In the best episode since the first of this season, Matthew Weiner and partners return to business as usual. Don’s back behind a desk, behaving himself (sort of) and looking to climb the stairs to his former prestige.
The first step the show takes in its new, unwavering path of change is Betty. After her first marriage failed when she refused to think for herself, she’s challenging her second marriage by doing the exact opposite. Sticking to her feminist ideals, Betty argues with Henry over politics at a party and is effectively told to stick to the catering. Seven seasons in, it would appear the former Mrs Draper is ready to grow up – and we may well be on her side.
Struggling against his new boss, Lou, Don is forced to work on someone else’s clock as his past pays him a visit. He tries to fix his relationship with Megan – giving Jessica Paré more than a few chances to be lovably unstable – all of which leads to a sex scene worthy of Mad Men’s reputations. As always with Don’s comebacks, though, it’s uncertain whether he’s fixed anything at all, or simply pushed it further into the subtle, maze-like grey area that Mad Men has been exploring since 2007 – still no less beautiful or entertaining.
Avery is faced with more problems than his unruly new employee, however. The extent of his creativity is finally uncovered, as Alan Havey’s director yo-yos between being intimidating and an object of fun. He’s powerful and he’s strict, but he’s also a special brand of pathetically dull. After crossing Don a few times, it’s unclear – and therefore fascinating – as to whether he’ll explode or mope if retaliated against.
While this goes on, Stan (Jay R. Ferguson’s marijuana-smoking rascal) has a standout episode, returning to his status as the mischievous joker of the office. Michael Ginsberg, on the other hand, is handed what might be the most upsetting story Mad Men has delivered in a while. It matches the gruesomeness of The Lawnmower Incident with distress and heartbreak. Always the chatty oddball, Ginsberg’s deep-seated uncertainty about the introduction of a computer to the office ranges from comical to the exact opposite, and gives Elisabeth Moss (and Peggy) a chance to battle every stage in between.
With only two episodes to go in this part of the season, squabbling and fear is thick in the offices of SC&P. The Runaways displays the phenomenal talent the cast and crew have for turning something awkward into something silly into something scary into something tragic; a showcase of the show’s ability to change tone in the flick of a lighter.
As Don continues to climb those stairs, there’s a real possibility that Episodes 5 and 6 will show no mercy to the inhabitants of this rapidly changing world. The only thing more worrying than what happens if he falls is what happens if he reaches the top.
Mad Men: Season 1 to 7 is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.
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