The last time we saw Don, Peggy & Co., things were a bit of a mess. Don Draper was being asked to take a mandatory leave of absence after telling a group of Hershey execs that they didn’t need an ad campaign and spilling details about his childhood as an orphan in a brothel. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was now officially Sterling Cooper & Partners.
Peggy Olson was heartbroken. Pete Campbell was jetting off to California. Joan Harris was slowly allowing Roger Sterling be in her son’s life. The only character truly happy with what quickly evolved in last season’s finale was Megan Draper, who was finally heading to L.A. to pursue her acting career.
We were left with bi-coastal chaos that made many viewers wonder if “Mad Men” could retain its signature New York style with the addition of some California cool. We were also left wondering what trouble Don was going to get into during this mandatory sabbatical and how part-time West Coast life would change him for the better or worse. Fast-forward to less than a year later and some of the answers are here, in a very psychedelic and telling first episode of Season 7 aptly titled “Time Zones.”
We open with a close up of Freddy Rumsen, the former senior copywriter at Sterling Cooper who was forced to take a leave of absence after drunkenly urinating in his pants and passing out at a meeting with Samsonite luggage in Season 2. He’s giving his best “House of Cards,” breaking-the-fourth-wall impersonation and looking us, the viewer, dead in the eye.
“Now we just hear the electron hum,” he says. Then he makes an ohm sound and, still maintaining close eye contact, ends, “Accutron. It’s not a time piece. It’s a conversation piece.”
But the person he was staring at during this nearly two-minute exchange is not the viewer, it’s Peggy. She’s sitting in her office at Sterling Cooper & Partners cross-legged in a plaid mustard two-piece suit and when the camera pans to her, she seems awed. How could Freddy, a man who got fired for basically being more of an alcoholic than Don (which is saying a lot), come up with this mastermind pitch? Well, we’ll get to that answer later.
“Accutron, it’s time for a conversation,” Peggy says, adding her typically more ingenious spin on things.
Then, in comes one of the very first African American characters on the show. It’s Peggy’s secretary Shirley and she informs her that’s it’s almost time for the status meeting with Lou Avery, a man marketed in last season’s finale as Don’s replacement. The meeting adjourns with Peggy getting in one last barb at Fred after he insists on another complimentary cup of coffee.“You really put the free in freelancer, don’t you?” she says.
Next thing we know, the camera pans to the carpet of a trashed apartment. Liquor bottles, empty glasses, chips and cigarettes are strewn about. A phone rings and an arm reaches for it. Soon we see that the arm belongs to a nearly naked woman and as the camera pans down low, we see her pass the phone to a naked, white-haired man.
Ah, yes. Roger. We have missed you so.
To be precise, Roger is totally nude with the exception of a telephone, which he, upon sitting up, quickly uses to cover his nether regions. His daughter Margaret is on the line and she asks her father to meet her for brunch sometime soon. During this exchange, Roger is messily getting a cigarette and a passed out man is splayed out on the bed behind him. Roger hangs up and that’s when we see that there are five passed out half-naked bodies surrounding him. “I feel like we really got somewhere last night,” says the one girl who is conscious.
Yes. Yes, you apparently did.
Having a very different morning: Peggy is gathered with her motley crew of thinkers, which includes wooly man Stan and Michael Ginsberg, who we learned last season was born in a concentration camp. They’re escorted into the office of Lou, who makes a terrible racist joke towards Dawn, “Mad Men’s” first African American character introduced in Season 3, when she comes in with Peggy and the gang. “Who do we have here? Gladys Knight and the Pips?” he says. The room exchanges eyes.
Before we get too uncomfortable, we switch locations to a staircase in SC&P, which Joan is ascending. She’s about to enter one-eyed Ken Cosgrove’s office and we hear him screaming at a group of employees before she’s escorted in and his secretary, Clara, is told to retrieve a buttered roll.
