Mad Men season 5 premiere

Mar 26, 2012

Mad Men cast
"Mad Men" returned to television on Sunday night with a two-hour season premiere. Celebritology blogger Jen Chaney hosted the live chat at 11 a.m. ET Monday. Read her episode recap here:

Mad Men season premiere: We need to talk about Joan

- The art and innovation of the real 'Mad Men'
- Hank Stuever: Season 5 gets off to a strong start
- Photos: Catching up with Mad Men's characters

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I am here to call to order this "Mad Men" discussion, which is already generating some really smart questions.

I will do my best to answer as many as I possibly can. The Heinz bean ballet begins now...

"Clients are right all of the sudden? I don't recognize that man. He's kind and patient!"

One of the great lines from last night's show, courtesy of Peggy Olson.

I don't think he's entirely kind and patient, though. We'll talk about this further in a bit, but I thought the way he responded to Megan after the surprise party was neither kind nor patient. I get that he didn't want the party but he was not remotely grateful.

He may be a bit gentler with clients but, based on the preview for next week's episode, I am not sure that will last long.

I thought Joan terminated her pregnancy. Was that just what the viewers were led to believe or did I miss the reveal that she changed her mind? Or did she immediately get pregnant again after the abortion? Is there any doubt who's the dad? Her husband obviously believes it is his.

[Related, from another reader: Does Roger have any idea it's his son?]

Joan had planned to terminate the pregnancy, but changed her mind when she was sitting in the doctor's office. She kept the baby but gave Roger the impression she had gone through with the abortion and have her husband the impression the child was his.

It seems like Roger would easily figure out that it's his baby, but I don't think he's put two-and-two together yet. This all happened in season four, which ended more than a year ago, or a decade ago in digital-era pop culture time. So if I am misremembering any of this, readers, please correct me.

Is it june 1965 or June 1966? If the latter, I want karma points for being born in a year with such horrible neckties!

It is June of 1966. The karma points are yours'!

While the mystery of how Dick Whitman became Don Draper usually gets a lot of attention each season, but the other big secret from Season One rarely gets more then one brief mention a season. Just thought the moment where Peggy is standing there with a baby boy next to Pete, the man who fathered her child, deserves something beyond neither of them really caring. My mother gave up a baby for adoption before she married my father and had me so guess I'm biased to that storyline.

I think that subject was revisited in seasons two and three, when Peggy told Pete she had given up the baby and we could see her dealing with the guilt, relief, etc. that the decision caused for her.

I wonder if that storyline will creep back in in a more prominent matter. As far as the moment last night with Peggy and Pete, my sense was not that they didn't care. It was more that it was akward and they were both treating Joan's son like a hot potato because he reminded them too much of their own situation. I thought they played that right, actually.

I was fascinated by the fact that Don told Megan the truth about his past - will be interesting to see if that means he's trying to be more open and honest in general. But hands down, my favorite part was Lane's impression of Megan's performance!

Yes, that is a notable detail. There seems to be some effort on Don's part not to repeat some of the mistakes he made with Betty. And with his wife both at work and at home, he can't exactly escape her so he may as well be forthcoming.

I also loved the scene with Lane and Joan, as you said. I really like the relationship between them and, as I said in my recap, really hope he doesn't screw it up by making a pass at her at some point.

So at least one prominent viewer felt the season premiere was 'boring.' Agree or disagree? 

I respectfully disagree. I watched it in its semi-entirety three times, and I saw new things in it each time. This is one of the things I respect so much about "Mad Men" -- there is so much meaning in every line of dialogue, as well as the things that aren't said. You really do need to watch a couple of times to grasp it all.

I also don't agree that the show needs to move from being campy to tackling serious issues. I think it's successfully walked the line between retro-humor (or just regular humor) and dealing with serious matters pretty much since it started.

The sense I got from the premiere was that change is about to come, both culturally but also for our characters. This episode felt like a calm before another storm to me. The opening sequence in particular -- with the Y&R goofballs getting caught in the middle of an unfunny prank -- implied that most of all: The party's over, kids.

