Where Are Joan, Peggy, Megan, and Don in 1969?

MAD MEN REVIEW: Season 7 Episode 1 — Could Sterling, Cooper, and Partners be an even worse environment for – and especially the women – as we enter Season 7, 1969? Each of the main characters seems poised for the struggle of their lives – as Mad Men’s psychologically-minded creator Matthew Weiner hints: “This season is about consequences…We don’t just throw stuff away after it has happened. There are shadows over this season that go back to the first time we met Don.” The premiere, “Time Zones,” let’s begin to check in with Joan (Christina Hendricks), Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), Don (Jon Hamm), and Megan (Jessica Paré)to see what’s transpired since we left them in 1968.

At the end of Season 6, the two creative powerhouses of Sterling, Cooper and Partners found themselves suspended in relational cliffhangers with the main women in their lives: Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) fled for Los Angeles to escape his growing love for Peggy and to ostensibly save his marriage; Don was being ostracized from not only his career, but from his wife and daughter as well. At the very least, Don and Ted had an unusual sensitivity for recognizing women with talent – at least for men of that era. Especially when we compare them to Don and Ted’s replacement, Lou Avery, who is racist, condescending, and off to a terrible start, undercutting Peggy’s ideas and demeaning her with comments like: “I guess I’m just immune to your charms.” In her 2012 piece on the series,Newsweek contributing editor and television pundit Eleanor Clift perfectly captures Peggy and Joan’s plight: “the early 60’s – before civil rights, feminism, and antiwar protests were ‘the good old days … only if you happen to have been born white and male and heterosexual.’” Yet, we’re not in the early 60’s anymore as Season 7 begins.

An always sexy, Marilyn Monroe-esque Joan makes a dramatic entrance as she heads towards Ken’s office. Is she going to use her sexuality again?  No.  She’s a smooth and pretty confident account executive now with a better ability to handle the stress at Sterling, Cooper, and Partners better than any one else, it seems.  Of course, it ruffles her a bit to have men try to write off her abilities in preference of dealing with a man—and think they can put her in her supposed place as a woman. But, Joan perseveres.  As a working woman in a man’s world, she’s determined to prove herself.  Let’s take her meeting with Mr. Wayne Barnes, the new hotshot young executive for Butler footwear – with a business degree and big ideas for keeping advertising “in house.” He jests that she probably couldn’t keep men off the barstool she was reserving for him before declaring that he wants to deal only with Ken, unwilling to entertain that she’s a woman with a mind and skills. Determined not to be dismissed, Joan sets out to show him up by consulting with a business professor to develop an airtight scientific argument against the benefits of “in house” advertising. By the end of it, she has Mr. Barnes groveling for her help. Yet, he still can’t bring himself to give a woman the upper hand and makes it clear that he’s still expecting to meet with Ken. Yes, Joan acquiesces: “I’ll follow up on that.” But, even though he retorts: “You better” – Joan has won this battle pretty much unscathed.

Peggy is suffering, though. Her life seems to be going down hill. The beginning of “Time Zones” shows her arguing with an insolent little boy whose mother doesn’t speak English.  Her tenant?  It looks that way.  We get our first glimpse of a frustrated and angry Peggy. No one listens to her. The place she’s living in (and seems to own) looks like a tenement building, run down, and darkly depressing. This is the state of her life. She isn’t happy at work, her creativity is being stifled, and it’s even worse when Ted unexpectedly shows up. Underneath her tense anger at his intrusion, we witness the old hurt on her face, and she shuts him out. Worse, though, is Lou Avery, who doesn’t have any interest in Peggy’s ideas at all. She has to grovel, apologize repeatedly for her assertive attitude, and tries much too hard and desperately to get him to like her. She has no one’s support anywhere, at work or at home. Even Stan, her best office friend, seems to have abandoned her.  At the end of Episode 1, her isolation is too much. We see her, uncharacteristically, break down on the floor, sobbing her heart out. Peggy is desperately lonely and beginning to be aware of just how much she needs to be happy. As hard as she fought in previous seasons, Peggy wasn’t entirely without recognition. Now she is. Peggy feels defeated, like many people in similar situations. But she needs to remember, as life can teach us, that unexpected opportunities or love are really not impossible.

On the other hand, should we be encouraged that, after the end of Season 6, Don and Megan are still trying to work things out? Megan enters Season 7 dramatically as Don lands at LAX.  His first slow-motion glimpses of her in a sexy mini skirt hints that this is a very different Megan.  This Megan makes it very clear she’ll be the one driving her MG—and the relationship. She proves to be, at least in the beginning of this first episode, a very controlling Megan. She’s bossy: “Don’t flick any cigarettes off the balcony. Don’t rip ads out of my magazines. Don’t work all day.” She gets angry when he brings a large TV console into her canyon house without asking. But, what is this control all about? She’s reticent to make love. Megan is keeping her distance. She’s understandably scared to open up again. Like many facing the uncertainty of a troubled relationship, and faced with the possibility of being hurt again, control is one major avenue to self-protection.

Don’s trying, but has he changed? He hasn’t accepted that his job is in real jeopardy.  If we didn’t know better, we’d think he was still working – and that seems to be what he has to believe. Does Megan even know he’s been forced to take a leave?  Is he lying still? He’s patient, if not a bit overly solicitous with her. She’s still his wife, he’s very clear about that – but what can he make of this marriage? His old self-protections are looming, ready to take over. Their visit is short. Does Don pretend he must return to work because he’s afraid? Is it any surprise, then, (if not a disappointment) that he flirts with disaster on the airplane? He admits about his marriage: “I thought I could do it this time. I wonder if I broke the vessel?” Yet, to his credit, he doesn’t give in to temptation. And, the woman gives him a small lesson (if he can hear it) in the dangers of alcoholism. Her husband died of it. If Don can resist escaping into affairs (and we aren’t sure yet), can he give up his drinking? Not in this episode. With a beer, out in the cold on his balcony, he lies back, bereft, defeated, terribly lonely (not unlike Peggy), and not really able to face his problems quite yet. As the first episode of Season 7 ends, we hear The Supreme’s song: You Keep Me Hanging On: “Why don’t you get out of my life, you’ll only break my heart again.”  This is Don’s story and his deepest fear. Will he finally be able to open up honestly and give love a real chance?

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