The real surprise in the Mad Men Season 5 premiere? Not only are Don and Megan married – they’re happy.
But we’re wrong.
Not only has our hero married his former secretary Megan, played by Jessica Paré, but this unlikely pair seems genuinely affectionate – and in love.
Signs of emotional intimacy are apparent – in the way they talk together, play together, and deal with Don’s kids. None of this ease was possible between Don and cool, blond first wife Betty. The result of too many secrets? Too much Bryn Mawr? Or who they both were at the time of their marriage?
It’s clear from a bedroom scene that Megan is privy to Don’s dual identity and his past life as Dick Whitman. In contrast to the other couples present (and absent), theirs is the relationship that seems to be working.
Marital Contentment? Not So Much
Pete and Trudy? We see disillusionment on Pete’s part, particularly with the arrival of their first child.
Joan and Greg? We know the Doc isn’t dead – he was shipped off to Vietnam at the end of last season – but he is at Fort Dix for another year leaving Joan alone and in limbo with her new baby. And it’s a boy, fathered by former lover Roger Sterling.
Lane and his wife? Clearly, problems bubble beneath the surface. The stand-up Brit is proper in public, but his flirting with an unknown woman on the telephone reflects a painful loneliness.
Roger and Jane? “She doesn’t like me,” says Roger of his much younger second wife, as though it’s just to be expected. And checking out their interactions – true that.
Betty and Henry are missing in action for the first episode. May we presume they are muddling along in their upscale unhappiness?
Jessica Paré as Don’s Wife Megan
Jessica Paré certainly brings a little je ne sais quoi to the Draper domestic life. We see her humility in the office (she works for Peggy now), and her warmth and affability in general – with Don et al.
In one scene, Megan exits Don’s office, unwilling to indulge him in recreation while on the clock. Don says: “Open your blouse.” She unbuttons, flashes him her cleavage, and with a sparkle in her eye she says “You’re a dirty old man. Anything else?”
“No Ma’am,” he replies.
Ah. Wedded bliss.
Does anyone else remember Don’s occasional penchant for being slapped in bed?
We’re treated to a hint of pyrotechnics in a post-party encounter. Megan is stripped down to her black undies, and provocatively posed on all fours as she picks up mess from the carpet. Petulant, she’s punishing Don for hurting her feelings. She denies him any touch and forcefully insists that he’s only allowed to watch.
A sizzling scene ensues, followed by pillow talk – on the dirty floor.
“The Girls” and Changing Times
There’s something else in the Draper marriage which is not traditional for the day. Megan is now working at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce while married to Don. They both like it that way; they want to spend as much of their day together as possible. The distance between His and Hers that is so evident among the other couples doesn’t exist for them.
At least, not yet.
But Megan is an outsider in her way. Not cynical (as she points out), and certainly not one of the girls.
And speaking of the girls, I should have counted how many times the characters referred to “the girl” – the No-Need-To-Know-Her-Name secretary, the equally dismissed maid or housekeeper, the eventual babysitter. Don uses the term when the apartment needs cleaning (“call the girl”), the target of Lane’s flirtation refers to herself as her man’s “girl” (causing confusion; Lane assumes she’s household help), and Joan mentions that when she returns to work she’ll get “a girl” to care for the baby.
Other examples of harassing the women – or simply dismissing them? Oh, there are the usual jokes (some at Megan’s expense), but everything isn’t taken, well… lying down. The secretaries mouth off to the senior partners (shades of Blankenship?), and when so-called execs from another ad agency (Y & R) water bomb a group of civil rights protesters on the street below (described as “cops, priests, and Negroes”), women from the protest stride into Y & R and demand accountability.
The times, they are a-changing?
Suits, Status, Symbols, and White Carpet
Roger sticks to traditional attire in the office as does Don, while the Creatives are more casual. But who doesn’t love seeing the plaid sports coats during off hours?
Back in the hallowed halls of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Don’s office remains as it was at the end of last season – plenty of light, classic furniture, punctuated by two contemporary red chairs. (Great metaphor for where Don finds himself at this time?)
Roger’s pop black and white office scheme is breezy, but far more modern than the man himself. Contrast these spaces with Pete Campbell’s – the somber blue wall in a cramped room – just one of the reasons that surly Pete engages in turf wars with Roger. He sees the senior partner as old school, good for schmoozing and boozing but little else, while Pete brings in business and wants his due.
As for the surprise party that Don tolerates as politely as possible, not only is he unsettled because he actually turned 40 as Dick Whitman months earlier, but he treasures his privacy with Megan. He wants his home life to remain separate from SCDP – and just for family.
Matt Weiner discusses the symbolism in his sets, pointing out that the white carpeting which is filthy after the party is significant. To Don, allowing the office into their home quite literally dirties the environment.
Betty and Henry – No Show
Don’s three children are seen briefly in the season premiere. We note that baby Gene is no longer a toddler, and Sally is showing indications of adolescence and as she moves through the hallway of Don and Megan’s apartment.
She’s keenly observant, though says little. And her resemblance at moments to mother Betty is uncanny.
We get no glimpse of the Wife Number One We Love to Hate, but Betty and Henry are living in something akin to a Gothic mansion. Don drops the kids off at the curb, and tells them to give his regards to “Morticia and Lurch.” Ah… we do love our sixties pop culture references, and the Francis Residence does resemble the home of the Addams Family.
Anyone else note the reference was to Lurch rather than Gomez? Apt, for the staid and somewhat gloomy Henry Francis?
Megan’s Song Offered to Hubby Don at his 40th
So what did Megan sing to Don, in a sort of Ann-Margret sultry dance? And why?
Several media sources are already contemplating that one. And the tune, Zou Bisou Bisou, apparently comes from the “yéyé” movement, popularized in the early sixties in France and Quebec. It’s a sweet little song that nonetheless purrs with kittenish sexuality of the sort Ann-Margret exemplified in the mid sixties. Megan seems very comfortable with herself as a woman, and in her relationship with new hubby Don. So why not “gift” him with a little song-and-dance of sensual affection in front of those she presumes are his friends?
… performing the song for Don in front of so many people… resonates with the broader shift in sexual mores that took place in the mid-1960s.
That shift is clear, as is Don’s discomfort with it being so public. This is more than his tendency toward control and secrecy; this is a generational difference.
And where does Megan end her number, relaxed and happy to entertain her husband?
Sitting in his lap, and planting a little kiss – you got it – in French, that’s un bisou.
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