I kind of prefer Pete's original secretary Hildy to this new one Clara.

Well, as Lane clearly explained, Clara could not operate a parking meter, even with Scarlet's help.

Only one complaint about the casting of Joan's mom. Figured Joan was born with these hips and bossum and that actress, who was good, just didn't have. Guess Joan's dad's family must have been the source.

Look, it's hard to find someone exactly as curvaceous as Christina Hendricks. And the genes that gave her that figure could have come from anywhere in the family tree, as you suggested.

Their facial features were similar enough. And I thought they played off each very well, so casting Marcy from "American Horror Story" -- real name: Christine Estabrook -- was a good move.

Wait-- Pete knew Peggy had his baby? I thought he always remained in the dark about that one . . . I thought Don (and her family who thought it was Don's) were the only ones who knew she had a baby

No, if memory serves, there was a scene in season two (or maybe three) where she finally tells him she gave up their baby. It was around the time when Pete and Trudy were having problems conceiving, so the news was especially upsetting to Pete.

It struck me that the birthday party and Megan's friends were reminiscent of another party in Season One hosted by one of Don's affairs. Anyone else make that connection? Didn't he end that relationship in part because of the difference in age?


[Producer's note: I think this is a reference to a small party hosted by Midge, involving beatniks and marijuana.] 

I think Don called off things with Midge more because of cultural/relationship differences than anything else. It is an interesting connection, though. Clearly Megan's friends don't run in the same circles as Don's.

I lived through this time yet I had forgotten the casualness of the discrimination. However, in thinking about it, haven't the writers been pc by avoiding the "N" word or similar perjoratives? The three guys dropping the water would certainly have used viler language.

This is probably true. I think they can convey the discrimination without using that word, but you're absolutely right that the language by the Y&R guys as well as the SCDP men would have been more casually ugly than it actually was.

Even when I watch reruns of sitcoms or movies from the 1970s, I am stunned by the prevalence of epithets. Have you watched the original "Bad News Bears" lately? We didn't get totally PC until the '80s and '90s.

Remember Joan told him that she was pregnant and Greg was gone for over seven week so Greg couldn't the father.

I do remember that. But I believe Roger also had the impression that she went through with the abortion.

Clearly all he has to do is some simple math to figure this out, but maybe Joan made up a story about visiting Greg or something. Roger didn't act like someone who was looking at his own son in last night's episode.

Jen, I think you're on target regarding Joan. She's struggling with a lot of issues and how she manages them will be one of the major plot threads of the season (IMHO). Christina Hendricks did a fantastic job last night. Now that said-- what do you think is most likely in store for Joan? My bet: her husband doesn't come back from Vietnam, making her a single mom with a whole boatload of new problems.

I think her husband not returning is a real possibility.

I also think she could have some issues with Megan and Don. Megan is going to be threatened by her, not only because Joan was always considered the goddess of the office but also because I suspect Joan will become even more ambitious when she returns to work.

And Megan has a definite ambitious streak in her.

In your recap you said you could focus on the "already dysfunctional marriage" of Don and Megan. I'm not sure I saw it that way. Instead I saw a doting Don, who was still very into his new wife. He seemed to want to spend time with her (as opposed to Betty who he was constantly trying to escape) and when he found out she was upset he went straight home. The fight in the episode was as a result of the birthday party he didn't want thrown. Sure there might be a some power dynamic issues-- but what Mad Men relationship does not contain those? I left the episode thinking Don and Megan work as a couple. So I am curious how you came to your description of it.

You make some good points about him trying to respond to Megan's needs. But there was a number of things going on in that relationship that seemed less than healthy.

1. The notion that Don wants to have her at work and at home, yet, as Don said, he doesn't "care about the work." You could see from the look on Megan's face that she didn't care for that response because it suggests he doesn't respect what she brings to the table as a colleague.