Joan thinks she’s there for something regarding the Avon account, which she famously snagged under the table last season, giving her some more clout in the company. (She also almost got fired for it.) Ken starts off by telling her how busy he is, how many accounts he has, to which she responds, “Is this Avon related or did you just need someone to hand you a tissue.” Check and mate, Joanie.
Also in this exchange is the first mention of Pete’s new base in L.A. and Bob’s in Detroit. To recall Season 6, Pete is the awful one that is slowly getting less awful and Bob is the “Talented Mr. Ripley”-like maybe con.
This exchange with Joan is just a whole lot of ego-stroking for Ken and Joan is historically great at this. Ken goes on and on about Butler Footwear and how meeting with their new head of marketing would be like a demotion, because he is so busy and important. “You’re head of accounts! He’ll think he’s important,” Joan says. Ken denies this and says that then Charles Butler Jr., the assumed head of Butler Footwear, would think of him only as important as his new head of marketing. Ken wants what he calls “underlings” to make him look more important. Joan does not look impressed.
She recommends Roger or Jim Cutler to go in to meet this new Butler marketing guy and Ken shoots her down saying, emphatically, “That’s two dumb ideas. You’re not listening to me. This is a hierarchy, don’t you understand that?” But then Ken hands her a manila folder full of papers and tells her to tell the Butler people that he was busy having dinner with someone more important. Joan has been chosen by Ken to talk to Butler Footwear’s marketing man and reel him into doing business Sterling Cooper & Partners. “Make him go away,” Ken says. And then the buzzer rings.
Bob Benson’s on the line and before we can hear what he has to say, we’re back in Lou’s office with the creative team. Benson’s Chevy/Detroit account is in question, but then Peggy brings up Accutron. Unable to remember the angle he agreed to, Lou calls on Dawn to look through her notes. “Just in time to be on time,” Dawn recalls. “That wasn’t one of the choices. I think that was a digression,” Peggy argues. Lou then brings up the slogan “Accutron is accurate,” to which Peggy pitches: “It’s time for a conversation.” “I think that one’s more finished,” she adds. “And I think you’re putting me in a position of saying I don’t care what you think,” Lou says.
Peggy’s not going to let this go. Lou is the type of boss who doesn’t know what he wants. He insists that Peggy only gave him one idea. Last time, she apparently gave him 30 ideas and he told her to bring him two. Now that she’s giving him two, he wants more. “It’s the way we do it,” Lou says. Peggy purses her lips.
WE’RE IN AN AIRPLANE BATHROOM and Don Draper is shaving before he lands at Los Angeles. We get a few moments to linger on him as he stands on a moving walkway to exit LAX. A familiar bass beat thumps and it comes from the 1967 hit “I’m a Man” by Spencer Davis Group. The mood is strikingly different than New York. Everything is overtly beautiful. Everyone else is in reds and yellows and greens but Don remains oatmeal.
He’s waiting at the curb and then we see Megan getting out of an impossibly small green convertible in an impossibly small and baby blue mini dress very, very slowly. She takes off her sunglasses and greets Don with a kiss.
“I like your car,” he says. “Your flight was late,” she says. Great conversation so far. She’s immediately apologizing for making him go to dinner before even going home, but Megan promises the rest of the weekend with the two of them alone and Don seems fine.
Then it’s back to the Manhattan office and back to being not as beautiful in mustard plaid and oatmeal suits. Peggy’s setting up with the creative team when she sees Ted. He’s back in New York for just a few days to handle account business.
While New York is still hard at work, Megan and Don are going to dinner. They’re at a trendy restaurant to meet with Megan’s flamboyant agent Alan Silver who’s talking on a line phone at the table when they arrive. If there were ever an antithesis to Don, this guy would be it. Silver starts to gush about Megan and her blooming career as a television actress and Don is sitting there stiff and uncomfortable. Silver is wearing an orange floral tie, a pinkie ring and ginormous cufflinks while Don is wearing that oatmeal suit and a brown striped tie. He has no idea what he is doing there.
