“Mad Men” Recap: 501-502, “A Little Kiss”
Yes, yes, “Zou Bisou Bisou,” but we’ll get to that later. Of course, we will.
Taking into account all major plot points delineated in the two-hour “Mad Men” Season 5 premiere, “A Little Kiss,” including average human gestation periods, the beginning point is Memorial Day Weekend, 1966. A group of unnamed young bozos at Young & Rubicam are taunting African-American civil rights marchers picketing below their Madison Avenue window. These moral homunculi are doing everything they can to antagonize the marchers, posting hand-drawn “Goldwater ’68″ signs in the windows, and one bright boy raising the sash and yelling “Get a job!” as viewers secretly hope the pulley breaks in one of those “Final Destination”-style disasters in which a seemingly harmless pane of glass suddenly becomes a jagged instrument of death.
Then they start dropping water bombs made with paper bags. Inefficient, but hey, there’s a drafting table in the room — these are creative men — they’ll be coming up with all the signage and messaging in the Ninth Circle of Hell. As these toolsboxes run to the restroom for more water, a group of protesters enters the Y&R offices and informs the receptionist of the serial water bombings taking place when Y&R’s art department might have, you know, more constructive things to do with their time — after all, the agency is well on its way to being the most profitable ad group in the world. The victim, it turns out, was a boy about 10 years old, and a New York Times reporter is in tow.
“Is this what Madison Avenue represents?” asks one of the protesters, just in time for Larry, Moe, Curly and Shemp to run into the lobby. The sheepish answer is “yes,” but as we’ll see, change is in the air.
Cut to an old AM clock radio, and Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) is waking up to the dreamy, space-age bachelor pad sounds of Wurlitzer organist Ken Griffin’s “Marea Baja,” and it’s clear we are not in Ossining anymore. Sally wanders down the hall past doors painted goldenrod toward a grandly bland double entryway. She tries the locked handle, which is eventually opened by sleepy, stubbly Don Draper (Jon Hamm), and we see the human-representational backside of Megan the Sex Robot (Jessica Pare) recharging, naked, on the bed. Sally is apparently staying over for the first time in the new Chez Draper, because she thought the dramatic double door might be a bathroom. As a way of changing the subject from Sally spying the new Mrs. Draper in a semi-natural state, Don offers to make breakfast.
Bobby and little Gene are perched at the breakfast bar watching Don flip pancakes as Sally comes in, and the kids present Don with his 40th birthday present, a shaving brush made from a badger’s tail. Megan Calvet-Draper comes in, and it seems there is no animosity or recrimination to be directed at Daddy’s new wife, probably because their mother might look like Grace Kelly, but she acts like Joan Crawford. It’s a Daddy’s Day Out event with the kids, and Don tells them they’re going to the Statue of Liberty today.
“We always say that, but we never do,” Bobby says, which actually sounds like the kind of passive-aggressive comment that Betty made several times in Season 4. Where would Bobby pick up such a thing? Don asks Mrs. MSR if she’s hungry, but she’s only drinking black coffee. Anything more, and she might short out. Of course, I’m going to have to walk back some of these snide comments about Megan being a Nexus 6 “basic pleasure model” about midway through this episode, but it’s been 525 days — you have to use them or lose them.
This high-rise apartment Don bought for Megan is awesome in extremis – just a few years ago, people would be laughing about how Brady it is, but given all the HGTV inculcation about mid-century modern design we’ve ingested over the past few years, I want to go to there.
We don’t really know if they actually made it to the Statue of Liberty, but we cut to nightfall and Don is dropping Sally, Bobby and Gene off at the foreboding home of Henry and Betty Francis. Just before they leave the car to walk up the steps to Xanadu, Sally wishes Don a happy birthday with a tone of unmistakable pity, and Bobby asks Don how old he is. Don tells him and asks the boy, who is a font of smartassery in these scenes, “When you’re 40, how old will I be?”
“You’ll be dead,” Bobby says. Just like the Marlboro Man. By the way, since Lee Garner Jr. gave Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce the high hat in Season 4, is Don still a Lucky Strike guy?
Don makes no bones about how he feels concerning his ex-wife. “Give Morticia and Lurch my love,” he says. And we hear an unbelievably cute “Good night, Daddy” from Gene that says it all: their weekends-only father is missing out on seeing his kids grow up. He looks at them wistfully, waiting for the porch light to go on.
