I can't say that this first episode of the third season of Mad Men wowed me, but I suppose it was inevitable, amidst all the hype, that the episode would disappoint at least one person in its audience. And indeed, it was something of a shaky start. Don's reminisicing - or, really, more accurately, reimagining, since he can't possibly remember - the circumstances of his own birth made for a rather confusing opener. Not only did there seem to be, literally, a dick joke in it (not a particularly clever one IMHO), it was an oddly sentimental moment for a character whose trademark is emotional opacity. Don has never been the kind of man who much interests himself with the inner lives of women, or more particularly someone attached to the notion of mothers and origin. He is, as the old saying goes, the epitome of a self-made man, constructed entirely of the things he thinks he wants to be, however disappointed he may be when he gets them.
These scenes seemed designed to tell us that Don is newly recommitted to his life at home with Betty and the kids (who are soon to number three). But we swiftly learn that he is still a womanizer. But there's something new about his taste. One of the things that has always rescued Don from the "complete tool on the subject of women" column has always been his interest in what used to be called "difficult" women - sexually-free, bohemian Midge; reluctant adulterer Rachel; ambitious Bobbie; mysterious Joy. Whatever might be said of Don's philandering, in short, at least the man had taste. But this time, Don is after an airline stewardess (played broadly by Sunny Mabrey with an irritating accent) for whom mystery and subtlety are foreign concepts. And, for the love of God, she's a blonde - very much what Betty might have been had her modelling career tapered off (the
stewardess coyly offers that she is asked all the time whether she, herself, is a model) and she had never gotten married.
We are meant to be comforted by Don's utter discretion as to Sal's sojourn with the bellhop, I think. The lead-up ("I just want you to be honest with me") was a trademarked moment of Mad Men dramatic tension. But unlike his "You will not believe how much this never happened," speech to Peggy last season, Don's silence as to what he saw Sal doing seems more of a piece with Don's insistence that work and play be kept separate - he is among the most private characters ever shown on television - than any genuine connection with Sal's suffering. It was an implied reassurance of silence rather than one spoken aloud, and though Sal took it at face value, I couldn't help but wonder if he would see it as enouragement, or whether he's about to go back into the closet hardcore.
And for a show that has made so much of its street cred on the depiction of female characters, they were deliberately relegated to the background in this episode. Like some other people, I suspect Joan's "I can't wait until I'm out of here" remark referred to a pregnancy - not least because the costume designed to be padding Christina Hendricks' oft-fetishized figure, particularly around the midsection. But we got only Peggy nagging on about her secretary for a brief scene before it was back to the men, and a bit of anachronism from Betty (I highly doubt a woman of her background and education would have had much of any kind of idea about lesbians in 1963, girls' college or no). More women, please.
And if anything, the men's petty jealousies around the office are far less interesting than the women's. God knows I loved Pete's little interpretive dance of weaseldom as much as anyone else - in my view, it was the clasped hands that sealed the genius of it - but I can't say I much look forward to repeated childish death stares at Ken Cosgrove in lingering shots. Pete had displayed some growth over the last two seasons, and one thought that Peggy's revelation of their child might have matured him even more, but he seems, in this episode at least, to have returned to his old caricature habits: pouting and overinvestment in office politics. Mad Men's genius is subtle characterization, and they need to pull in the reins on Pete before they let themselves get out of hand, it seems to me.
What did you think?