Never before has there been such hysterical excitement about the first episode of the fifth series of a long-running American television show. Televisions were self-immolating from anticipation. But this is Mad Men, and the rules are different, and they made us – the dribbling, adoring, devoted fans – wait for so unbelievably long after a plot twist at the end of the last series that saw Don Draper propose to his secretary. Those of us who care more than is healthy or right about this show have been stewing over this proposal for 18 months. I hope Matthew Wiener knows he is responsible for stomach ulcers across the land.
Anyway, here we are. It happened. And that strange first scene showing a bunch of unknown (to us) ad agency workers water-bombing a civil rights march made us panic – what have they done with the cast? The office? What have they done with Peggy? Luckily, this was not Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, the beloved agency we left on the brink of collapse, but a rival. And we were soon back in Roger’s inner sanctum, a parody-of-sixties-design (must be Jane’s doing), watching him pretend to be useful. No one is hopeless as charmingly as Roger.
There, too, were Don and Megan (The Secretary) and, woah, there’s Megan giving a sexy dance and singing a French song which sounds like elaborate baby talk at a surprise party for Don in their vast apartment which looks straight out of an overpriced Stoke Newington vintage furniture store. (Line of the episode goes to Lane Pryce describing Don watching his new, young wife cavort in front of the assorted lecherous guests: “I saw his soul leave his body“.)
On the lechery point: what has happened to Harry Crane? I always liked Harry – the kind of character who eats in every scene and sweetly bolted from the boardroom in guilty tears after Don’s Kodak Carousel presentation, so moved was he by the (ingeniously contrived) depiction of family life after he’d had it off with Pete Campbell’s secretary. (Whatever happened to the humourless Hildy? I hope she returns as Duck’s improbable mistress when he tries to drunkenly stage a hostile takeover of the company, before being lamped by Don, desperate to make up for that embarrassing empty swing in the last series. One thing Mad Men has taught us: anything is possible.) But now Harry is a horror – even more pervy and bigoted and dumb. He is also universally loathed. But this isn’t the Harry we knew and loved. Moral of the story: LA does bad things to people.
And finally – our favourites – Peggy and Pete. I know, Pete isn’t the popular choice but there is something so lovable about someone as socially awkward and keen on antique etiquette as Pete Campbell (also: I have been smitten since he and Trudy did That Dance at Roger and Jane’s party). If that wasn’t enough, the sight of Pete launching a comically furious campaign for a larger office – one, preferably, without a support pillar – is enough to melt the hardest heart. This is what ambition smells like. And Peggy? Still the soul of the piece, of course, plus Megan’s boss (intriguing dynamic). When left holding Joan’s baby for a brief moment, she looks – poignantly – as though she has been handed a goblin. Joan, meanwhile, is single-handedly carrying the “challenges of working motherhood” storyline – sound the Social Theme klaxon!
Still it was great, wasn’t it? It felt like being reunited with dear friends you haven’t seen for months. I wanted to note every change in clothing and expression and mood. Such is Weiner’s militant attention to detail, you could feel the weight of history in a lampshade. But the best thing was that there were no tricks, no shock revelations – things had moved on exactly as you might have predicted they had moved on, and yet of course you hadn’t predicted it quite right, because the glory of this show is that it is as entirely and beautifully unpredictable as an English spring.