On the morning train, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), a new dad and recent convert to suburban life, is reading the paper with baby vomit on his shoulder, a fact pointed out by an endless bummer of a gentleman who appears to be a regular fellow traveler. It seems Trudy is having a tough time getting back to her old bubbly self after childbirth, and Mr. Helpful has all kinds of advice for Petey about avoiding the family, telling him he’s reaching that point when he starts missing the 5:25 train for the ‘burbs and starts taking the 7:05.
“If you finally learn how to drive, you can push it back to 9:30. Or not come home at all,” says Mr. Helpful. As we learn, he and Beth Helpful got into a battle royale and he ended up spending the night at a hotel and did some drywall damage in his room. He needs some company on the misery train.
Howard Helpful’s role in this scenario is to illustrate that there is tarnish on the Don Draper model of male behavior heading into the late-1960s. Back in 1960, Helen Bishop called her husband on this garbage, and she got painted as a power-walking floozy. That was, of course, reflected in Don’s behavior, but the Don/Betty marriage fell apart because of Don’s Dick Whitman box, not his philandering — it was like arresting Al Capone on tax evasion. Howard’s wife is complaining that she doesn’t know what he does all day. He’s just not suave enough to pull off the moves like Draper.
So, welcome back to the Roger Sterling (John Slattery) spiral. These days, Roger is responsible for roughly 0 percent of SCDP revenues, and he’s treated as such — even by the secretarial pool.
“What’s Don up to today?” Roger says, trying to sneak a peak at Draper’s calendar. “I see a lot of napping and pillow talk.”
“That’s your schedule,” says Don’s latest receptionist.
Sterling is the Rodney Dangerfield of SCDP in 1966 — his surname might be first on the company stationery, but these days, it is clear that the “S” in SCDP is and always will be Roger Sterling Sr., not Jr. Without anything constructive on his schedule, it’s nothing but 24-hour Silver Ferret Party Time for Roger.
Speaking of the Silver Ferret, he fathered a pup, and is well on his way to being Absentee Father of the Year, 1966-84. Joan (Christina Hendricks) is still home with her new baby, Kevin, and her busybody mother, Gail, is Gladys Kravitzing around Joan’s apartment. There should not be any sharp objects in this place — Joan seems ready to pitch Gail onto the sidewalk below, but she thinks better of it when she offers to take Kevin on a walk, letting Joan get some much-needed sleep.
Petey, having survived the train ride with Hilarious Howard Helpful, is shuffling papers when Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton), Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) and Stan Rizzo (Jay R. Ferguson) file into his office, complaining about their workload in the service of baked beans. Not surprising at all, there’s resentment boiling like a pot of saucy protein over Megan, who is now a copywriter under Peggy but not exactly answerable to Ms. Olson since she’s, you know, married to the God of Advertising. So she has yet to turn in the copy for the Heinz coupons, and Petey starts to go all Nicolas Cage in “Vampire’s Kiss” on his secretary, Clara, wanting to know where Don is. Clara must be new, because she seems to be falling for Silver Ferret’s flirtations while he checks the Campbell itinerary for poaching opportunities.
Like she’s carrying a long trumpet with a flag on it, Clara announces Mr. and Mrs. Draper. Megan tries to say she overslept, but Don absorbs the blame. At the status meeting, the Y&R embarrassment is all the rage with Roger, who snickers that it’s just desserts for them stealing the Ponds Cold Cream account. Clearly, there is more than one reason why everyone’s sharing secretaries these days: in Season 4, Freddy Rumsen got Roger to make Petey drop his father-in-law’s Clearasil account so he could bring in Ponds, but like the dog and the bone in Aesop’s Fables and Devo’s “Freedom of Choice,” they now have neither. Roger thinks it would be a great idea to run an ad in the Times for equal-opportunity employment at SCDP, effectively dropping a toxic water bomb on Y&R. But Roger’s fresh out of other ideas: he’s going to have drinks with an Oldsmobile exec who is looking for ways to circumvent the new regulations fought for by Ralph “Unsafe at Any Speed” Nader.
“There’s not,” says Petey Petulant. “Anything else?”
Petey wants a word with Don, but Megan’s walking into his office, which means Don’s ready for Draper Family Shirts and Skins Playtime. But Petey isn’t giving up and Megan kinda-sorta wants to be professional, so they’ll have to “zoo be zoo be zoo” later. Don decides he needs something to tide him over.
