TV Recap: Mad Men, ‘Time Zones’ (Season 7 Premiere)

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The Low Down: It’s the late 60s and the agency is officially bicoastal. Ted (Kevin Rahm) and Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) are running the West Coast office while Don Draper (Jon Hamm) been replaced by Lou Avery and in many respects Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss) — who is still scarred over her relationship with Ted falling apart. Don is on the West Coast visiting Megan who is in the midst of auditioning for a show on NBC. Roger (John Slattery) has brunch with his daughter (Elizabeth Rice)where she confronts and forgives him for his transgressions, to his disbelief and confusion. Don meets a new woman of interest (Neve Campbell) on the TWA flight home. Joan (Christina Hendricks) decides to take on more responsibility within the company tackling a new, inexperienced hot shot (Cougar Town’s Dan Byrd) inside a shoe company

Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

The Bed and Booze Count: Joan asks for a splash of whiskey in her drink after a tough meeting. Megan gets wasted off champagne. As for the sex — we discover Roger Sterling in a hotel room amidst a sea of naked women. Roger ties one after brunch with his daughter, his new girlfriend has another man in bed with her, obviously subscribing to the whole “free love” concept.

Favorite Performance: Christina Hendricks as Joan. I might be a little biased (since I believe Christina Hendricks is quite possibly the most gorgeous actress I’ve ever laid eyes upon), but tonight Hendricks really turned in one of her best performances. For the past few seasons it seems like the show has vacillated on whether to make Joan a serious player in the business world of the show or just focus on her personal life. Frankly, watching Joan’s struggles to be accepted in the “boys club” of advertising is much more interesting than Peggy’s (mainly due to the fact Peggy’s character hasn’t seemed to evolve much since she moved from reception to creative). Tonight, Joan was able to assert herself using her brains and cunning and not her sexuality (the show had a couple of nice nods to her thinking men were implying she sleep with them) to succeed in the world of business. There was a fierceness in Joan that’s rarely been shown and it was awesome and Hendrick’s piercing eyes and air of confidence she carries about her, nailed it. One has to hope the series avoids it’s usual “Joan Trap” where the character is featured heavily in the beginning of the season and by season’s end she’s relegated to human wallpaper.

The Supporting Scene Stealer: Vincent Kartheiser. He wasn’t in the episode for very long but Kartheiser was hilarious as the new, improved Pete. He’s thinner, tanned, positive and upbeat with this whole yuppy/hippie thing going on. Watching him just be so damn happy and not his usual miserable self was actually pretty funny and unexpected. Will this last all season? Probably not.

Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

The Best Part of The Episode: The most emotional moment in “Time Zones” was the interaction between Don and his “row buddy” on the flight played by Neve Campbell. One has to assume Campbell much like Linda Cardellini and Alexis Bleidel before her will become a recurring character this season, but that’s not important right now. The moment she and Don have the plane where they talk about how their marriages were ended/fractured was great. Campbell probably delivered one of her better performances, well ever. Hamm was given some vintage introspective Draper lines that were probably the best written lines of the entire episodes. The scene also makes you wonder — will Don have an affair with the woman, like he does every season or will he make actually change his life? Is he the same self-destructive bastard we’ve come to know and begrudgingly love or is this a new chapter in his life?

The Little Thing We Loved: When we open the show we see long-time recurring cast member Freddie (Joel Murray) delivering a wonderfully impassioned sales pitch (listen closely to it because this speech also sets the table for the mantra and tone of the season in many ways) that’s almost uncharacteristically brilliant for the character. At the end of the episode it’s revealed that Freddie is merely a pawn and that all his words were Don’s. Don is the puppet master who is desperately trying to stay creative within the agency, but his exile is keeping him out. This is a brilliant little move that you’ll miss if you aren’t paying close enough attention.

Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Final Thoughts: “Time Zones” was about as pedestrian a premiere as you possibly can get. Last season ended on such a huge emotional note and this season plops back into the mix like business as usual. The Megan/Don situation is a head scratcher. Weren’t they done? The whole agency storyline is completely weird — wasn’t Duck brought back in during the “big reveal” at season’s end and now he’s nowhere to be found? Peggy Olsen remains the character who never evolves, she’s constantly miserable and whining and flustered by the men in her life. If this character ever turns a corner, it’d be the best thing the show ever did. The rest of the cast just seemed to be there with no much direction or purpose.

When you think about “Time Zones” felt like one of those mid-season episodes of Mad Men where things just kinda happen with no real consequence. The tone of the episode was very “elephant in the room” as no one seemed to want to address all the big issues that happened in last season’s finale and if they did it was just hinted at. In fact, the more you think about it the more disappointed you get. We were left with such a heavy, emotional Season 6 finale and we’re greeted almost a year later with a lukewarm return? This didn’t even feel like a table setting episode — what new story lines were kicked off? Megan and Don are all awkward? Sterling and his daughter have a weird relationship? Pete is still a douche? Peggy is miserable? Don is wondering what the hell is wrong with him and how he can get out of his own pit of despair? These are overriding themes and story lines we’ve dealt with for years. Literally this episode felt like an episode the writers felt we should enjoy just because we’re seeing the characters again.

In the end, “Time Zones” wasted an opportunity to capitalize on one of the series’ finest finales. We weren’t looking for another gut punch of an emotional premiere, but give us something more than just this lukewarm reintroduction.

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Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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