Mad Men Season Premiere Review: “Time Zones” (Season 7, Episode 1)

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As for Roger, he gets a call from his daughter, Margaret, who wants to see him for Sunday brunch. Before they both get into their eggs Benedict, she tells her dad that she forgives him for all of his misbehavior. “I’ve come to understand than anger can be vanquished by love,” she says. Roger is left speechless by this act of high gratitude, but it further makes the sleazy adman want to question his sins and transgressions. As he lies back on his hotel bed while pondering their talk, he stares at the ceiling in fright and desperation. (Margaret’s acceptance of her father’s issues here only makes Sally Draper’s lack in this episode even greater.)

Meanwhile, it is hard to believe that Joan Harris has worked on Madison Avenue for 16 years, as she says in “Time Zones.” But, as far as she has moved up on the company ladder, she still feels like a woman left out of many of the transactions. She agrees to help Ken get some stress off his back and have dinner with one of his clients, who is threatening to take his marketing in-house. Joan still feels a bit useless when Ken shoves excuses at her that he would normally give a secretary, but she uses this opportunity as a way to be business-savvy. It turns out she has learned many tricks from her business partners over the years, although Ken is not as gratified with her terrific job as he should be. She still has to deal with his prickly personality.

At moments this week, it feels like Weiner and director Scott Hornbacher are forcing the themes and symbolism about the nature of time and consequences onto the viewer, instead of letting the metaphors wash over us in reflection. In a way, they are behaving more like Freddy’s pitch to Peggy than one of Don’s iconic speeches, a bit too focused on the technicalities of explaining what everything means, leaving little room for ambiguity.

“The clock is ticking,” Freddy repeats in this pitch, ad nauseam. Boy, is he right. A little less focused than usual for TV’s finest contemporary drama, Mad Men kicks off season seven with a little bit of sunshine and a lot of darkness – oh, and exceptional acting and writing. It is not as weighty or full as the past two season openers, both of which ran two hours, but it is still a superb look at what Richard Nixon would call empty lives wanting fulfillment.

You can blame Madison Avenue for that outlook, folks. At the end, Don sits alone, weary and shivering on his roof, overlooking a hazy city. Peggy is on the floor of her tiny apartment, shamed and frustrated. Roger is adrift in his own thoughts as he contemplates his daughter’s words. They are on their own islands this week, lost and delirious, dreaming of a place where living was not a struggle but a lasting delight.

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