“Open your blouse,” he says.
“You’re a dirty old man,” she volleys before responding to the inputted command line. “Anything else?”
Petey wants Don to work That Draper Magic on Mohawk Airlines, which the old Sterling Cooper let go in its errant pursuit of American Airlines. Mohawk is still six years away from merging with Allegheny Airlines and 13 years from becoming U.S Airways, so hey, they might not be too insulted by being asked out by a suitor that spurned them.
Megan tries a clever coupon deal on the Heinz presentation, but Peggy redlines it since it’s not part of the contract, to which Megan gives a pouty sourpuss response and plops her polka-dots back into her seat. But even Peggy is clearly out of ideas — she asks Stan to put money-borders around the coupons. Everyone knows this is hacky, including Stan, who asks Peggy if he should put a powdered wig on the bean can.
Speaking of bean cans, Megan gets off hers to ask Peggy whether to make a really big deal about June 1 — mark all your calendars, because that’s either Dick Whitman’s birthday or the one he stole from the real Don Draper in Korea. Megan wants to do a surprise party. Peggy, knowing Don all too well, makes a face like somebody opened an old can of Heinz.
“Nobody likes surprises,” Peggy said. “Didn’t you have ‘Lucy’ in Canada?”
That’s a stiff dose of Vitameatavegamin Peggy just served Megan, but the Polka-Sex-Dot-Bot is still confident.
“You’ve never seen me throw a party,” she says. “Everybody’s going to go home from this, and they’re going to have sex.”
As Jeremy Irons said in two different movies, you have no idea.
Back at Joan’s, Gail just returned from her walk with Kevin, and the passive-aggressive repartee is flying around the place like shrapnel. Gail thinks the vibration of the elevator put the baby to sleep.
“Who would have thought you’d be so good at this,” Joan says.
“You’ll be good at it too, sweetheart,” Gail returns, implying that Joan isn’t good at it yet. Well, not really implying. More like throwing it in her face like a gang sign.
Gail starts nattering at Joanie about her plans to return to SCDP, and claims that Greg will not “allow her” to work. Joan says Greg will be stationed at Fort Dix for awhile longer, a geographic convenience that will let her continue to live and work in the city, but then Joan lets on that she might not follow him to his next duty station. Gail quotes Ruth 1:16 to Joan, saying “whither thou goest, I will go,” although Gail clearly prefers Judges over Ruth.
The Silver Ferret’s time at Clara’s desk paid off: by the time Petey shows up for his meeting with the Mohawk Airlines boys, he finds Roger already into his second martini and dominating the available oxygen. Pete is making one of those faces, telling Roger there is an emergency back at the office. He should have told him that Jane Siegel Sterling was dousing a pile of his memoirs with Stolichnaya on top of his desk. Pete practically has to pick up Roger’s drink and throw it out the door to get him to move. He finally leaves, allowing Pete to deploy that world-famous charm.
Back where people are trying to work, Peggy is pitching a kind of high-tech bean ballet to our embattled legume-centric friends from Heinz, who still resent how those guys in the ketchup department get to have all the fun. Those beans are spinning, I tell you, as Stan sings some Johann Strauss for effect and Peggy talks about these kinetic beans splashing in mouth-watering sauce. Unfortunately, it is Bethlehem Steel all over again, because these bean brains don’t get all this high-concept “The Art of Supper” jibber-jabber and just want to see someone take a big spoon full of their product and shove it in his or her bright, bean-loving face. It’s called a “bite and smile.” Don comes in, mollifies the bean men and doesn’t support Peggy’s concept. He just smiles. For Peggy, this just bites.
Having spent a few hours with two airline executives and many more martinis, Pete walks into his office — literally. The bloody nose he now enjoys thanks to a losing bout with a wall clearly came more out of eye-melting fury than inebriation. He’s once again fuming at Clara, demanding to know why Roger was at the meeting.
“He hovers over your desk like a damn U-2,” Pete blusters, referring to Francis Gary Powers’ spy plane rather than an Irish band that does not yet exist and will be the opposite of stealthy when they do. “You think he’s looking at your breasts? He’s looking at my calendar!!!”
