At least, Mad Men returns with a deceptively casual two-hour Season 5 premiere in which we discover a world of change in the land of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce: Don is (happily) married to Megan, Joan has become a massively insecure, overwhelmed new mom (to a child with an increasingly professionally impotent Roger Sterling), Peggy seems to be losing her edge, Lane is having serious money woes and Pete… well, Pete's growing fangs.
The times have changed, as well. At least a year has passed since we left off, and in the interim the civil rights movement has commanded the national scene. The immediate onset of the episode features a racial demonstration on Madison Ave, to the irritation of the ad men at the sounds of what's happening in the streets below. It's an excellent way of informing the audience that the world is knocking on the door of the ad sharks, and they're not going to be secure in their unaffected bubble for long.
Nevertheless, a mean-spirited water-bomb prank kicks off a flare-up which finds the junior partners at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce deciding to run an ad touting themselves as an Equal Opportunity Employer – not in the Want Ads, mind you, but in the regular advertising pages. They're a progressive bunch, you see, and the ad aimed simply to concrete that – but in the end caused a double-shot of confusion that stirred the pot even more.
Peter's in charge of the art department and heavily baiting a major airline client, and his increasing clout demands a new office – but not just any. He wants Roger's. The power play isn't appreciated by anyone else in the office, but serves as a siren that Roger and Co. aren't simply guaranteed lifelong shot-caller positions, regardless of what's on the masthead. Money rules all, and Peter understands his value. Roger, on the other hand, has been glomming onto other execs' deals, even going so far as to crash a business meeting with a potential big-fish client. Peter repays this in kind by dropping a none-too-subtle hint about a 6am meeting on Staten Island – one which doesn't actually exist, but Sterling eagerly leaps on regardless.
Now the happy Mrs. Draper, Megan's been promoted from front desk receptionist to copywriter at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. She doesn't need the job, with Don's income and all, but as we learn through his newfound kindheartedness, patience and doting that she has had a profound impact on his character – enough so that he wants her around all the time.
Upping the lovebird ante, Megan decides to throw a surprise party for Don's 40th – a disastrous decision for anyone familiar with the ways of the Draper. Peggy advises against it, it's six months too late anyway, but the lovestruck new queen is determined. Roger spoils the surprise unintentionally, however, but the soiree is largely a success – helped in no small part by a breathtakingly sexy rendition of the 60s French hit "Zou Bisou Bisou" by one Mrs. Draper (you need to see this).
The performance has a profound impact on the room, leading to the most zing-worthy moment of the night:
Roger Sterling: "Why don't you sing like that?"
Mrs. Sterling: "Why don't you look like him?"
A woman like Megan demands a strong man such as Don – but also one who will appreciate her and show it. So when Don pulls his grumpy tired act and shuts her down at the end of the party in favor of a good night's rest, she pops the claws the next morning both at the office and at home. She leaves work early, still upset by the slight, and strips to her (very sexy) underwear to clean the house in a fit of angry energy. Don returns to find this scene unfolding, and the single sexiest moment in Mad Men history plays out as she demands that he not touch her as she cleans – on all fours, facing away from him, ass high in the air – insisting that all he gets to do is watch.
Naturally, Don completely disregards this and makes proper use of her fire.
Joanie, no longer a vision of power and authority, is overwhelmed and exhausted by her newborn. The newborn which belongs to Roger Sterling, of course – though only the two of them know this. She's unnerved by the Equal Opportunity ad SCDP ran in the paper, believing it was placed in the hopes of replacing her. So she shakes free of her drunkenly helpful mother's scorn and returns, baby in tow, to the office to reestablish herself. Yet her emotional supercharge remains, and she shares her loneliness with a comforting Lane. It's just what she needs, it turns out, and she's unfazed by Roger's cool disregard for the child in their passing.
Peggy, the nose-to-the-grindstone workhorse done good, is showing some cracks in the veneer. She still hasn't gotten the Drapers a wedding present, and she drunkenly makes a dig about at Don's expense at his own party, which doesn't go unnoticed. When she apologizes to Don later, she makes another crack about how she shouldn't be allowed to drink at work functions – or ever. It seems as if we may be soft-stepping our way towards some blossoming dependency issues, though if there's one thing Mad Men writers are known for, it's sending up misleading smoke signals.
SCDP's reception area is packed in the last scene of the episode, full of applicants for the position SCDP didn't necessarily suggest was open in its Equal Opportunity ad. The prank has bitten them fully in the ass, as about 20 African-American men and women stood at the ready in the lobby. Without recourse, Lane begins accepting résumés for a potential (but as yet nonexistent) secretary opening – all to the sound of Dusty Springfield's "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me".
With a heartbreaker tune such as that to carry us into credits, I'm sure we'll get down to the deep drama in no time at all in episode two. In the meantime, we get to marinate on Megan's newly revealed dangerous complexity and what Pete's ruthless ambition is going to mean in the short term – particularly in contrast to Roger's dying flame. Welcome back, Mad Men. It's been a long time.