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'Mad Men' Season 7 premiere: Don, Peggy, Roger keep hangin' on — barely

Grab a cigar and pour yourself an Old Fashioned. Each week, Times TV mavens Michelle Stark -- a young go-getter in the Peggy Olson mold -- and Sean Daly -- the Roger Sterling-esque, smiling-through-the-chaos smartaleck -- will vigorously debate Sunday night's episode of Mad Men.

Amid all the zombies and Scandals on right now, it's easy to forget that Mad Men is still the reigning champ of quality TV. And Sunday night's premiere was a great, if teasing, Mad Men episode, one that actually has us pumped for this final season (not a given, considering how morose and frustrating last season could be). Oh, sure, the episode was still dreadfully depressing at times (what's up with Don shivering on the icy balcony?), but the buzz of a new decade on the horizon, of change, gave it an exciting energy. Judging by President Nixon's inauguration speech, it looks like we're in January 1969 now, which means this last season will likely span the entire final year of the '60s. More thoughts on the season 7 premiere, Time Zones:

Love that opening shot, with Freddy Rumsen (who we last saw in season 5, I believe) passing off Don's words as his own, much to the pleasant surprise of Peggy. Great pitch, great scene, great delivery. And it just occurred to me that Freddy, like Don, was forced to take a leave from SCDP after he embarrassed himself at work. But why, exactly, is Don doing his work like this? Does he not want to risk offending the agency at which he's technically still employed by branching out on his own? Is he too embarrassed to do so?

Sean: Mad Men is always aware of its own bigness; it's deep, but it's also cool and crowd-pleasing. So Freddy's ad pitch was also a buckle-up-boys-and-girls nod to this whole final shebang: "Are you ready?" Chills, I tell you! Of course, we don't find out until the ep's closing minutes that all Don's assured "gotta get back to work" talk was really just being Cyrano to schlumpy Freddy. Don doesn't need the cash; he's still getting paid a bundle. But he does need to strut, even when cloaked in invisibility. LOVED the slow-burn to this hour -- all was not what it seemed for just about everyone, from Don to Roger to Peggy to Joan.

Michelle: Gotta be Pete. That sweater around the shoulders, his perky blond GF (Bonnie Whiteside!), and, man, you saw the way he talked about those orange groves, right? Pete seems to have left last season's woes (the death of his mother, his split from Trudy, sexual tension with Bob Benson) far behind. Also, now I'm craving a pastrami sandwich.

Sean: Pete's purpose here, besides the usual levity at his constantly shifting self, was to hold a mirror up to Don's inability to change, to shed his inherent Don-ness. In that bustling deli, Pete was all Cali casual, rocking the Izod, talking about the good "vibrations." And Don quips: "You dress like a hippie. You talk like a hippie." Which is a seeerrrriiiousss stretch. And yet, to Don, everyone else is a hippie; he's the only normal one. Man, If Don thinks Pete is a hippie, hoo boy, he ain't seen nothing yet.

So my MVP? Besides that hilarious lil' kid yelling at Peggy about the clogged toilet? Oh, I'd have to say Roger, if only because he's my guy. Whereas Draper is totally lost in his own timeless malaise (Don would be Don in any decade -- discuss), Roger is staging an epic battle between regimental ties and raging orgies. Plus anyone who can stay so cool, so composed with nothing but a telephone over his manhood deserves serious MVP votage.


Michelle: Don Draper's introduction is one of my favorite things about this episode. That song, that slow motion, that shot of him moving forward through the airport. It's great, and feels triumphant over last season's doom and gloom. But what do you make of that last scene, Sean? (And how about that awesome song choice? "You don't really love me, you just keep me hanging on.") Is Don detoxing on that freezing patio? Is he punishing himself for being a horrible husband? Is this his way of saying, "I just don't give an eff anymore"?

Sean: The song at the beginning is I'm a Man by the Spencer Davis Group, a reckless jazz-rock statement of defiance and cocksure look-at-me. Again, here's Mad Men having a whole lot of groovy fun. Creator Matthew Weiner loves Jon Hamm/Don Draper, and he should: a great-looking fabu actor who knows how to portray calm (even if it's a facade) on a sinking ship. Only when no one else is around -- for instance, Ice Station Balcony -- does his guard come tumbling down.

At this point, Michelle, it could go either way with Don. But hasn't that always been the case?


Michelle: Yes, she lives in a secluded area in California now. Sure, she wore that T-shirt with the red star on it last year. But she's not going to die, people. That is not how this show operates.

Sean: I dunno. Megan has a doomed aura about her. Kind of like a cheerleader scrambling away from Jason Voorhees at Camp Crystal Lake. Watch out for that tree root, hon -- trippppp.

Michelle: Oh, hey Neve Campbell! Nice to see you, looking pretty much exactly like last season's surprise guest Linda Cardellini. Does Don have a type or what?

Sean: Don loves his lost souls, makes him feel better about himself (misery loving naked company, etc.). Such a sweet-sexy-sad scene on the plane. Most shocking, Don passes up the nook-nook to eat hoagies with Freddy, proving that he defines himself not by his conquests but by his creativity.

Have a feeling Neve will be back, don't you? Do you really bust out a star that big for five minutes?

Michelle: Alas, last season's mystery man just gets a brief mention, from a very stressed and extremely entertaining version of Ken Cosgrove. He's still in Detroit, and will likely stay that way unless James Wolk's CBS show gets canceled.

Sean: Ken's eyepatch also deserves an MVP mention.

Michelle: Sheesh, can Peggy catch a break? Every man in her life is stomping all over her in this episode, from not-tan Ted and his asinine toaster shtick to new boss Lou Avery who in his own words is immune to her charms to that brat in her building bugging her about maintenance issues. The only dude on her side? Stan. Thank goodness for Stan.

Sean: And once more we see the Don-Peggy comparison. So strong and poised -- until they aren't. Kudos to Elisabeth Moss for that devastating meltdown. That one got to me more than Don's stoic Jack-Nicholson-in-The-Shining shivery pose.

Michelle: "She knows I'm a terrible husband." -- Don

"We're rich in goods but ragged in spirit." -- Richard Nixon, of all people

"Let it go baby, it's dead." -- Stan to Peggy

Sean: "Are you sure you don't want to live in a more populated area? It's like Dracula's castle up here." -- Don, possibly with great foreshadowing, to Megan in her new Hollywood Hills pad

Come on, Sean, I know you're all over this one! My vote is split between Peggy's jaunty hats, Stan's eternally cool fringe jacket, and that baby doll dress Megan is rocking in the slow-motion scene outside the airport. The '70s have definitely arrived in the wardrobe department.

Sean: Megan's all-legs dress was certainly rewindable (and rewindable), but I'll save the trenchant sartorial analysis for you. Roger's carnal phone aside, my favorite clothing moment was Don, relaxing with Megan on the couch, in shirt, tie, slacks -- and bare feet. That's his allowance to leisure: no shoes, no socks, refusing to give up his busy businessman veneer.

Oh, and just for the record: I also want my ashes scattered in Disneyland, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride preferably.