The table orders a bottle of French champagne to celebrate a huge television audition for Megan. She says that it feels like she “just ate a bag of butterflies.” “You’re my favorite couple,” Silver says while taking a drag. Don has no idea what he is doing there.
Next, we’re with Joan at a classy New York bar. She’s waiting for the new Butler Footwear guy, Wayne Barnes, and he walks right by her, a nice reminder that it is still the 1960s. Wayne suggests they wait for Ken, but no; Wayne will just get the pleasure of talking to Joan this evening. Wayne orders a Coke. Joan gets right to lying for Ken and Wayne gets right to patronizing Joan. Things are going great. “They pay me to think about the Four P’s: price, product, place and promotion,” Wayne says in regards to his new position. Joan questions if they’d like to have a meeting with one of their account executives, which Wayne explains that they’d like to move all of their advertising “in-house.” In other words, Butler wants really nothing to do with Sterling Cooper & Partners. So, Joan reaches to have a more serious conversation involving Ken sometime very soon and Wayne agrees to wait a few days before making his own recommendation. She asks for a splash of whiskey in her Coke once he leaves.
Across the country, Megan and Don are stumbling into their rustic home in the hills. Coyotes howl in the distance. Don compares the home to Dracula’s castle. Megan is still stumbling around and asks to be put to bed instead of having to spend a more intimate night with Don. Seconds before she talked about her wishes for “my next house” instead of “our next house.” She asks him to not throw any cigarettes off the balcony and falls asleep, while Don falls asleep on the couch watching television.
The next morning, Megan is on her way to work and makes a point to tell Don not to rip the ads out of her magazines while she’s at work. This reminds us that oh yes, Don is technically not employed right now and oh yes, what is actually going on with that?
We don’t find that out just yet because we’re then taken back to Manhattan where Peggy is just getting to the office. She runs into Ted in the coffee lounge. Stan walks in and remarks on how not tan Ted is after being in L.A., to which Peggy says, “Well, you’re in an office there you’re in an office here, what’s the difference?” He leaves and Stan tells Peggy to “buck up.” “I’m fine,” she insists. “It’s fine.” It is most definitely not fine.
UGH, Pete. We’re back in L.A. and Pete Campbell is entering a diner wearing a light blue polo with a cream sweater wrapped around his shoulders and plaid pants. Don’s already sitting at a booth waiting for him. Pete’s remarkably cheery and Don admits that he’s been “keeping busy.” Pete brags about signing deals in his first week out there and asks if Roger made an announcement. “I wouldn’t know,” Don says and Pete’s mood changes. “You know if it was up to me you’d be back there already,” Pete says. Don changes the subject and asks about Ted and we find out that Don apparently timed it so he was in L.A. when Ted was not.
As if to visually prove to us how different NYC and L.A. are, we’re back to the bleak city again and Joan is enlisting the help of a college professor to teach her more about marketing and what she can do to reel Butler Footwear back to Sterling Cooper. She wants to get a breakdown of benefits in writing from this professor and after an embarrassing exchange where Joan thought this man wanted sex in exchange for a report, he asks her for her own breakdown of SC&P’s clients working on fees vs. working on commission.
Megan is cooking dinner. Then, the doorbell rings and two deliverymen enter with a huge television console. Megan is noticeably upset, begging Don to get rid of it. “You’re not here long enough for a fight,” she says.
A knock at the door and we’re at Peggy’s apartment. The neighbor boy, Julio, is yelling at Peggy to fix the toilet. She gives him a plunger and shuts the door.
Don and Megan are drifting off to sleep in front of the television. Don jolts awake and takes Megan to the bedroom where they officiate his trip to L.A. Megan is “nervous about everything,” even sleeping with Don. When they wake up, it’s already the day Don has to leave and go back to New York.
It’s brunch day for Roger and now he is fully clothed. After being summoned by Margaret, he’s expecting an announcement but all she has to say is “I forgive you.” Roger is clueless as to why this is happening and so are we. According to her, she has been “searching” and “anger can be vanquished by love.” Looks like Roger and his daughter are on the same page as far as love goes, and maybe also drugs.
