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'Mad Men': Season premiere excels with studies of each character

'Mad Men' returns after a long hiatus with uncertain futures for everyone at the fictional ad agency.

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It’s in that progression that the sense of being unfulfilled is most pervasive in the episode, but it is also acutely felt during Don’s unwanted birthday celebration. At this point we’re still mostly unsure what to think of Megan’s role in Don’s life. She’s working with him now – something she had mentioned a desire to do during season 4 – and there is a general unease around her in the office, but she is treated with a certain measured respect (to her face, anyway) that seems born of Don’s influence more than it is any knack she has for the work.

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The party offers up the first sign that despite the blissful nature of the newlyweds, there is a disparity between the two that no amount of truthfulness on Don’s part will be able to overcome. During the party, Megan puts on a performance that is more to show everyone what Don gets that they don’t, but it also puts Don in the passenger seat, with all eyes on him – something he later confesses displeases him very much.

More troublesome still, we catch a glimpse that time has begun to pass Don Draper by. Megan is entertaining a group of friends that Don doesn’t know, and doesn’t want to know. They are the sign of a changing generation, one that he’ll still be responsible to market products to, but they seem almost alien to him. For once, the world is moving forward and Don doesn’t seem to be on the verge of it.

That problem is seen again in large part because SCDP (mostly Don and Roger) take out an ad that’s intended to be poke fun at a racially charged incident involving a group of African-American protesters and some water bombs dropped by ad execs at Y&R. The joke is only funny to Don and Roger, and manages to stir up some panic in Joan that she’s being replaced, but more importantly, those protesting at Y&R see it as an invitation to apply for a job. Naturally, no one in the company has given much thought to the idea of civil rights – as evidenced by the ad having been run in the first place. And so, with that, the men of SCDP are forced to accept the changing era through the blunder of a misguided overindulgence. Whether they are aware of it or not, has yet to be seen, but the incident makes it clear where this season is headed.

As Don Draper finds himself on the wrong side of 40, seemingly content with his new wife and the children he had from his previous marriage, he is forced, or will be forced to confront the idea that, eventually, even his time will be over. And someday, a young ad exec will be clamoring for his office – much like Pete Campbell did while making a sensible plea for the office currently occupied by the aging, and increasingly ineffective Roger Sterling.

And this is when Mad Men truly excels, when it is about the observation of character. However much it may seem, Mad Men is not about history; it simply takes place in our history. Mad Men can do what it wants because it is not tied to the beginning or end of anything larger than the lives and experiences of its characters. Lives that, it quickly becomes clear, have already done most of their living.

Kevin Yeoman blogs at Screen Rant.

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