In the Mad Men final season premier, “Time Zones,” we feel the pang of distance… Between NYC and Los Angeles, the past/present/future and the strains between who the characters are and who they want to be.

 don draper smoking

No doubt, Madison Ave is a bit of a drag in this episode. The intense, creative and drama-filled banter no longer roams the halls. We thought, maybe, we’d see Peggy take the corner office in lieu of Don’s absence, but instead, we’re reintroduced to a dorky, patronizing dude named Lou. (We saw him in the finale of season 6 when he runs into Don on the elevator and asks, “Going down?”)

For the girls… Peggy feels atypically energetic in the beginning, listening to Freddie (actually Don, one recovered alcoholic for one raging alcoholic). She edits the pitch — because as offices go, everyone must have an injection with every idea — then tries to play Lou into picking her take on the catch phrase. That doesn’t happen. Instead, he’s “immune to her charms” and Peggy is alone with seemingly less power, ending her role in the episode on her knees, in tears, in the dangerous apartment she didn’t even want. On the east coast, Meghan is immediately sexualized  as she picks Don up at the airport (enter: cheesy slow motion). Oh, and she’s gotten a bit bossy: “you’re plane was late, we’re going straight to dinner,” “don’t put the seat back,” “don’t tear the ads out of my magazines,” and “don’t throw your cigarette butts off the balcony.” Poor Don, he’s just the boss of no one these days. Joan endures tons of rude comments (oh, femininity in the ’60s). She visits a professor for help and scrambles to avoid a disastrous situation with the shoe dude. We feel a moment in this episode, when Joan takes her chunky earring off to take a business call. She succeeds on the call, but in the end, Ken and his eyepatch end up throwing the earring back at her — a nod of nostalgia to the woman’s role in the workplace. But Joan keeps her composure and total badass ‘tude throughout, at one point throwing out the quotable line: “I’m going to need a splash of whiskey in this.”

We feel bad for Don (when do we not?). He’s so confused. And so are we! He keeps saying he has to get back to work… But what does he mean? He has no job. Oh, then we find out he’s secretly doing his job through AA-Freddy. *Sad feelings. Pete, who “speaks like a hippie but doesn’t dress like one” forgets Don isn’t currently part of the Mad Ave. tribe and spends an entire lunch chattering about L.A. in bright colors with a tan and smiles. Does anyone care about Don anymore?? Still, even Pete hasn’t yet settled into his new life, as he’s working with a realtor — who doubles as a young-Betty-lookalike — to buy a home because he “shouldn’t be renting.” Everything and everyone seems scattered, no one appears comfortable, but Roger does seem to be having fun. Remember his heart disease? Apparently, he does not. In this episode we see Roger partaking in orgys and “smelling like incense,” (as noted during his daughter’s weird reconciliation brunch). We fail to see any work action at all, so like Don, Roger too is lost to his own vices.

Don gets seated next to a ghostly lady (Neve Campbell) on his return red-eye trip back to NYC from Los Angeles. She seems to surface all of his problems through well-scripted pillow talk. It’s like a dream… It’s weird. They cuddle as they sleep, because it’s Don Draper and when does he not cuddle every nice lady he meets? He’s disappointed in himself, obviously. In the end, Don is contemplative on his balcony in the freezing cold, an attempt to numb what the bottle no longer can.

neve campbell in mad men premier

x read our interview with the Mad Men stylist, Janie Bryant, here x

[featured images courtesy of Mad Men promo images / television images via NYTimes.]