Mad Men Season 7, Ep. 1: Time Zones
By Jules Suzdaltsev
"Are you ready? Because I want you to pay attention. This is the beginning of something. Do you have time to improve your life?"
SPOILERS AHEAD. Last season we followed what felt like everybody’s hedonic descent into crisis, but when the curtains closed on Don Draper, it seemed like he was totally beyond repair. The last time the shit really hit the fan for Don, he got a new wife, spearheaded a change in the company, quit drinking, and took up swimming at the New York Athletic Club. These were just prescription fixes, though, as this season opens with him circling the drain and running out of time.
“Time Zones” straddles the coasts, beginning in New York with Freddie Rumsen’s sobering monologue; really a transmission by Don’s dying spirit. We quickly see the changes that have taken place over the past two months since Don’s forced hiatus from Sterling Cooper & Partners. The firm is more stable, but at the cost of creativity. Don’s replacement, Lou Avery (who delivered the telling line “Going down?” at the end of last season), is in every way Don’s antithesis; he doesn’t particularly care about quality, makes trivial jokes, drags out meetings, and for chrissakes, doesn’t even wear a suit. Peggy is now alone, with Don fired, Ted relocated, and Abe stabbed. Her “I’m an independent woman and I don’t need no man to make it” bit finds her weeping on the floor of her apartment after calling everybody “a bunch of hacks who are perfectly happy with shit.”
Meanwhile, Roger Sterling wakes up nude, surrounded by naked limbs – a nod to his polyamorous adventures designed to jump into a sexual youth revolution that started without him. But this isn't a good look for him. He is showered in affection; his daughter forcefully forgives him for his misdeeds over the years, his romantic partners feel furthered in their attempts at reaching something new, but clearly the illusion is gone for tired, old Roger.
I’m also thoroughly convinced that Megan is going to be murdered this season; the comparisons to Sharon Tate are endless (if not generic) – she’s living in the canyons, she’s wearing an orange scarf (orange is supposed to predict death), last season she wore Tate’s infamous red star shirt, and it’s the beginning of 1969, the year Tate was murdered.
Finally, Don is revealed as an expired shell; a traditional grey suit moving past multicolored tiles of the late 1960s (January ’69 to be exact) as he arrives in Los Angeles to spend time with his wife Megan, who quit her job in New York on Don’s short-sighted whim. Something is terribly wrong here from the get-go. Whereas Don is a fixed, eroding object, Megan is fluid to the core. The slow-mo shot of Megan stepping out of an Austin-Healey reminds me of her mother’s line from last season: “The only thought he should have … is how quickly he can get between your legs.” But Don's reaction to this vision in blue is to comment, “I like the car.”
The rest of the episode is variations on this sad theme. Megan is over the marriage. Now she's the one busy with work while Don flounders without a job (although she doesn’t know his deal). I’m also thoroughly convinced that Megan is going to be murdered this season; the comparisons to Sharon Tate are endless (if not generic) – she’s living in the canyons, she’s wearing an orange scarf (orange is supposed to predict death), last season she wore Tate’s infamous red star shirt, and it’s the beginning of 1969, the year Tate was murdered. I would be very surprised if Megan doesn't die by mid-season. On a lighter note, she offered the best side-boob I’ve seen on TV lately.
On the plane ride home, Don defaults to flirting with a beautiful brunette sitting beside him, but when she tells him about her late-alcoholic husband and quizzes him on his wife, Don sees the truth of his own failures. “[Megan] knows I'm a terrible husband … I keep wondering, have I broken the vessel?” he asks. With that, he turns down the stranger's offer to “cheer him up.” These are Don’s doldrums.
Back at his Manhattan apartment, after it is revealed that Don has been pitching copy to SC&P by way of Freddie Rumsen, we understand that Don’s struggles are our own struggles; that moving on isn’t always the best way to move forward. He can’t close his balcony door, and instead of fixing it like the old sink-tweaking handyman he used to be, he steps outside into the freezing January air in a bathrobe and takes the cold as it is, while Vanilla Fudge’s haunting cover of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” echoes in his thoughts, along with this apropos quote:
“We have found ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit; reaching with magnificent precision for the moon, but falling into raucous discord on earth.” – Richard M. Nixon, January 20th, 1969.
Photo by Michael Yarish/AMC