New York accent. The mystery makes the craving even stronger.
Joan’s mom tries to convince her that SCDP is already hiring someone to replace her, based on their Y&R-provoking ad. Roger mocks Megan’s Zoobilee Zoo song. Don demands a ban on trash-talking each other’s wives on the court. Pete decides he wants Roger’s office. Maybe he overheard Jane calling him balding. There is no smoking in Pete’s office. Instead of medicating his suburban malaise with drink, he wolfs down sugar cereal. Roger gets so defensive about Pete’s request that he offers to fight him outside. Stan and Harry are in the breakroom, where Stan allows Harry to go off on a deeply uncomfortable rant about wanting to wear Megan’s ankles as earmuffs, which Megan overhears the tail end of.
Roger forces Harry to take Pete’s shitty office with a variety of not very good arguments and eventually an out-of-pocket payoff. Joan arrives at the office looking like a pink-candy-painted low-rider pushing a pram. She hands the baby off to the steno pool. Roger blows smoke in his face, and he gets thrust into the arms of an understandably reluctant Peggy, who gives him to somebody else. Megan shades Peggy for being a dick to Don at his party, then goes off about how everyone at SCDP is too cynical, finally blurting out, “WHO DOESN’T WANT A SURPRISE PARTY?” Peggy, realizing Megan is really just upset with Don, apologizes realistically and lets her go home for the day.
Joan bursts into tears in Lane’s office. She hates being alone all the time and wants to be able to keep up with the most current staff jokes. Lane undercuts her sadness by making her laugh and imitating Megan’s dance routine. Pete demands Roger’s office when offered Harry’s, questioning Harry’s mindless acceptance of orders. Harry doesn’t disclose the money he took from Roger, talking up the windows instead. Peggy apologizes to Don for ruining his birthday, not realizing that what ruined Don’s birthday was mostly that it was his birthday (and that he was thrown a surprise party), which made him feel indisputably old. Surrounded by his coworkers and his wife’s fashionable pothead friends, Don has to face the fact that he is neither young nor cool anymore. As the latest Bobby Draper put it to his dad, when Bobby is 40, Don will be dead.
Don arrives back home, where Megan is stomping around the living room angrily in a long tropical dress. She complains loudly about how disgusting the house is after the party that Don was so ungrateful for. How do you keep a man like Don Draper interested? Be young, hot, and crazy like une renarde, then make him worry about keeping you interested. Megan strips down to her black lace bra and underwear and starts cleaning up after the party on all fours. You know, like you do. She tells Don he doesn’t deserve to touch her, calls him old, and says, “All you get to do is watch.” This makes his boner spring into action. Don loves getting negged, and Megan loves being overpowered. Clearly this is only the beginning of 50 Shades of Megan. We don’t know how often the Drapers play this particular floor sex scene, but it’s obvious that the carpet is white for a reason.
Pete schedules a fictional 6 a.m. Staten Island appointment with Coca-Cola just to fuck with Roger. Megan can tell that Don’s friends don’t really like her, and Don reassures her that it’s just that they don’t like anything. Megan suggests that maybe working together is making their power dynamic strained. Don points out that working together means he gets to see her boobs whenever he wants. Don no longer cares too much about work, and he has also reined in his drinking (and seemingly really quit smoking). He now puts all of that drive and focus into pleasing Megan. Pete, playing poker on the train with his new bros, has seemingly inherited Don’s old life with Betty. The newspaper ad backfires on SCDP, who have a lobby full of black applicants for a nonexistent position. They fire the secretary who brings in an African statue with a racist joke stapled to it. Lane makes an announcement that the men can leave, and they start collecting résumés to interview the women who showed up for the newly vacated secretarial job. I could predict some plotlines, but who the hell knows? I don’t like surprise parties, either (does anyone?), but I sure like being surprised by fiction. Honestly, doesn’t it just feel so good to have your real friends back?