After a hiatus of nearly a year and a half, AMC’s Mad Men returns with “A Little Kiss.” Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) begins to resent Roger (John Slattery), not believing Roger is pulling his weight at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Roger isn’t concerned much, spending money to poke fun at another agency in the paper, which results in Joan (Christina Hendricks) fearing that her job is in jeopardy and the firm having to hire minorities on their already tight budget. Amid this, Megan (Jessica Paré) throws Don (Jon Hamm) a surprise birthday party, but does not get the reaction that she hopes for.
“A Little Kiss” is a little disappointing. Just a little. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the episode. It’s just that, after such a long absence, one expects a big, splashy return. That’s not what this episode is. It does an adequate job catching viewers up with what is going on for the characters, and there are some amazing moments sprinkled in, but it is mostly a routine installment.
Megan gets her due, to say the least. Now promoted to series regular, she is central to multiple stories in “A Little Kiss.” At work, she is a junior member of the creative team, no longer a simple secretary. Her position is shaky, being that she is obviously promoted because of her marriage to Don, but Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) seems to be warming up to her, slowly. If Megan can win Peggy over, she’ll be fine. Megan contributes, proves she is up to the job, and willing to work for it. This should result in her acceptance, given time.
At home, Megan’s birthday party doesn’t go so well. Many of the co-workers enjoy Megan’s sexy song, “Zoo Bisou Bisou,” for Don, but Don is embarrassed by her. Setting aside just how stellar her gift is, one can see why, given the sexy moves Megan performs in front of others, but the moment is still a highlight of the episode. However, the fight between the couple does spill over into the work place, and makes things awkward, especially for her.
The thing is, Megan’s relationship with Don is more important than her connection to her colleagues, and the former is on pretty solid ground. In stark contrast to Don’s disastrous marriage to Betty (January Jones), Megan doesn’t allow Don to get away with his behavior. Nor does she act like a little child. She does resort to some antics to get his attention, but it’s to challenge him, rather than punish him. They work out the matter, rather than ignoring it. It’s a healthy sign for their union.
Another healthy sign is just how happy Don seems. There is a rough patch in “A Little Kiss,” but overall, he seems much more at peace than at any other time during the series. This can surely be credited to Megan, and thus, her presence is welcome. Their nuptials do seem a little fast, but she’s proving to be a good match who can inspire Don to be his best self. Better still, he already told her his secrets between seasons, including that he is really Dick Whitman, so there is no dark cloud hanging over them.
Pete’s marriage to Trudy (Alison Brie) in Mad Men, on the other hand, seems far less suitable. Pete is clearly unhappy no longer living in the city as of “A Little Kiss.” He doesn’t exactly cheer the advice of his buddy on the train, who suggests that Pete stay at work later, if he comes home at all, but it does appear that Peter considers the words. How long before Pete begins to act on them? And how long after that before Trudy leaves him?
Roger, too, isn’t happy in his marriage. He ignores his wife, Jane (Peyton List), or tells her to shut up. It’s not like Roger has ever been happy with anyone (except for Joan), but this is the bed that he made. If he doesn’t want to stay married, then get a divorce. Having an unhappy home is not doing him any favors, and with everything else going on, Roger needs some sanctuary where he can feel at ease. At present, Roger is lacking that.
Pete’s relationship with Roger is even more tenuous in “A Little Kiss.” Pete wants to push Roger out, and makes a play for his office. Roger holds him off, for now, by bribing Harry (Rich Sommer) to switch with Pete instead. Not exactly what Pete wants, since the office isn’t really the issue. But this struggle is far from over. And might Pete just be lashing out at Roger because he is unhappy at home?
The thing is, while Pete is right about Roger not bringing in a lot of new business, or really, any, Roger does have value. Clients love him. Potential clients love him. Roger has great people skills, and is fantastic at entertaining with alcohol and fun. This can be very important for a firm that needs all the business it can get, and is still growing. Not giving Roger his own secretary may make sense, but trying to oust him does not.
Is Cooper (Robert Morse) on his way out of Mad Men? He doesn’t seem to have an office anymore, and he is treated a bit like a dolt. Not that Cooper seems to notice. He asks to be included in a status meeting in “A Little Kiss,” right after it takes place without him. He’s just through a glass wall at the time, so he could have noticed, if he were more alert. His mental acuity has definitely suffered, and it looks like he’s merely a figurehead these days. But how long can they afford to keep him if he’s not contributing?
Joan’s position with Sterling Cooper Draper Price is definitely secure, despite her fears. Seeing the ad in the paper in “A Little Kiss,” Joan is understandably worried. She may not want to show that in front of her annoying, controlling mother (Christine Estabrook, Desperate Housewives), but who can blame her? She has been away from the office for awhile, with her baby, and she wants to make sure that she has a place to come back to.
Thankfully, Lane (Jared Harris) lays her concerns to rest. No one can run an office as efficiently as Joan, and SCDP cannot wait to have her back. This is a load off not only the character’s mind, but fans’ as well. Mad Men would just not be the same without Joan at all.
Joan is not the only one shaken by the ad. It’s a stupid prank by Roger, but Roger does not consider the consequences before acting. A crowd of African American job applicants show up. It’s an unexpected twist, that reminds fans how brilliant the writing on Mad Men can be. All of the sudden, SCDP has a new challenge, and has inserted themselves squarely into the civil rights movement. They cannot send all these people away without hiring them. They would look like fools and bigots themselves. They will have to find money somewhere to provide jobs to at least a couple new diverse employees. Otherwise, their reputation could be ruined.
How will hiring African-Americans change the dynamic of the office? In modern society, of course, many, many offices are integrated without problem. However, in the world of Mad Men, advertising is a white male-dominated business. There is no ethnicity in their workplace. Each characters has a varying comfort level, with a number of them not having been exposed to many people different from themselves. It will make good drama to see who adapts, and who does not.
The final plot in “A Little Kiss” involves Lane finding a man’s wallet in a taxi, and falling for the girl whose picture is in said wallet. While Lane is in a good marriage, for the most part, other than some money worries, he is considering straying. Thankfully, nothing comes of it, but not because Lane doesn’t want it to. Where is Mad Men going with this character? He’s been such a welcome addition to the cast, it would be sad to see him ruined.
“A Little Kiss” deserves at least a solid B+. As mentioned, it is a little uneventful for a long-anticipated season premiere. But as a standard episode, it succeeds, and moments such as Megan’s dance, angry floor sex, and the joke ad situation even soar. And anyone else not miss Betty? Best of all, it’s great to have the series back in our living rooms with all new stories, and that alone is worth a lot.
Watch Mad Men Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.