We’ve all had plenty of time to digest the first showing of Mad Men Season Five on Tuesday, an episode that is doomed to be forever referred to as ‘The One With Zou Bisou Bisou‘. Many of Mad Men‘s famous calling cards were there – Pete Campbell sticking out his bottom lip (as predicted by this fine blogger), the drinking, the smoking, Don getting off with a gorgeous woman – but something didn’t sit quite as right as it should have done. It’s taken me a little time to try and figure out what exactly that was, and I believe it’s the simple fact that beneath the slick machine of ‘A Little Kiss’ there was very little depth – a worrying thought but a problem that is hopefully only a cause of ‘Opening Season Syndrome’.
The plain truth is that for all its wonderful extras, Mad Men without its meaningful zoom outs juxtaposed with ironically happy music is just another empty nostalgia trip (I’m looking at you, Pan Am). Don’t get me wrong, there was some trouble and strife – Don hitting 40 was no doubt a worry for some female viewers – but there was nothing that really hit home anything like the magic of that carousel moment, or even the simple gesture of Don in Season Four falling asleep on Peggy’s lap.
Indeed many of the bombshells expected to hit had exploded in a time space continuum inaccessible for viewers, as Megan’s brief acknowledgement of Don as Dick Whitman took up no time at all. Nothing wrong with that you might say, if anything it refreshes the storyline, but it did leave a gaping hole in the two part special, one that even a room as big as Pete’s couldn’t fill.
Another reason for this was no doubt the complete absence of everyone’s favourite terrible mother, Betty. No real mention was given to January Jones’s character – as if Don, Sally and Bobby (read: yet another child actor replacement for Bobby that we are to take to be Bobby) had moved on just as she had packed up and moved to a different home.
I’d be greatly surprised if there isn’t a return to her (many) issues somewhere later on in the Season, but it was interesting how much her absence really did stop any tension normally somewhere present in the series from existing. Perhaps it signals a different type of episode that isn’t so much focused on Don trying to deal with family issues – Megan’s “direct” approach to her problems with Don (read: getting down on all fours in front of him in her underwear) certainly seemed to do the trick.
So if the episode wasn’t filled with any real angst what did it have? Sadly, there weren’t many wacky ‘absinthe in a water cooler’ moments either. In fact, I think one of the greatest crimes of the episode was that in a party made specifically for Don Draper, not nearly enough scandal went on – clearly the real reason why he wasn’t happy at the end of the night! Peggy got a little drunk, there were some promises of seeing a high Ken ‘N’ Pete (surely contenders for a spin-off rap project as an American PJ and Duncan) but apart from that, and Ye Olde Zou Bisou Bisou, we once again were left with very little substance.
Between this, Harry’s ‘hilarious’ incident with Megan, and Joan’s surprise Battle of The Bulge (well, she still did look mostly wonderful), we had an episode with not so much substance as snapshots of what could have been. Lane Pryce’s storyline was the closest to being a poignant Mad Men Moment, made even more shocking by the sudden (and very late) realisation by myself that the actress playing his wife used to play Miss Honey in Matilda.
In all seriousness, whilst Mad Men shouldn’t be trying to achieve any kind of solemnity, as this can only lead to artificiality, it shouldn’t also be trying so hard to create funny slapstick moments, without any of the deep, sticky glue that holds those moments together. As this is only the first episode of the season, there’s no reason this won’t be the case, but here’s hoping that the ending signposts even more obstacles and soul searching that the team will need to overcome instead.
What this episode should have been called – A Little Embarrassing French Dance
What I hope to see next episode
Lane becomes increasingly obsessed with the picture of the girl he has hidden and insists his secretary wear a mask to look like her, Harry and Ken leave many more Chinamen in Pete’s even bigger room and Peggy makes the same ‘Ballet of Beans’ pitch – this time for Secor Laxatives.