'Mad Men' Season 5 premiere recap: 'A Little Kiss'

Sex! Race relations! The return of funny Roger! Season 5 is here.

  • Ken and Cynthia Cosgrove join Pete and Trudy Campbell at Megan's sexy party for Don's birthday.
Ken and Cynthia Cosgrove join Pete and Trudy Campbell at Megan's… (Michael Yarish/AMC )
March 25, 2012|By Jordan Bartel, b

"What's wrong with you people? You're all so cynical. You don't smile, you smirk." — Megan

Through all the years, through all the Peggy Olson working-girl iterations and Betty Draper mood changes and Don Draper bed-mate changes, one thing about "Mad Men" has remained the same: the show's about identity, how people cope with changes, roll with the punches or duck and run for cover. Society is there, too. Changing. In it's super-changey 1960s way. 

And in the eagerly awaited "Mad Men" Season 5 premiere, it's right there in the viewer's face and on faces of the characters: Cultural upheaval! Race equality! Sexy parties that almost seem to become a swingers thing! 

It's as though co-creator/executive producer Matthew Weiner is screaming from the rooftop, "The times, they are a-changin'! CHANGIN'!" I half expected the Bob Dylan tune to play over the closing credits (too obvious? A bit.) Plus, that song is from 1964 (where we were last season) and we start Season 5 smack-dab in the middle of 1966.

Pictures: Mad Men Season 5

See, change. It's clear from the first scene of the two-hour premiere, which was also written by Weiner. We're placed right in the middle of a group of protesters picketing for equal employment opportunity for African-Americans. They're right outside rival ad firm Y&R, where three young (and white) employees are not too happy about the spectacle. "You're walking in a circle!" one yells. Then come the water bombs (for some reason poured in a bag, not in a balloon. Maybe that's how people rolled in 1966?).

Later, a group of protestors run up to the office to complain. "Is this what Madison Avenue represents?" one asks. The answer, sadly, is yes. African-American characters — and race struggles — have always existed on the "Mad Men" periphery, a representation of the cultural times. It's clear this season, with this pivotal race-riot-filled year of 1966, that's about to change. 

Later, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce will run an ad touting them as an "equal-opportunity employer." Something that's just a jab at Y&R. But it leads to unexpected consequences.

Pictures: Mad Men -- Where we left off


But really, this episode wasn't all about race-relations. To answer the question on many fans' minds: yes, Don Draper is married to Megan, his young (really, really young) former secretary-turned-nanny-turned random fiancee in Season 4. 

They live together sexily in a sexy Manhattan modern apartment which will soon host a surprise birthday party for Don that goes from fun to sexy to hilarious to super-sexy to sad in one fateful night. 

The episode is built around this party. Don is turning 40 (Well, Don Draper is. Dick Whitman turned 40 a few months back, and Megan, it is revealed, knows all about Dick Whitman), so he's even more moody and self-analytical than ever. Middle-aged! The beginning of the episode, it's all sunshine and happiness with Don and Megan. They arrive at work together late. Megan, currently doing grunt work with the creative department (creating coupons!), finds time to steal a kiss or two from Don in his office and even flash her cleavage. It's all very risqué and sort-of cute. 

Don actually seems happy. Everyone notices, even his new homely secretary (Don — no longer allowed to have cute assistants). So Megan wants to extend the happy time with a surprise bash for Don. "Men hate surprises," Peggy tells Megan. And really, she mentions this because Peggy still wants to be the only woman who fully understands her mentor. 

"Everyone's going to come home from this party and have sex," Megan notes to Peggy, almost as an aside. People, apparently, talked like this in 1966. 

Weiner devotes much time to the sexy party, not just because it's well, sexy. But because in about 20 minutes or so, he's able to convey what surely will be a theme of Season 5: the aforementioned change, the new generation's ways versus the old generation's ways. 

We get a taste of everything old vs. new going on in the "Mad Men" word: Party-goers chat casually about the Vietnam War (for the record, Bert Cooper doesn't seem very concerned about it and the soldier there on leave thought more girls would be at the party), Peggy introduces her "underground journalist" boyfriend, Abe, to the Campbells, and Pete Campbell's wife, Trudy, doesn't seem to understand what in the world can be bad or controversial enough to warrant such a profession as "underground journalist." 

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