2. Don demands that his wife unbutton her blouse while in his office. Yes, they are married so this does not count as harassment. But really?

3. I see a major power dynamic emerging in the relationship. As Megan's friend noted, she is a very good actress. So she may seem hurt by Don at certain moments, but she's also playing power games with him. The "Zou Bissou Bissou" performance was a way for her to assert her status in the company, really. She performed in front of all of his co-workers and let everyone see that she has the most revered guy in the company eating out of her sex-kitteny paw. I think there's more going on with her than we've even begun to see at this point.

Was January Jones not in the show last night because of her real-life pregnancy?

I don't think that was the reason, but I'm not 100 percent sure. I do know she will be in other episodes this season, so do not fear -- Betty Draper will be back to drive us all crazy with her cold and withholding nature.

Just curious if Megan was a particularly French Canadian girl name of that era? I have my doubts. Also apparently French Canadians spell it Megane.

This raises an interesting question -- is it possible that Megan is not who she says she is? That would be a fascinating twist for Mr. Don Draper/Dick Whitman.

Roger seems to really be into bribery with his secretary Caroline and getting Harry to switch offices.

Well, you have enough drinks during the day, suddenly you get very liberal with your cash.

Why he's carrying $1100 in his pocket is beyond me.

Every single news outlet seems to have wall-to-wall coverage of a season premiere of a well-produced, entertaining yet ULTIMATELY FICTIONAL television show. This really isn't worthy of the buzz that is being generated here.

In Celebritology and in the Post's Style section, we routinely cover TV shows pretty extensively. So it's not out of character for us.

But what is different is the massive amount of coverage of "Mad Men" from all over the Post organization and in so many other media outlets. Even I find it excessive, and I live for this kind of pop culture coverage.

So I agree with you. I think that because of the historical element in "Mad Men," it tends to inspire deep thought among a lot of people who work at major media outlets (read: Baby Boomer who very fondly remember the 1960s). So everyone wants to write about it and it creates a tsunami of coverage that is way out of proportion.

That said, we'll continue writing about it in Celebritology because pop culture and entertainment is what we do. I suspect the level of interest will subside from other factions as the season progresses, then peak again around the time of the season finale.

Do you think based on the end of the episdoe, SCDP will end up hiring an African-American to work in the office? Lane handled the situation politely, but I'm wondering when they will have to actually change with the times.

I think they will have to change with the times, no question. I'm not sure if we'll see that immediately or a few episodes down the line. But given the prominence the matter was given in the premiere, it seems likely to be a recurring theme as we go forward.

I loved Megan's song-and-dance number. So very Astrud Gilberto! And her batwing minidress was quite fashion forward for 1966! I thought it was 1968; there was a poster with the year 1968 on it in the Y&R windows, was there not?

[Producer's note: Apparently, it's "Zou Bisou Bisou," and Jessica Pare's rendition will be released on iTunes and vinyl (!).] 

I think consensus is that it's 1966 -- I didn't see the 1968 poster you just mentioned, I'll have to go back and look at it.

I also loved the dress and the whole song-and-dance number. Will be interesting to see if  "Zou Bisou Bisou" becomes a hit. I'll certainly be playing it at my best bossa nova party.

I know I'm in the minority but I didn't see Peggy's disinterest in Joan's baby as a reminder of her own situation. To me it looked as though she is just not a baby person.

Well, she isn't a baby person. That is true.

But that image of her trying to avoid an infant and then holding him awkwardly certainly may remind regular viewers of what happened to her. It's hard not to make that connection.

Don broke off with her when it was apparent she was in love with one of her Beatnik friends.

Ah, that's right. Midge is such a distant memory, even though she did pop up briefly in season four.

I remember early on Don being such a bad father made it hard to get into his character. He was constantly trying to abandon his family with this or that mistress and the women (Midge, Rachel, etc...) would have to remind him, "Hey, you've got kids at home." About his only moment was getting stoned and waiting Bobby up in the middle of the night to tell him, "I will never lie to you." Thank God my dad never did that. He seems WAY more into the fatherhood stuff now.

