Despite being more than a year removed from the last new episode of “Mad Men,” Sunday’s season five premiere was worth the wait. Don Draper and crew returned having undergone incredible experiences that set the stage for the future of this hit drama. The two-hour opener was truly a movie experience, reacquainting the audience with the late-1960s universe and the characters they learned to live without.
Don Draper had a surprisingly small role for the episode, a contrast to his normally domineering presence. Sally Draper introduced the changes, stumbling upon a naked Don and Megan in his new house. A stereotypically perfect family is displayed, even without Betty. The only nod to the ex-wife is when Don drops his children off at her swanky new mansion.
What the writers of “Mad Men” do best is put their characters in the hardest possible positions and deliver tremendous reactions — no one gets off easy. Perfectly illustrating this is Peggy, who gave up her baby four years ago only to now handle Joan’s baby at the office. Pete, meanwhile, calls all the partners in to discuss a change in his office arrangement, starkly contrasting the aging partners opposite the new generation of talent.
The most complex parallel made is between Roger and Don. Roger did exactly what Don did two years prior — divorce his wife, marry his secretary and feign happiness. And Roger, in this episode, is nothing but lost. Without Joan, he despises Jane. It’s a cycle that will certainly play out in the coming seasons.
It’s hard to believe that no one from this show has won an Emmy for their performance. This cast is stunning, and Elisabeth Moss and Jon Hamm have charged chemistry whenever they are together. And John Slattery singing “Frère Jacques,” mocking Megan’s birthday present to Don, was nothing short of priceless.
The episode also smartly sets the stage for the next three years with the question “Who is Don Draper?” We’ve met the mysterious Don, the scandalous, the faithful, the scorned and the lost. Right now, he appears to be at his most pathetic and delusional, which may not be something viewers will be interested in for long. If the writing and direction can maintain its high quality, fans may be able to forgive the alterations to his character. But with Don so central to the show, it will be curious to see where they take his character in the coming episodes.