Ken walks in and tries to talk Pete out of that myocardial infarction he’s working on, telling him not to sweat Roger, or baked beans, or any of that other small stuff. Cosgrove is spinning out a vision of future SCDP greatness to Petey like he is tapping a maple on a cold Vermont morning, imagining a slow and steady drip of business culminating in a sweet jug of revenue, including pharmaceuticals and a major automotive account, the opening of an office in Buenos Aires and “Elvis plays at Tammy’s ‘sweet 16.’”
“Kenny Cosgrove writes another Great American Novel,” Petey whines.
If I were Petey, I wouldn’t try to book Presley past his daughter’s 11th birthday at the latest. Just being practical, and for anything after the 1973 “Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite” concert, you’re gonna need a bigger cake.
So this is how things work at SCDP in the summer of 1966: the bean boys hate Peggy’s pitch, sending the creative team back to “bite and smile” their way to something that will work. But as soon as Don Draper wants to go home, Megan gets to leave, too. Stan tries some small talk about the weekend, about how his cousin has shore leave, but Don shuts him down. “Stan, assume you’re working.” Megan, of course, will not be.
The new-model Draper drives Peggy bonkers. He used to tell clients to just take their bean ballet and like it, but now “he’s kind and patient.”
“And it galls you,” Stan says.
“No,” Peggy says. “It concerns me.”
And finally, we get some classic Stan Rizzo-branded intestinal humor. “I’ve got tickets to the bean ballet and the curtain’s about to go up.” Waa-wah.
It seems that Petey took Howard Helpful’s advice and stayed out late, because it’s dark when the Boy Wonder comes into the kitchen and sees Trudy (Alison Brie) in an amazing technicolor housecoat, who tries to make him feel better about his dissatisfaction in the work place, telling him that it is “the coal that fuels the fire” of ambition. You could also use coal to boil down sap in an Atlantic Monthly short story, but Petey doesn’t want to hear that. Trudy asks if he really wants a dog, because if you just gave up an apartment on the Upper West Side that would have been worth $7.8 million in 2012 if you kept it in the family, a dog will make everything much better.
“Maybe just a beagle to scare off gophers,” Petey says with a far-away look in his sleepy, petulant eyes. For the record, massive use of plastic explosives shaped like gophers works just as well, and is less noisy than a beagle. But huzzah, Trudy and Petey have a babysitter for the Draper 40th Throwdown — gonna get their drink on without any Enfamil in sight.
Here it is: our viral moment of the evening. We are at the magnificent Chez Draper, where Megan has hired an emcee who preps a performance by the band by asking the party guests to “bring it down to a sotto voce.” Harry Crane (Rich Sommer), whom Don hates (according to Megan) but probably not as much as he will in the near future, takes a superfluous dig at the emcee’s sexuality, to which Rebecca Pryce (Embeth Davidtz) retorts, “He reminds me of Lane’s brother.” And there is much rejoicing from Lane.
This is, you remember, a surprise party, and everyone is supposed to be there already for the big reveal. So Megan and Don stumble through the hallway, and Megan is wearing a skirt that is cut only slightly lower than a headband. Don wants to get en flagrante delicto immediately, but Megan keeps pushing him toward the front door, where — Surprise! — Roger and Jane are bickering.
As Peggy or Ricky Ricardo could tell you, Don hated the surprise, fizzle or not, and worse yet, Megan invited a few people who are total strangers. But if there is a real loser in this scenario, it’s Stan’s poor cousin, a Seaman Apprentice (E-2) getting ready to ship the hell out to the South China Sea who has to hear from the increasingly tin-eared Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) that he’s going to come home in a body bag. Then Abe Drexler (Charlie Hofheimer), who is still dating Peggy, chimes in and starts talking about Dalton Trumbo’s novel, “Johnny Got His Gun,” about a soldier catastrophically wounded and left unable to communicate. And the hits just keep on coming.
“I thought there were going to be girls here,” he says. Well, just wait.
Harry’s not doing so well in the repartee department, either, having presented the newly minted 40-year-old birthday boy with a Steinway walking stick. Roger tells Don, “You can stick it up your a– and have a concert,” and that’s why you have the domestic Silver Ferret attend pivotal, awkward turning points in your adult life.