Well, yes, he does seem better.

But there are also elements of the same old Don. This may just a "men were different back then" sort of thing, but I thought it was telling that when he dropped off the kids he didn't even help them out of the car. (It's also hilarious that they all rode in the front seat with no seat belt, but that's defininitely a difference between then and now.)

He told Gene to hold Bobby's hand, but didn't bother helping them or anything. The way that scene was staged, with Don saying goodbye and then sealing himself in the car with his newfangled electronic windows, suggested there is still a wall between him and his family, even if he is grateful to get a shaving brush from the kids.

But didn't Roger say to Joan before she said she would go for an abortion that if she had the baby, he could never acknowledge that it was his? But is was odd that he paid no mind to the baby that is clearly his. I thought they would have Joan's husband die in Vietnam but bringing him home would really complicate things because surely he would figure it out...he IS a Dr. after all.

Roger did say that. But again, I could swear that Joan told him she took care of things or that he at least had that impression.

In last season's finale, she told her husband about the baby via telephone and said something about "they'll find out soon enough" when he asked if she had said anything at work. So it's possible that she could have made it seem like she  got pregnant with Greg's child after the abortion.

There's definitely some fuzziness around this, though, so I hope the writers make it clear that Roger either does or doesn't know.

There was a scene (I don't remember which season) where Peggy's sister has just put a baby in a crib and she asks Peggy is she wants to see him and Peggy says no. I always assumed this meant that her sister had somehow adopted Peggy's baby. Do you remember the scene I'm talking about?

I do know the scene you're talking about, absolutely. I *think* the family was caring for the child but that Peggy eventually gave him to another family. I could be wrong about that.

If someone else has a fresher memory on this, please come forward.

In a pre-season interview, John Hamm made a comment about a possible (past or future) relationship between Don and Joan. I noticed both characters expressing attraction to each other - Don's obvious thrill at seeing Joan, and commenting on her figure, and Joan's comment about how attractive Don must be when he's blushing. There were also comments about how Megan will feel threatened by Joan when she returns to the office. What do you think? Would you welcome a Don/Joan/Roger triangle?

Actually, it could be a Don/Joan/Roger/Megan rectangle of passion, given Roger's comment at the party about other people "getting what you want."

As I said in my recap, I believe we will see some tensions in these relationships. And I welcome the battle between Megan and Joan, aka Pouty French Lips vs. Epic Cleavage.

Yes, yes, I know we need commercials to support these programs, but . . . wow! Last night was terrible. One scene, one commercial. Honestly, I do not remember such a deluge in the past, and they really interupted the flow of the show.

Yes, especially when they busted in right after Ken's and his fiance's comments about going outside to smoke.

I watched a screener of the episode with no commercials and it was only 90 minutes or so. The commercials added 40 more minutes of viewing time (the episode ended at 11:08, I think).

Just like us media professionals, advertisers love the opportunity for a Mad Men tie-in. (The ad for Pixar's "Brave" was particularly amusing to me.)

I thought Roger's bribes were also indicative of his loss of power in the office. A year ago, Roger would not be sharing a secretary with Don, and he would have ordered Crane to switch offices rather than bribe him. Also, Pete is much more overt in his lack of respect for Roger - blatantly stating that Roger doesn't do any work and sending him on wild goose chases at 6am.

That is very true. Excellent point.

Don rolled up the car window automatically (after he dropped the kids off). Was this really an option in 1966?

From the producer: If we are to believe Wikipedia, power windows debuted in the 1940s. 

Wikipedia: Power window

Yes, although as I said in a previous answer, I think they were considered a luxury at that time. I remember getting them in one of our cars in the 1970s or 80s and thinking that we were really living large because we no longer had to crank the windows open.

