‘Mad Men’ Throws Itself a Return Party, Too

Among the hundreds of feature stories heralding the return of “Mad Men” to television, many offered suggestions for viewing parties with authentic period costume and drink recipes.

Makers of “Mad Men” were of the same mind, apparently, as the long-awaited fifth season began Sunday with its own party – a big colorful, kicky affair at chez Draper with bold designs and bright colors, as the series finally kicked off the blues and greys of lingering 50s style to breakthrough to the truly neo-mod.

Amid the kaleidoscope of colors, Don Draper looked not the man of his time any longer. The party was courtesy of his young new wife Megan, the French-speaking former secretary to whom he impulsively proposed at the end of season four.

I wasn’t so sure Megan, played by the stunning Jessica Pare, would still even be in the show, since all of the group shots accompanying the publicity didn’t have her in them.

In the time that passed since last season, not only are they married, but she is fulfilling her dream to move from secretary to creative type, the way Peggy had. In the office, she is known as Mrs. Draper and held up for ridicule by some and for lust by the men. They come to the office together like Nick and Nora Charles of another era – Mr. and Mrs. Draper, a formidable Madison Avenue merger to be sure.

The girl is trying – maybe too hard. She threw a big surprise birthday party for her husband, a guy who didn’t want any such thing and more than that, did a saucy performance with the hired band of a kitchy, kootchie-koo flirty French pop song called “Zou Bisou Bisou.”

It was the talk of the office just as it will be seen as the centerpiece of the two hour return episode ( a single release is being discussed as we speak). And for all the backbiting that followed, Megan stomps off and says how horrible everybody is in advertising – cynical, unhappy, grousing, quick to judge.

She also says a couple of times how old her new husband is, as he turns 40, leaving Draper to feel a little left out too. Peggy for one is furious that Don has turned so “nice” since the wedding and is going along with clients who reject ideas rather than aggressively arguing with them.

Matthew Weiner has drawn a solid episode that works each scene very well as it activates individual characters:  in addition to Peggy, whose Heinz campaign is rejected; Pete, who petulantly demands a bigger office as he brings in business after his long train ride in from Greenwich; Joan, who is barely tolerating the extended visit from her mother to help with the new baby and is anxious to get back to work; the English partner Pryce, who toys with the idea of flirtation after he finds a wallet in a taxi (which is about as wild as he’ll ever get), the incorrigible Roger Sterling, drinking even more and stepping on Pete’s clients.

Missing entirely from the episode was January Jones’ Betty Draper and her second husband, who appear to be part of next week’s episode, though we do see the Draper kids, who are growing rapidly. Even the baby is more a little boy now.

Events of the 60s are starting to filter into the office as well, not only through the modest women’s rights struggles in the workplace, but in civil rights on the street level. The episode begins in fact with a march in front of a rival ad agency, whose callous workers throw water bombs down on them. Draper’s firm, by contrast, brags that they’re equal opportunity, though it’s clear they’re not hiring African Americans any more than they’re hiring anybody.

There’s no indication how long Megan will stay in the picture. She looks like she’s going to storm off for good more than once in the episode. In the mean time, there’s some sizzling chemistry with Don to capitalize on. Maybe she doesn’t have to sing again though.

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