Now Don is sitting on his red eye flight back to New York and Lee Cabot (played by Neve Campbell) places herself right next to him. “I’m always hoping that I’m seated next to someone like you, instead of a man with a hairpiece eating a banana,” Don says.
Cut back to Roger and he’s back in his trashed apartment, getting into bed with a guy (who is asleep) and a girl. “If you were with someone, I don’t care. You know anyone’s welcome in this bed,” the girl says. Roger’s group love plotline thickens.
Back on the plane, Lee Cabot is being very charming. “This is nice, I usually sleep alone,” she says. After Don notices her wedding ring, she explains that he passed away a year ago. Lee was in California to scatter his ashes at Pebble Beach but failed and ended up scattering them at Disney Land — Tom Sawyer Island to be more specific. “He died of thirst,” she says. Don reaches in to kiss her but she pulls away.
She wakes up on his shoulder. “If I was your wife I wouldn’t like this,” she says. Don admits that Megan knows he’s a terrible husband. When Lee asks how long they’ve been married, Don replies: “Not long enough.” “I really thought I could do it this time,” Don admits. “She doesn’t know that much but she knows.”
“Well if she doesn’t know then you should just keep it that way. That’s what people do,” Lee says. And then the line that ends it all: “I bet I could make you feel better.” She says she has a car waiting but Don refuses, insisting that he has to get back to work.
At SC&P, Peggy is attempting to get on Lou’s good side by pitching Freddy’s slogan, “It’s not a timepiece, it’s a conversation piece” for Accutron. “Forget it,” he says. But Peggy’s insistent. She’s just trying to give him her best work, like always. “I don’t know, Peggy. I guess I’m immune to your charms,” he says and closes the door to his office.
As for the Butler crisis, Joan learns through Ken’s secretary Clara that “Mr. Butler” is coming in for a meeting in a few days. Joan charges into Ken’s office and asks for Clara to get Wayne Barnes on the line. After she makes herself a drink, Joan’s call with Wayne consists of her telling him all the things Sterling Cooper & Partners gets them (newspaper ads, magazine ads, TV time) that wouldn’t be possible with in-house. “If you make a bold move now, that decline will be your responsibility. What are you going to do then?” she asks. Wayne then asks her for her own advice, which includes cancelling the meeting with Mr. Butler, and agrees to wait for a plan from SC&P.
In the most pivotal scene in the season premiere, we finally get a definite time and historical perspective for at least the beginning of the seventh season. Don is back in New York and watching Richard Nixon’s first inauguration speech. It is January 20, 1969. There’s a knock at the door and in walks Freddy with a bag of sausages. When Don insists on giving Freddy some money, he insists that he should be paying Don. “Peggy went bananas for your Accutron work,” Freddy says. “Also I swung by J. Walter Thompson thinking there was an emergency with our copy for 7-Up, turns out they’re looking for help on Oscar Meyer. You’re making quite a name for me out there.” So that’s what’s going on. The work that Don is up to is creating genius campaigns and sending Freddy out to pitch them. Don is behind the scenes, pulling Freddy’s strings. Also noted, Don is apparently still being paid by SC&P during his sabbatical but that could all change in two months.
To wrap up this first episode, Peggy’s back at her apartment where the man that fixed her toilet is sleeping on her couch. She insists that he stay and rest but when he refuses, we see Peggy’s face drop. She locks the door behind him and falls onto the floor in tears. At Don’s apartment, he wakes up on the couch yet again and with his sliding door to the balcony unable to close, he goes outside in the bitter cold. A 1967 “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” cover by Vanilla Fudge plays as Don sits on the bench of his balcony sad and shivering.
Hopes for next episode: We’re still in the dark on what’s happening with Betty and Henry Francis, and most importantly Sally. Also, hopefully we’re not as bombarded with coastal change for Don and see him in New York for the entirety of the next episode because sad Don is always more interesting than happy Don, and so we can see how this Freddy situation really works.