Great series need great openers, and 10 years ago (July 19, 2007) we got one. This opener had everything — performances, writing, set design, music, artistry — but what it really had was the future. No one could possibly have known this show would go on to change TV history and the culture.
But it did, and — thanks to hindsight and the magic of Netflix (where all seven seasons now stream) — we can tell you how “Mad Men” foretold its own future from the opening credits. Here are five ways “Men’s” opener, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” anticipated the rest of the series. The focus here is on Don Draper (Jon Hamm) because “Men” was ultimately a tour of his blighted soul.
THE OPENING TITLE SEQUENCE The elegant beauty crafted by directors Mark Gardner and Steve Fuller of a falling man tumbling past a glass skyscraper facade had it all — most notably Don’s metaphoric fall, leaving only the final second of this fall to the imagination. (Will Don reach the pavement or . . . ?)
DON AND INSPIRATION In the opening seconds, Don forcibly gets a revelation — that advertising isn’t about logic, but happiness. He’d return to this time and again, notably (and famously) with the Kodak Carousel pitch, and again, in the series’ final seconds, with his cliffside inspiration, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke . . . and keep it company . . . ”
DON AND THE ART OF NOTHING “I got nothing,” Don tells his lover, Midge Daniels (Rosemarie DeWitt), of the impending meeting with Lucky Strike. Don and nothingness — including the nihilism of his own existence — were in a constant dance. To be or not to be? Don always decided that “to be” was a lot more fun than the alternative, while he would always find a way to pull a rabbit out of the figurative void anyway (and did in the finale).
DON AND THE TRICK OF GETTING PEOPLE (INCLUDING US) TO LIKE HIM “I’ll bet the world to you looks like one big brassiere, ready to be snapped,” Don tells Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), who was a boorish slob in the opener. This little speech to Pete economically accomplishes two things: It elevates Don in our eyes, which makes his fall all the more dramatic when we realize he’s the “brassiere snapper.”
DON AND THE RULES OF LIFE “You’re born alone and die alone and the world makes up a bunch of dumb rules to make you forget those facts,” Don tells department-store heiress Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff) over drinks. Then something remarkable happens: She tells him who he is: “I do know what it’s like to be out of place, to be disconnected, to see the world laid out in front of you the way other people live it. There’s something about you that tells me you know it, too.”
This speech foreshadows Leonard’s in the finale. You remember weeping Leonard, right? At the Esalen-like group therapy session, Leonard (Evan Arnold) says life is like “someone has closed the [refrigerator] door and the light goes off, and I know everyone is out there . . . and then they open the door and you see them smiling . . . then the door closes again, the light goes off.” Don then hugs weepy Leonard, knowing he just heard his own life story.
If he had hugged Rachel 92 episodes earlier, we might not have had a series.