Following is a spoiler-free review of the Season 7 premiere of Mad Men: Time Zones. Very minor events that occur during the course of the episode are mentioned below, and I feel free to reveal things that Matthew Weiner has revealed in recent interviews. If that’s too much for you, be warned.
At one point during Time Zones, Don and Megan Draper nod off in front of the TV. As Megan sleeps, Don watches the opening of the 1937 movie, Lost Horizon, and the opening text appears on screen:
In these days of wars and rumors of wars – – haven’t you ever dreamed of a place where there was peace and security, where living was not a struggle but a lasting delight?
Yes, Don has dreamed of those days, is dreaming of those days, days the text goes on to call “Utopia.” Megan wakes briefly and asks “What is this.” Don ignores the question as if it’s nothing, when clearly it’s everything.
The characters in Time Zones are all desperately isolated. Even those in relationships, even those sleeping together and talking and reaching across barriers are aware more of the loneliness than the connection; more of the barriers than the reach. The connections all seem artificial; a forced expression of love, a stilted offer of forgiveness. Sexuality is a mess in this episode; couples don’t connect, or don’t care, and a simple negotiation is mistaken for a pass. In one scene, nudity that could be erotic is seen as exhausting. People would rather just sleep, y’know?
Inside all of it is that longing for Utopia, which, Rachel Menken told us in Season 1, is the place that cannot be. Our characters are seeking “the good place,” and it just isn’t there; not where they can get at it anyway.
Matt Weiner has been talking about Season 7 as being about “consequences.” To a great extent, every season of Mad Men is about consequences. It’s ironic that a lot of early fans of the show were attracted to its smokin’ and drinkin’ and cheatin’ cool, when Matt always intended to show us the alcoholism, heart disease, and broken hearts.
And sure, isolation is a consequence of a series of decisions; that’s true for everyone here: Peggy, Roger, Don, Megan, and others, all feeling their own piece of that. I feel like the episode is more about that isolation than “consequences,” maybe because the experience is more felt than rationalized. People feel lonely, and somewhere in their heads can know its cause. By the final scenes, we’re left more with deep feelings than anything. There’s a couple of shots at the end that are callbacks to earlier shots—I won’t describe them. But they remind us that these characters have been journeying down their respective roads for years.
I think we’re in for a very heavy season.