'Mad Men''s Premiere: The Fog Comes In On Little Cat's Feet...
Of course, "Out of Town," the premiere episode, is all about managing exposure -- from (condomless) tip to wayward toes. You've got your not-quite-Jesus-like birth story of "cut-off-his" Dick and boil it (poor guy) to the more Moses-like stripping of the foreskin off the top of the boiled milk, and this all in the first three minutes! And the layered analogies between "sheaths" and London Fog raincoats was especially clever. Meanwhile, on the blue side, there was the exploding pocket pen, hand job interruptus, and octo-lingus jokes, which we'll get to.
But first, my impression was that the episode wasn't so much enjoyable or entertaining as practical. Matthew Weiner did the hard work of "laying pipe," as they like to say in the writing biz. The flashbacks of Don's birth and early life are so devastating and Joad-family-ish that for the first time I understood why he changed identities. At the same time, I always have a hard time suspending disbelief as the visual blurs -- it seems so soap opera-ish. And I imagine that going into that dream sequence right in the beginning could be off-putting to new viewers. That's not Weiner's worry, and it fits right into the brilliant overall vibe, which is seeing things for what they really are. "London Fog" was never romantic, but just the opposite, a result of industrial toxins; a hotel fire , however hokey as a plot device, reveals the truth about Sal; and that the 1960s equivalent to the fog of Dickens' time is Don's business --- the smoke and mirrors of advertising. Wow!
This season moves us forward approximately six months -- to the spring of 1963. (Gulp!) Apparently, Roger married Jane of Jane Street and honeymooned in Greece, Joan is still engaged, and Betty is still pregnant.
At home, Don seems to be toeing the line. And given that he's providing his own children a much improved ride in life, and seems to want to use his powers for good, (and Betty) I didn't get the need to boff the stewardess. (Self-pity about the birthday? Then he's more like Pete Campbell than he thinks!) The Betty look-alike made a point of not being seen smoking in uniform -- but the airlines have always had even stricter rules about not drinking in uniform, haven't they? Another thing that bothered me: that the stewardess called Don the name on his luggage. In those days, especially in first class, wasn't it all about the flight manifest -- and detailed notes about how the passenger likes his drink, etc?
I loved the whole idea of the business trip, though, and it obviously showed Don's genius-level fluidity for changing identity. It took Sal a while to get there -- and indeed, he never really got there. (That was a pen in his pocket that was happy to see the bellhop.)
Because of his own can't-make-this-stuff-up background, Don can be incredibly sensitive and nonjudgmental about other people's secrets. So he treated Sal the way he treated Peggy, acting like it never happened. "Limit Your Exposure" was a wise and generous line of advice for Sal, (and himself.) But really, an ad campaign showing a flasher on the subway is not exactly going to make Morris the client happy.
Speaking of unhappy campers, the Putnam, Powell and Lowe acquisition is done, and the Brits have fired a third of the Sterling Cooper work force, with more layoffs to come. Lane Pryce's idea of offering both Pete and Ken the job of "head of accounts" was dastardly, but made for some great TV. (Pete's manic dance? The Pinter-like play in the elevator when each thinks he's the other's boss? Priceless.)
Bad management also came in for some shearing. Though he did not contribute much to the episode, Roger Sterling's line was the funniest: ''I told him it was a stupid idea, but he didn't seem to get my inflection."
Don thought that it came from Cooper, along with his other weird Japanese ideas. Certainly, Bert's new piece of art, showing a graphic depiction of an octopus pleasuring a woman (tentacular!) was one of those great "Mad Men" moments. Bert says that he bought the objet d'Asian art for its "sensuality," but that it "also reminds me of our business." Ba-dum.
There were some other good, translating-from-the-British jokes between Joan and John "I-am-not-a-secretary-in-the-American sense!" Hooker. By the way, we see Don doing his own typing in this episode, something Moneypenny would never deign to do. Moneypenney was the assistant to M, James Bond's boss, but the name sounds pretty Dickensian to me. (More fog!) And we see Joan subtly putting one over on Mr. Penney.
Meanwhile, capitalism is king. The fired Head Of Accounts guy suddenly turns socialist, getting on his soap box to lecture his "comrades in mediocrity." Joan knows how to unruffle feathers, whereas Peggy is all about the ruffling. She's turned into an autocratic boss, complaining about getting good help, although she and her secretary are dressed alike, both in high-necked dresses, and she comes off as the mousier one.
Harry Crane is figuring out his tax bracket and complaining, like a real fat cat. (Hey, that's what loopholes are for!) And in the most visually poignant moment, Pete C.'s wife (who is extremely supportive these days and wears great hats, to boot) presents him with a "Buck Stops here!" pen set.
Of course, the buck is passed. The unctuous Hooker complains that the office is a "gynocracy," which gets to the heart of whether MM is good for women. Betty maintains she's having a baby girl. The opening flashback was about losing a baby girl. And as Betty tells Sally, (her little "lesbian") about the day of her birth, her words are drowned out by the mordant music that accompanies the opening dream sequence -- the aural equivalent of coal dust.