In Mad Men episode 7.01: Time Zones, no one can connect, and everyone is fundamentally alone. Connection is both futile, and empty. For the most part, I found myself feeling so sorry for these characters. Oh, poor Peggy. Poor Don. Poor Kenny! They’re all so sadly trapped in a disconnected and lonely life. They each feel that pain, that “nowhere and no one” feeling.
I don’t feel sorry for Roger. He’s disconnected too, but he’s Roger.
Let’s start with Kenny. My first thought was, oh no, poor guy, that eyepatch is permanent! But this is the shortest interval we’ve ever had between seasons—a mere 7 weeks from Thanksgiving 1968 to January 1969*—and so this injury could easily still be healing.
*For those keeping score, the episode takes place from Friday, January 17, 1969 through Monday, January 20—the day of Richard Nixon’s first Inaugural Address.
The eyepatch may well be temporary, but Kenny’s real suffering is his aloneness. He has no underlings. He has no one to support his work, not in some emotional, touchy-feely way, but he’s Head of Accounts with no “account men.” He can’t do his job. He can only be angry. And the saddest thing is to see eternally contented Kenny that angry.
Contrasted to isolation is the notion of escape, and the place you escape to is another time zone. Kenny is plagued by escapees: Bob and Pete, calling from different time zones, underlining Ken’s isolation and frustration. Every encounter throughout the episode will have one of these hallmarks: Disconnection or escape.
Let’s talk about Don. He is pretty much 100% flying without a net at this point, no connection to anything. His job isn’t really his job. The work he does is delivered as Freddy’s, not his own. He’s pitching work he pretends isn’t his, back to the job he pretends he still has. His plane arrives in LA late (it would have been unrealistic to show an airline missed connection, as flights tended to be direct in those days, but late works as a substitute). Megan, an escapee, has a beautiful car and a beautiful view and damn, look at that outfit! But she and Don don’t connect sexually at first, and it’s pretty clear they’ve become profoundly different people. Don connects awkwardly with Pete (another classic Mad Men Hug of Cringe). Pete has escaped, which for him means finding a New York deli and a California blonde.
Even on the flight home, Don’s lovely connection with the stranger is abortive. He knows he’s a bad husband, the offer is just for sex, and he says no with no pretense it’s because he’s faithful. And note that the captain announces they’re unable to land on time—another failed connection. Finally, he is literally out in the cold, staring bleakly into the disconnected nothingness that is his life.
Peggy? Peggy is suddenly unappreciated, a situation that is entirely new to her. Sterling Cooper was either her first job out of secretarial school, or her first job in Manhattan. Either way, her entire career has been under the loving and careful protection of Don, Ted, or both. Don both nurtured and mistreated her, but always appreciated her talent. When Lou said “I guess I’m immune to your charms,” it was devastating, but also like a foreign language to her. Her life may feel empty, but she’s always had the creative connection. Not now. There’s a connection to Stan, sure, if she calls and calls and calls, and a connection to Ted she doesn’t dare experience. Finally, her brother-in-law goes home to his wife because Anita shouldn’t be alone in an apartment, leaving Peggy in exactly that position, and it’s too much, and she falls to the floor. Go ahead, admit you teared up.
Roger is living in a naked pile of connection and all he wants to do is sleep. His daughter tries to connect with him and it’s awkward, and not even a little bit loving: Forgiveness as a sophisticated form of revenge.
Ted escaped, but he can’t escape. His heart is in New York with his disconnected connection. Joan, so good at reading men, doesn’t understand, at first, what the Business School professor wants of her. Disconnected. Even losing Butler Shoes is a lost connection, and Ken doesn’t understand why it’s so bad.
And in the midst of it all, the longing. Peggy, lonely, but also longing for a caliber of creativity that rises above the day-to-day. Don, lost in the opening of Lost Horizon and its talk of Utopia. Pete, who just wants a bagel. Pete, at least, will have his wish fulfilled by Ted. The rest of them, I think, are shit out of luck.