Two months have passed since Don Draper took the elevator down to the metaphorical center circle of Dante’s Inferno after a season spiraling towards booze-soaked disaster. Recall that he snagged defeat from the jaws of victory during his self-sabotaging pitch to the Hershey people, was exiled from the company and ordered to “regroup,” and then celebrated Thanksgiving by taking his children to the former brothel that was his tragic childhood home. Good times. But was it really rock bottom? Or does Don Draper still have further to fall?
“Are you ready? Because I want you to pay attention. This is the beginning of something.”
The beginning. Interesting.
That’s how the final season of Mad Men begins: Blast from the past Freddie Rumsen pitching Peggy for Accutron watches. “That is not what I expected,” says an impressed Peggy after Freddie wraps up his high-concept TV commercial, and she may as well be speaking for all of us. Freddie Rumsen? He’s freelancing; she’s in charge. Except that she’s not. Despite last season’s finale’s imagery of Peggy in Don’s office, symbolically wearing the pants, Peggy isn’t running the shop. Instead, crusty ol’ Lou Avery is calling the shots, and he’s everything that Don was not. He dresses like Mr. Rogers, chuckles at his own corny jokes, and brags about his “peachy” weekend chopping firewood. Most importantly, he is immune to Peggy’s charms. We know this because he tells pesky Peggy, who is sure she knows better than anyone, “I guess I’m immune to your charms.” Lou’s idea meetings are like root canal surgery, making his doctor-office jokes a little too close to the nerve.
Lou’s “hip” vibe can only be partially credited with the buzz-kill atmosphere permeating the Sterling Cooper & Partners offices. Pete and Ted are in Los Angeles, Bob Benson is in Detroit, and Don is still in Elba, leaving stressed-out, one-eyed Ken Cosgrove responsible for yelling at underlings. Amiable Ken Cosgrove. Published Atlantic Monthly author, Ken Cosgrove (a.k.a. Ben Hargrove, a.k.a. Dave Algonquin). Ken’s in Pete’s old office now, and it’s rubbed off on him. He’s worried about corporate hierarchy and the power of perception, dumping a meeting with the new head of marketing at Butler Shoes on Joan because he’s sure it’s beneath him.
Joan may have a seat at the SCP grown-ups table, but like Peggy, she’s still just a girly. Everywhere she turns, she’s hit over the head with the same chauvinistic attitude. Butler’s head of marketing (Cougar Town’s Dan Byrd) would rather tuck his kids into bed than spend another moment talking business with a woman, but at least he tells her that Butler is planning to pull the account from SCP and bring all marketing in-house. It’s all about the four Ps, or something. Joan is so accustomed to being either ignored or pawed-at that she misinterprets a college professor’s quid pro quo intentions when he agrees to give her a tutorial in Business Marketing 101 (though maybe he was being intentionally ambiguous with his friendly remarks). Regardless, Joan gets the inside-baseball knowledge she needs to put Butler’s bold plans on hold – for now.
There you are Don! Finally! He and Megan are still together – well, apart together. He’s cashing unwarranted SCP paychecks in New York while she’s in LA, reading for roles in NBC pilots. We catch up with him shaving in an airplane bathroom on his way west, then walking through the airport to Steve Winwood and the Spencer Davis Group singing “I’m a Man.” He’s a man, alright, but L.A. has always had a strange influence on Don, and in January 1969, it’s as disorienting as ever. Dreamy even. Don is dressed for business, standing out like a sore thumb as the man in the grey suit and hat. When he kisses Megan at the curb, she in a wispy baby-blue blouse, his first remark is, “I like the car,” referring to her tiny racing-green convertible. Absence makes the heart grow… something or other.
(For the record, the car’s license plate was JAS 830. Have at it, amateur numerologists.)