We’ve all, presumably, seen the fifth season opening of "Mad Men," which I suppose means none of us is beholden to a gag order any longer.
So let's get straight to it! Ten "Mad Men" moments and why they were significant. In no order:
1. Water bagging. Nothing happens in "Mad Men" that doesn't somehow inform a later plot element or cue viewers into a broader meaning of either an episode or entire season, and this opening moment -- three frat boy admen tossing water bags down below on the protesting crowd. Water? An ironic reference to Bull Connor's water cannons from the the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's Birmingham Campaign of 1963. We are now squarely in 1966, and race for "Mad Men" is about to become a central, and possibly series defining, element.
2. Pete and "the office." "Mad Men" is all about that confined space where we spend our days and sometimes nights in -- our home away from home. For "Men," the office is a metaphor for the very heads of its characters -- how they are so deeply defined by the "office," and how the "office" is even a substitute for their very identity. For example, Pete, in that one scene, during which he, crams everyone on the couch in his tiny office to establish how his identity has been compromised. The "office" isn’t just about showing off to clients -- it's also about showing off to himself (note the closing scene last night with that pleased-as-punch-with-himself faraway look in his eyes. The world is on fire, but as far as Pete's concerned, all's right with the world because he has his room with a view.)
3. Don and Megan wander in late. A moment that clarifies exactly how everyone else feels about this happy newlywed couple -- an eye rolling "how long is this one gonna last" dismissal of the lovebirds.
4. Don's birthday is actually six months earlier. As Megan informs him whilst lying in bed. She, in other words, knows his secret and even his alter ego name, Dick Whitman.
5. Roger and the office. Back to the office! Roger effectively buys a new office for Pete, and not because he thinks Pete deserves a new office, but because he recognizes that Pete is the only one bringing in new business, and the role that Roger once played -- as that sort of lubricated adman lunch specialist who gets the client good and sloshed in the middle of the day -- has receded in importance in the scheme of things. The New World has been ceded to the Petes. Roger knows this, and is deeply insecure about this, and also knows that if Pete goes, then so goes CSDP's ability to attract new business.
6. Sally's hall wandering. Little Sally, not so little any more, awakens in a strange place, and wanders down a dark hallway, in a David Lynchian scene that is almost like the opener of "Blue Velvet." Something foul, something sinister is munching away beneath the turf, so to speak, and as she opens the door, there's dad. Uh oh. This is what you call foreshadowing, and what is being foreshadowed is not good.
7. “Zou Bisou Bisou.” The set-piece of the entire episode -- a wonderful exotic oddity that is at once weird, interesting, fun, funny, campy and completely unexpected. Megan is the exact opposite of Betty. She's brunette. (Betty's blonde.) She's French Canadian; Betty's from the South. She speaks French; Betty barely speaks English. She's passionate. Betty is not. She's arty; Betty is, well, you know. And so on.
Don picked someone -- or someone picked Don -- who is profoundly different from either Anna (surrogate mom) or Betty (trophy wife). He's happy with this, or as happy as Don gets. But again, the foreshadowing is thick -- is Don Draper, the great narcissist, comfortable with the spotlight on someone else?
8. The dumb ad. Yeah, that stupid venal ad that Roger put in the Times, dissing Y&R. It was a foolish impulsive act -- Roger in all his glory -- that had a number of unintended consequences, most notably bringing Joan directly back into his orbit and tying in that theme that could, again, define an entire series -- race and racism.
9. Joan and mom. Mothers and daughters are a big theme in "MM" -- recall Peggy's fraught relationship with her own, and Don's own mother, a prostitute, and Betty's mother, and Henry Francis's mother and on and on and on. They're used in a sense to establish generational differences in this series and the changing nature of women in society. But they invariably are cold, and borderline cruel.
You can go all Freudian and wonder about Matthew Weiner's own maternal relationships, but the point is that mothers are a core part of this series' theme. Joan is now a mother but a reluctant mother, much as Peggy was a reluctant mother. In both instances, both women were impregnated -- weird word but the only one that immediately comes to mind -- by co-workers.
There's that bond to the "office" again. But as a mother, Joan has but one goal -- to return to the office, which defines her entirely, and shed the baby in the process. Which of course she does. Plus, in the world of “Mad Men,” the sins of the parents are passed along to their children. To put it another way, one generation hands its baggage off to the next. “Whither thou goest,” said mom to Joan. “Yeah, and how did that work out for you?” And of course, Joan has a new generation in her arms -- and the father is Roger, whose cigarette dangles precariously above the swaddling. The sins of the parents...
10. Lane and the girl in the wallet. What was that about!? (A million viewers were wondering last night.) This creepy moment, where Lane Pryce squirrels away a photo of a strange woman before handing the wallet to the rightful owner. Forgotten by viewers perhaps may be Lane's past -- he is all repression, who unleashed his repression last season, and dated a Playboy bunny -- an African-American Playboy bunny- -- and then was caned by his father.
Yes, Lane -- an adult man caned by his own father. Lane has illicit desires, and "Mad Men" -- along with the business trade of advertising that it explores -- is all about the desire that if you get what you want then maybe you'll be happy except (of course) you won't be happy. And so we leave off with Lane -- a portrait of thwarted desire, just like everyone else in the offices of CSDP.