I respectfully disagree, he knows full well the boy is his. He used plenty of double-speak in that scene and I think had a genuine look of admiration when he held the baby. Also, Pete knows about Peggy's baby. There is no doubt about that. I, too, wish they'd spend a few minutes revisiting where that baby ended up. I think Pete will be a major player this season. He's very unhappy with the work ethic of his fellow partners. I'm excited to see what happens there.

He did use double speak, but I wasn't sure if that was just irony -- the audience knows something that Roger doesn't -- or that Roger was communicating ironically to Joan because they know something no one else does.

As much of a cad as Roger is, I do think he cares for Joan, so I feel like he would have done more than just send a bicycle or whatever after the baby was born if he genuinely believed the child was his.

I agree with you about Pete -- his dissatisfaction may be coal that fuels some fire, as Trudy said. At the very least, I hope he gets more nosebleeds.

"Mad Men" has always been a show that gets the details right, so I was struck last night by two pieces of dialogue that didn't sound right for the time. 1. Joan asking her mother, "How'd that work out for you?" 2. Don telling the Heinz reps as they left the pitch meeting, "It's a process." I didn't grow up in the '60s, so I'm curious if others know if these are, in fact, anachronistic. (Speaking of the little things: I wonder, too, about the historical accuracy of the piles of garbage on the street when Lane gets out of the cab. Telltale signs of the dysfunctional city that President Ford would later advise to drop dead?)

How did that work out for you didn't strike me as off-base. But "it's a process" does seem like a more modern phrase, perhaps.

I wasn't around in the '60s either -- missed 'em by a couple of years. Can a wise semi-elder shed some light on this?

I had not thought of it before, but I was sort of taken with Hanna Rosin's XXFactor in Slate today noting that (and I paraphrase liberally here), there are plenty of places we can get material for mommy blogs, does this have to happen on Mad Men also? There are so many more interesting problems that never get covered on modern-era shows that could be covered here, and that time will now be spent on, what, Joan's working mother guilt? I am sure it will be handled really interestingly, but now having it pointed out to me, maybe I am a little disappointed.

This is my own mommy bias here, but I always find it interesting when this subject is addressed if it's addressed in a way that is fresh, interesting and brings new insights to the issue of working motherhood.

Hanna is right that it could feel like exhausting rehash. But if they do it properly, that plotline might tell us something really interesting about how far we've come (or haven't) as a society when it comes to handling parenthood in the workplace. I doubt the whole season will consist of baby bottom close-ups and Joan complaining about her lack of sleep. "Mad Men" is too smart for that.

At least I hope I'm right about that.

He looked so different to me it took me awhile to place him. Was it just me or has he lost weight, wearing different glasses, changes his clothes style????? All of the above? None of the above?

He definitely lost some weight. I noticed that immediately as well.

He's also lost almost all his good standing with Don at this point. I wouldn't be surprised if poor Harry gets the boot, and not just because of what he said about Megan.

That child was Peggy's nephew. In one of the S2 flashbacks of Peggy in that mental hospital, her sister is pregnant. That scene with asking Peggy if she wanted to hold the baby was a red herring. We never saw what exactly happened to Peggy's baby, but they said he was just adopted out to a family.

Thanks for clarifying. It all does get muddled in one's brain, especially when so much time has passed since those seasons first aired.

I thought that scene of Don holding back the kids was a precursor to the later line about whether there was anything they could do about Nader (presumably meaning his push for seatbelts in all cars).

Ah, yes. Good call!

First Joan playing "C'est Magnifique" on the accordion and now "Zou Bisou Bisou." There's a theme going here.

Yep. Mentioned that in the recap, too.

Although in Joan's case, she was forced to perform by Greg and it was decidedly less sexy.

I thought when she started it with them she got some equity. No?

She got a promotion at the end of last season to head of agency operations, a promotion that Lane said was in name only. She got no raise.

So it was, like so many things in so many offices, an achievement that didn't feel worthy of a full-on celebration.

Is it possible that we just got through an entire chat with you without a single reference to Lost, a show that has been off the air for two years?

