As Mad Men at the Movies returns for its final bifurcated season so do we for Mad Men @ the Movies.
Mad Men seasons never begin with a bang. They take time to gather momentum for their emotional, psychological, and thematic impact. The seventh season opener "Time Zones" proved no exception. Though we aren't clued in to a specific date I believe we're at the end of January 1969 given references to events of the previous season being "a couple of months" back and the weather which is pleasant in Los Angeles and frigid in New York. One smart out of time detail: Peggy, who lives alone much to her agony but spends all her time at work, still has a Christmas tree up in her apartment well past the holiday.
At the close of last season the newly merged ad firm was going bicoastal. We begin checking in with the New York characters before we return to our anti-hero lead, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) who is tellingly tied to neither coast and thus in limbo.
We first see him in profile at the airport in a scene reminiscent of Jackie Brown's opening which I imagine was reminiscent of something else I'm not aware of given Quentin Tarantino's pastiche DNA. He's en route to Los Angeles to check in with his wife.
Though there are no movie references (that I caught) in terms of dialogue, one major one still appears. But mostly it's the television which factors in to the plot heavily as it has more often as the show progressed. That's surely to reflect TV's increasing cultural dominance since references to Broadway and the cinema seem to be appearing less frequently. Megan is up for a role in a TV show and Don buys her a large television that she doesn't appear to want suggesting she'd want to watch herself on it; narcissists unite! One night in bed, after its abundantly clear that this once familiar, erotic and comforting marriage is significantly less of any of those things, Don watches TV. We see the opening text from Lost Horizon (1937) with its talk of Utopian fantasy.
In these days of wars and rumors of wars -- haven't you ever dreamed of a place where there was peace and security, where living was not a struggle but a lasting delight?
Of course you have. So has eery man since Time began. Always the same dream. Sometimes he calls it Utopia -- Sometimes the Fountain of Youth -- Sometimes merely "that little chicken farm"
It's a heavy-handed iconic text applied with a very light touch -- it's never clear what movie he's watching unless you're familiar with the Frank Capra classic adapted from the James Hilton novel. It's about a diplomat (Ronald Colman) who finds Shangri-La, a idyllic Utopia in the Himalayas that keeps its citizens magically young and healthy. Though he initially leaves the valley he opts to return, vanishing from the real world forever.
It's a smart choice as these things often are. Don has always been lost and he's always reaching for some unattainable ideal and encouraging through his work as an ad man to inspire aspirational dreaming and its shadow side, perpetual dissatisfaction, in others. Don definitely seems more together than he was in Season Six but he has not as of yet but invited back to work so he's secretly working anyway by coaching freelance Freddy Rumsen through ad pitches from his apartment. The ad they're working on is for Acutron watches (they're Swiss) and the campaign is focused around 'it's time for a conversation' which is fun in a meta way since Mad Men has always excelled at starting them and in a thematic way because the great series has always been so focused on the passing of time, and what changing times and resistance to change can mean to personal lives.
Joan and Peggy get a lot of screentime which is perfect since they've long been the shows MVPs and I suspect that will continue; "Women's Lib" is in its infancy in the late 60s and Joan and Peggy in their own (partial) ways are already liberated.
What's most surprising about this episode is perhaps the nudity. Megan gives quite a lot of side boob and Roger is now in full-on orgy mode, sharing his bed with a new young woman who says "you know everyone is welcome in this bed".
She appears to mean this literally. That's a lot of bodies.
Episode Grade: B (this is all setup, little payoff)
Best Scene: Don on the Red Eye with a stranger (Neve Campbell cameo!)
Most Missed: No Betty Draper Francis?
Possibility That This Season is All About Peggy & Joan: A+
Did you watch last night? If so, what did you make of the Lost Horizon reference, Roger's orgy, and the episode in general?