Redemption begins with a fall from grace. Don Draper has fallen from grace; what now?
Mad Men’s season six ended with Draper (Jon Hamm) on forced-indefinite leave and Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), his protege, sitting at his old desk. Season six made Draper look pathetic–he was moderately despicable and mostly sad. His personal and professional lives began to crumble around him. The agency placed him on indefinite leave.
The final season, which premiered Sunday, began with a pitch for a watch. The significance of the episode lies in the timepiece and the episode’s title (“Time Zones”): time.
Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price has gone national. Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) has moved to L.A., the partners in New York are dealing with calls in every time zone. Don’s wife, Megan (Jessica Pare), also moved to L.A. to pursue her acting.
The first time we see Don, he has just arrived at L.A.’s airport. He looks exactly the same as he did season one–like a 50s businessman. Then we see Megan, and, with her mini dress, she looks like she belongs in the early 70s. Don offers to drive, but Megan ultimately does, claiming it would be easier.
In this scene, it is clear Don is stuck in the past–in the 50s–when the show began, and when he would have dressed like that and driven his wife’s car–and he has to travel across three time zones to see his wife, who, wanting to drive, picking a house in the canyon, is almost ahead of the times. Don is out of place in his world–he is out of place at work (or what little connection he has to work, i.e. lunch with Pete), he is out of place at his wife’s avant garde Los Angeles home and he’s out of place in the late-60s-early-seventies.
Don is not the only walking anachronism. Peggy is confused–her professional life and position at SCDP is modern and ahead of those around her, but she still dresses like it’s 1959. Roger Sterling (John Slattery) is in a weird place, abandoning monogamy for polyamory. Pete, formerly out of place, dressing and living in the 50s, embraced the late 60s in L.A. by adopting a new look complete with sideburns, madras pants and Lacoste sweaters.
Though time was a massive part of the premiere, it alludes to the future of the season–a future of transition.
Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) is fighting to no longer be a glorified secretary/partner-in-name-only, taking charge and attempting to solve problems, after hitting bottom in season six (offering herself in exchange for an account). Sterling is mending ties with his daughter. Pete is less of a jerk. And, of course, Don Draper.
The key moment occurred on Don’s redeye back to New York. He was sitting next to beautiful widow, and at first, it looked like Don would act as Don always had. She asks him to come with her in the car that’s waiting for her at the airport. In any other season, Don would have accepted. But he didn’t. He declined and opened the window shade, letting it the early morning’s light. He was turning a corner. His redemption could be dawning.
The last song, “You Keep Me Hanging On,” summed up his situation: Don Draper is holding onto his job, his wife and the 50s by a thread.