But think about it: so far, “A Little Kiss” is unquestionably a Roger Sterling showcase. Slattery gets the grand majority of great lines in this double episode, and even though Ferret and Jane (Peyton List) clearly hate each other now, they were meant to be together. When Petey dispenses a dark-hued joke about Roger only showing up to the party because Campbell had it on his calendar, Jane asks Roger, “Is he going bald?” As Tammy Wynette said…
The band blows out a sax-fueled version of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David chestnut “The Look of Love” (anachronism alert: not published until 1967). Peggy and Abe bring their latest drinks sloshing toward Don and Megan, who just suffered a reminder from her Canadian ex-roommate from the Whisky-A-G0-Go adventure that she was a good actress, but as Megan said, “not good enough.” After all, good actresses of the kind Megan aspired to be don’t write coupon copy. So the mood is already darkening when Peggy goes passive-aggressive on Don, reminding him that she cannot have fun because she has to go back to work and figure out how to sell a can of beans. Don glares at Peggy like he’s trying to figure out how he’s going to get rid of her body.
Fortunately, Megan knows how to change the subject.
“Un, deux, trois, quatre!” And with that, Megan, Don’s new French-extracted bride, launches into a version of “Zou Bisou Bisou,” originally sung by Sophia Loren in her extremely middling 1960 comedy with Peter Sellers, “The Millionairess.” It is an unforgettable act of awkward sexual hubris, truly as seductive as it is uncomfortable, because Megan is stunning in all her Tyrell Corporation splendor, yet dances like she needs about two more days of rehearsal time with her team of choreographers. The increasingly baffled Bert Cooper jokingly asked before this performance, “Did you get him a pony?” In a way, she did: she kind of wobbles around like a freshly foaled horse disguised as a French cyber-chanteuse. Harry, who has somehow acquired a fuzzy boa since he made his big homophobic splash earlier in the evening, is whistling and bouncing up and down in his seat as Megan gets cheeky with her miniskirt. The whole sequence is a big, hot train wreck. The men love it, especially Cousin Sailor, who isn’t quite as depressed anymore, and the women politely clap and thank all the religions that it wasn’t them.
“Why don’t you sing like that?” Roger asks Jane.
Why don’t you look like him?” Jane retorts.
As Robert Evans (or Patton Oswalt as Robert Evans) might say, “But that’s nothing like the awkwardness about to be bestowed by Roger Sterling,” who really needs to change his verbal filter more often. With Jane at his side, Roger stands dead center in the living room and gives a toast to Don and Megan, then blows out this little heartwarmer as Megan makes autonomic duck faces:
“As a wise man once said, the only thing worse than not getting what you want is someone else getting it.”
Megan is overjoyed and gives Roger “A Little Kiss” on the cheek. Jane looks like she accidentally swallowed a hornet.
The whole thing was uncomfortable, with Trudy and Abe exchanging current-affairs observations as if they were speaking other languages, and Abe commenting at one point that he wanted to treat the Drapers’ shag carpeting like he was a schnauzer with an itch. There was homophobia and racism from Harry, public lechery from Roger (who never met a Mrs. Draper he didn’t want to bed), and Peggy’s going to regret her little bean mot to Don in the morning.
So, need a spoiled cherry to top the nasty sundae? Don’s serving the garnish. He plops on the bed, face down, tells Megan to call “the girl” to clean up. Like a child well past her bedtime, Megan wants to keep playing, but Don’s wiped out, has about a bottle and a half of Jameson’s in him, and is ready to tell his bride just what he thinks about her “zoo be zoo be zoo”-ing.
“Don’t waste money on things like that,” he says.
“It was my money, and you don’t get to decide what I do with it,” Megan says, still smiling for the moment.
“Well, could you please not use it to embarrass me again?” Uh, yikes — that either means don’t throw parties for me or don’t go all Jane Birkin with your Francophone, Serge Gainsbourg-baiting sextravaganzas in front of people I command.
“I know why you’re upset,” Megan says, pouting. “You’re 40.”
“I’ve been 40 for half-a-year,” Don says, answering the question from earlier this evening. This was Don Draper’s birthday, not Dick Whitman’s. Megan has processed the binary situation: Don gets a 1, Dick gets a 0.
“Nobody loves Dick Whitman,” she says. “I love you. That’s why I threw you a party.”
Megan is in love with Don, but right now, just call him Dick.
“I’m going to sleep now. You do what you want.”
Megan’s face goes blank, like one of J.F. Sebastian’s toys when it powers down. She leaves her husband on the bed, surveys the wreckage of her living room and, possibly her life, and wanders to the balcony, staring blankly into Manhattan as a lonely guitar strums us into the fade-to-black.
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