"Mad Men" takes off for final season with "Time Zones"

"Are you ready? Because I want you to pay attention. This is the beginning of something."

So begins the first episode of what really is the beginning of something -- the first episode of the final, two-part season of "Mad Men." [Warning: Spoilers below]

It's Freddie Rumsen doing the talking, by the way -- pitching an idea for Accutron watches to Peggy Olson. But more on them in a bit.

It's January 1969, about two months after season 6 left off with Don Draper getting suspended from SC&P after admitting his whorehouse upbringing a room of colleagues and clients, and then coming clean to his children.

Near the end of the episode, we see President Nixon giving his inaugural address on TV, talking about how the country is at a turning point -- "We find ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit...We are caught in war, wanting peace. We are torn by division, wanting unity." The same could be said for many of the "Mad Men" characters.

Don

Let's start with Mr. Draper -- he's living in New York, still not back to work at SC&P, and making bicoastal trips to see Megan, who is living in Los Angeles and trying to make it as an actress. We see one such visit, Don stepping out of the airport to palm trees, sunshine and a minidress-clad Megan waiting for him curbside in a convertible, to the sounds of Spencer Davis Group's "I'm a Man." He's only in town for the weekend -- and he gets in the passenger seat while she drives, further emphasizing his transient status in her world.

He may be trying to repair the damage he's done to their marriage -- making the trips back and forth, being supportive of her acting career and buying her scarves and a big (by '60s standards, at least) TV, but this is still Don Draper we're talking about here, so it's no surprise that he turns on the charm when a pretty brunette is seated next to him on the redeye back to New York. She's a widow who notes that their in-flight flirtation and snuggled-up in-flight snooze -- but, he confesses, Megan "knows I'm a terrible husband."

Megan

Megan's making a life for herself in L.A., and so far it seems to be a promising one -- while she and Don are at dinner with her agent, he says she got a callback for a new network pilot. "I'll say one thing about this girl, she evokes strong feelings," he tells Don (a commentary, perhaps, on viewers' thoughts about Megan), before adding, "We can hold off on fixing your teeth, obviously I jumped the gun on that." Welcome to Hollywood.

Pete

Megan's not the only one enjoying the West Coast life. Behold, Pete Campbell -- wearing plaid pants, a polo shirt and a sweater tied around his neck -- who hugs a startled Don and tells him he loves Los Angeles' "vibrations." "You not only look like a hippie, you talk like one," he tells the formerly buttoned-up Pete. The New York-style diner they meet has a sandwich called the Brooklyn Avenue, which Pete informs Don is also the name of a street in East Los Angeles. "The New Yorkers here, they brought as much as we need," he tells Don, whispering, "But the bagels are terrible."

Peggy

When we left off with Peggy, she was sitting in Don's office like she ran the joint. Unfortunately, things haven't stayed that way. There's a new creative director named Lou Avery, who doesn't seem to have the same respect for Peggy that Don did, no matter how hard she tries.

After Freddie Rumsen (who, we've learned, is freelancing for SC&P) gives her an idea for an Accutron slogan, she puts her own twist on it and suggests it to Lou at a status meeting, even though he'd already selected a previous option. "I think [this one's] more finished," she tells him. "And I think you're putting me in a position of saying I don't care what you think," Lou replies. Ouch.

But she won't let it go -- and has even less luck when she tries again, this time with Freddie's original idea. "Why are you making this so hard? Open the door and walk in. You do not need to parachute in from the ceiling," he says. Peggy tells him she just wants to give him her best. He shrugs. "I don't know, Peggy. I guess I'm immune to your charms."

There's also an awkward encounter with Ted Chaough (visiting for the weekend from L.A.) during one of her long days at the office, and dealing with an angry tenant who needs apartment repairs when she finally gets home. The professional and personal struggles are taking a toll -- when we last see her this week, she locks the door to her apartment and immediately falls to the floor in tears.

Joan

Joan once again proved how driven and dedicated a businesswoman she is this week, fighting to keep a client from leaving the agency (at least, for now). First, she takes a meeting that Ken Cosgrove (still wearing an eye patch, now a very frazzled head of accounts) refuses to take with Wayne Barnes, the new head of marketing for their Butler Footwear client, who is obviously not keen on talking business with a woman and tells her he wants to movie all their advertising in-house. Then, she goes to a business school professor to find out just what she can say to make Barnes reconsider. She relays a compelling argument to Barnes that gives him pause, and convinces him to hold off on his "bold" plans while SC&P comes up with a revised media strategy. Joan to the rescue!

Don, again

One thing we didn't mention about Don above is one of the big twists AMC wanted kept under wraps ahead of the premiere -- that he is working undercover during his leave of absence by giving the freelancing Freddie Rumsen all his ideas. That Accutron idea Peggy liked? Yup, came from Don.

Freddie says he doesn't understand why Don doesn't cut the act and get them both a job elsewhere, and Don says it's because he has a job -- in two months, as Freddie points out, and they've already gotten through Christmas and the Super Bowl without him. Soon it will be Easter. "I've been there. You don't want to be damaged goods," he warns.

Etc.

Roger's only seen for a bit this week, but he's still putting the swinging in the Swinging '60s. His bedroom, apparently, has an open door policy -- there's multiple people laying around the room in one scene, and when he comes home in another (following a brunch with his daughter where she forgave him for all his "transgressions" and current "state of affairs") there's another man in bed with his ladyfriend. "You know anyone's welcome in this bed," she tells Roger, but after he climbs in with the two of them to sleep he stares up at the ceiling, perhaps having reconsidering things after that talk with his daughter.

It's always great seeing Joan school men who underestimate her and her business acumen, like when that professor condescendingly asks if she knows the difference between fees vs. commission -- and she fires back by telling him he'll need another notepad to take it all down.

Stan's deadpan "None of this seems related to coffee" after Peggy and Ted's break-room encounter was a pretty perfect reaction.

The episode ends with Don, alone in his New York apartment, trying to close the seemingly stuck balcony door (he'd tried to shut it earlier, when Freddie came over with sandwiches while Nixon's inauguration was on television, with no luck). Not getting anywhere with it, he gives up, goes out on the balcony and sits down. The camera pans out as he's there solo, the windows of other apartments out there around him, as Vanilla Fudge's version of "You Keep Me Hanging On" plays us into the credits.

What did you think of the "Mad Men" premiere? Where do you think things will go from here? Give us your take in the comments below.

  • Jessica Derschowitz

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