Well, it was possible. And then you brought it up.

The streak continues!


The Smoke Monster

Last night I got a sense of this more strongly than I ever have before. She constantly needs his approval, attention, and admiration and it's sort of gross. She was clearly jealous when Megan came in last year and is upset that she's never been one of Don's sexual office conquests. So the question remains, is she in love with Don? Thoughts?

I don't believe she is in love with Don. I think she has always wanted his approval, that's been no secret at all.

And she gets jealous when she sees other women -- especially Megan, who was a lowly employee just like Peggy was when she started -- get Don's complete approval, in a romantic sense.

I don't think she wants to be one of his consequests necessarily. But I am sure there is a sense of insecurity -- how come he never hit on me? Why wasn't I good enough for a fling?

I think the show does a great job of hinting at that dynamic and keeping it open to our interpretation, thereby allowing us to continue analyzing it in chats like this one.

I bought a new 1967 T-bird, which had power windows, power sears, a steering wheel that popped up out of the way when you opened the driver's door.

Wow. Clearly my family was slumming it.

The station wagon with the power windows and the pop-up seat that allowed us to look backwards out the rear window? That was like The Jetsons to me when we got that car.

The sign in the Y&R window was "Goldwater-1968"

That makes more sense. Thank you for the clarification.

Or whatever Betty said (perhaps to Don) from the "last season on...." clip. I don't remember that scene. Can you fill me in? Thanks!

That was from the last scene in last season's finale, when Betty was moving her stuff out of the house and admitting to Don that life with Mr. Francis wasn't all she hoped. Then he told her he was engaged and it was kind of sad. They both left the house, at which point we cut to a scene of Don in bed with Megan; she's asleep and he's wide awake, looking pensive, as if he's already doubting what he's done.

If you were wondering if "Zou Bisou Bisou" was going to be a hit, last night I looked up the song on YouTube and this video had just less then 800 hits. Now it's 17,401. That's good, but not crazy amount of hits in one night.  


Posting this purely so people can listen. Because admit it, it's in all of our heads now.

Unable to find the link for the story, but I remember reading how actor Vincent Kartheiser said he thought that the baby in that scene with Peggy was supposed to be Pete and Peggy's son, but then creator Matt Weiner said in another interview that that baby is really Anita's son and Peggy's son was given up to a closed adoption.

You know things are confusing when even the actors aren't quite sure of the backstory.

And on that note, I've got to wrap up because we've run well over time. This has been a lot of fun. Sorry I couldn't get to every question.

We will be writing about "Mad Men" in Celebritology as the season progresses, so be sure to look there on Sunday nights/Monday mornings for new posts. And I'll be chatting again on Thursday at 2 as per usual, in case you still have Don Draper fodder to discuss. And I'm sure you will because, in the anachronistic words of Don Draper, this is a process.

Thanks for joining me, everyone.

In 1966, what were the laws around equal opportunity? Was this at a company's discretion? Or was it federal law? Was this seen as a cutting edge thing to do? Do you think Lane will actually hire a new, African-American secretary?

Producer's note: According to the EEOC's website, the Civil Rights  Act of 1964 prohibited (among other things) "employment discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion and national origin. [The Act] applies to private employers, labor unions and employment agencies. The Act prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, wages, assignment, promotions, benefits, discipline, discharge, layoffs and almost every aspect of employment."

In This Chat
Jen Chaney
Jen Chaney anchors The Washington Post's Celebritology blog, The Post's online window into the world of pop culture and celebrities. She also frequently writes about entertainment trends, filmmakers and other Hollywood-related matters for the print edition of The Washington Post.

A Post staffer for more than a decade, Jen also can be seen reviewing movies on WETA's "Around Town," where she is one of the show's regular film critics. Last year, she contributed a series of essays to the book, "The Friday Night Lights Companion."

When she isn't blogging, at the movies or watching a television show, she's ... um ... probably at home watching a movie or a TV show.

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