Mad Men Season 7 Episode 1 recap

Is it OK to feel disappointed? Not in the episode, of course, because it had everything to do with what a Mad Men season premiere looks like generally. But I can’t help but be disappointed in our people. Everyone has collectively lost their mojo, and it’s hurting my feelings a bit.

When I think about Sterling Cooper the agency, it pretty much appears the way Roger’s bedroom floor did. Filthy and disorganized and covered in cigarette butts and random bodies. The people who work there are, similarly, passed out, hoping not to notice how squalid everything has become. 

Too dramatic? Maybe, but it seems right to me. Almost every year before this one we’ve had a sparkling, exciting campaign to kick off the season – a reminder that these people go through this because they’re so good at what they do and it feels good to do it. If that’s gone, what is there? What’s the excuse to put up with the lifestyle? The dramatics? The lack of depth perception?

In a way, we’re in an alternate universe. This is where you just do what you have to do to get by, the most obvious answer to whatever the problem of the day is, while still getting out the door by 5.

The problem with Peggy – well, one of them – is that she doesn’t have anyone around her who cares. Don is gone – for now. Pete, who had an irritating knack for only noticing the holes in the creative when it was least convenient, is gone. Roger, who didn’t necessarily come up with good ideas but was equal-opportunity when he heard one, is gone. Stan and Ginsberg, meanwhile, are just trying to keep afloat, don’t ask questions, do this one for the wallet and maybe the next gig will be for the portfolio.  

But Peggy’s alone, and she can’t really go anywhere – after all, she left to go to CGC and then wound up back here, and her title’s really good and the only thing in her way is the worst kind of annoying, terrible boss, the perfectly pleasant roadblock.   Lou’s never had an office conflict that lasted longer than the sentence he was speaking. He’s the worst – but how could you possibly prove that? What could anyone who was looking at it say, besides “wow, your tastes in ads are different”?  Or more to the point, maybe he’s immune to her charms…

It’s not like any of the old guard can help her. Ken Cosgrove is so panicky-overworked that he can’t see straight, pun fully intended because what can you do with that? The impression that they’ve not added anyone to his team to help him isn’t because they’re not doing well, even though there are elements of that.   Remember when Sterling Coop used to deal with the spectre of a disappearing client with a laugh and a “let them leave!”? Still, the reason Ken’s overworked is because nobody’s paying attention. One of the partners is on forced leave, another on what appears to be an open-ended hedonist’s vacation. If Pete Campbell were here, he’d be having an aneurism and pulling things out of the fire just long enough for us not to hate him before doing something despicable.

But Pete is in LA, and for a show that never made all that much of the New York it’s set in, it sure is fascinated by the other coast, and being “bi-coastal”. I was immediately annoyed with Megan – and I’m not a Megan-hater – because she’s worried about the conspicuous consumption her TV indicates but not at all concerned about what might be gleaned from her car? Just one of the ways Megan is a continual disappointment while still being completely and totally her. It’s not her fault she’s a disappointment. She’s just so…not what’s required. 

Don, who sees Pete socially – by choice, even if it is a bit of a strategic move, and who still has that “matinee idol” effect on the women he meets – is now actually at the lowest point we’ve ever seen him. Because he’s lying. He’s always been a man of half-truths and untruths and strategic deployment of information, but that was to keep him out of trouble. Now he’s lying to Neve Campbell – Neve Campbell, whose appearance lit up Twitter like a Christmas tree – that he can’t go and be with her … because he has no mojo. He can’t stand behind it. It’s the most literal interpretation, and Don and Mad Men have never been about literal – but basically, Don Draper can’t get it up. Because he can’t back it up.  

He has a wife who knows he’s a terrible husband. He has no job. He has Freddy Rumsfeld, of all people, running his game through the city as though that’s in any way OK. He’s got the eyes to see that Pete can have his delightful LA dalliance with his real estate agent who used to be Hannah on Veronica Mars (!) but Don himself can’t have any of the things. He can’t have an affair with a glamourous woman, he’s not entitled. He can’t have a nice weekend with his wife, she’s alternately too precious, too tired, or too poseur to give him what he needs. He can’t get any satisfaction from work, because let’s face it, he’s not doing any. I know he told Rumsfeld he was doing it for the sake of doing it, but nobody knows it’s Don Draper at the other end of those lines. If a tree falls in the forest..?

So everything’s a mess. It’s a good place to start. Perhaps next week Joan will get a second chance to tackle the business side of the business, this time with a little more forewarned and forearmed about her. Either way, we’ve started here, and have only six episodes to get somewhere emotionally different before the season is over again.