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Posted at 03:22 PM ET, 04/02/2012

‘Mad Men’: Bracing for a new ‘normal’

“When is everything going to get back to normal?” That’s Roger Sterling complaining after he’s been disrespected in front of the whole of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce by his nemesis Pete Campbell.

He’s grousing about the gamesmanship in re-acquiring an airline account, but it’s a stand-in for his general attitude about the 1060s.
Megan Draper (Jessica Pare) and Don Draper (Jon Hamm) in “Mad Men.” (Michael Yarish)

Roger may not know it, but his normal is not coming back. Like many of the over-30 crowd, the World War II veteran is feeling left out, having to prove himself in a new time when schmoozing and boozing with the guys isn’t enough to earn his keep in the advertising business. He’s still carrying the drink but he’s letting his fear show, complaining about “hanging onto the ledge” while some kid’s foot is on his fingertips.

Pete isn’t the only one in Roger’s sights. Don Draper’s hired-under-pressure black secretary is doing just fine (she was the “most qualified,” Don says). But Roger can’t resist making racist jokes, calling her “it’s always darkest before the Dawn,” an unfunny play on her name, so far the only thing we know about her. Let’s hope she is more than window dressing, with a character as developed as the firm’s other new hire, copywriter Michael Ginsberg. While Peggy is slightly exasperated about her potential rival/colleague/friend, Sterling’s feeling pretty proud of himself for toning down his anti-Semitism. He’s told Peggy she can’t front the airline account because she doesn’t have a penis.

As the actor tasked with bringing to life a character that’s holding on as life and times pass him by, John Slattery has a tough job. He’s got to mouth the most retrograde racist, sexist and downright mean dialogue; it may fit the “Mad Men” milieu but it’s a definite shock to modern ears. He’s already left his wife for a younger woman. Now he’s a mouthpiece for the bad old days. When a worried Don confides that his ex-wife Betty is sick and may not make it, Roger tells him, “That would solve everything.”

Yes, as the only character who consistently says what he’s thinking, Roger would go there, but it’s a jarring moment. Maybe he needs Joan back in the office to help him retain some semblance of humanity.

At least Betty is going to make it – the tumor is benign – and her second husband has more of her to love this season. The chic suburban housewife has gained a few pounds, something her meddling mother-in-law says a few diet pills will fix. So far, Betty’s shunning public parties and seeking solace in daughter Sally’s ice-cream sundae while mom-in-law tempts with the magic words, “Don’t you want to get back into that incredible closet of yours.” When she feared the worst, it was Don she turned to, something his new young wife didn’t much like. In contrast to Betty, young Megan is fitting into her multicolored, mini-frocks quite easily.

Speaking of the possibility of a pharmaceutical cure, a “Mother’s Little Helper,” the Rolling Stones made a non-appearance when Don and Harry tried to rope them into a Heinz ad. Backstage in a business suit, Don was more father-figure than the come-on artist of seasons past, a sign of growth or maybe resignation.

This week’s show was a bit crowded, as it threw in pot-smoking, “Bewitched” and “Sound of Music” references and a sack of White Castle hamburgers for good measure. Slow down, for goodness’ sake. I wouldn’t want “Mad Men” to burn out as fast as the decade.

There was even a don’t-blink-or-you-missed it moment for political junkies, a throwaway Romney insult, directed at George, Mitt’s dad. Betty’s husband, Henry Francis, a staffer for then-New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, says his honor won’t go to Michigan for an appearance with the governor, “because Romney’s a clown and I don’t want him standing next to him.”

The slight must not have hurt. George Romney handily won re-election as Michigan governor in 1966, this season’s “Mad Men” year.

Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., is a contributor to The Root, Fox News Charlotte, NPR, Creative Loafing and Nieman Watchdog blog. She has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3

By  |  03:22 PM ET, 04/02/2012

Tags:  mad men, sexism, racism, advertising, Rolling Stones, television

 
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