'Mad Men' Kicks Off A Third Season With A Few Thoughts About Travel : Monkey See Last night's premiere of Mad Men focused on people displaced in a way that ended up depositing them exactly where they were. And it was Don Draper's birthday...sort of.
NPR logo 'Mad Men' Kicks Off A Third Season With A Few Thoughts About Travel

'Mad Men' Kicks Off A Third Season With A Few Thoughts About Travel

Salvatore (Bryan Batt) and Don (Jon Hamm) enjoy dinner with some new friends during the season premiere of AMC's Mad Men. AMC hide caption

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Last night's third-season premiere of Mad Men was called "Out Of Town," and while critic Alan Sepinwall has put forth a very viable theory that what ties it together is the concept of wishes, to me, it was an episode about travel — or, really, about displacement.

More specifics and a call for your thoughts, after the jump...

We opened with an extended flashback in which Don Draper recalled the circumstances of his birth, back when he was someone else entirely. We learned how he came to be called Dick Whitman, and about just how little love surrounded his arrival in the world. Now that his wife Betty is very pregnant with their third child, he seems to be hoping he can do a little better for his own kids. Don's entire life, of course, has been displaced, as has his birthday; he can't even celebrate it, because he's taken on the identity of someone else.

Meanwhile, life at the offices of Sterling Cooper continues after the British takeover, and right out of the gate, there is another uprooting: the head of accounts is fired, which opens up his job. Deliciously, smarmy little Pete Campbell gets the job — but then so does Ken Cosgrove. Pete engages in the first moment of joy we've perhaps ever seen from him, dancing merrily behind the door of his office, only to later find himself in an entirely different place from the one he thought he was in. He's not head of accounts; he's competing for the job of head of accounts.

Of course, the literal travel of the episode's title sends Don and Salvatore off to handle a problem with the London Fog account. Predictably, Don — for all his apparent sincerity about being a better husband — winds up taking a flight attendant back to his room. And while it's a deceitful encounter in that he's cheating on his wife, he tells her it's his birthday, so that at least someone knows.

Far more unpredictably, Salvatore, whose life as an entirely closeted gay man up to this point has seemingly consisted of flirtations and crushes, winds up on his hotel bed with the bellboy. But just as he is about to have a very honest moment and Don is about to have a very dishonest one, the fire alarm goes off, and in the ensuing evacuation, Don becomes aware that the partially undressed bellboy was acting outside the scope of his duties.

There are literal interruptions and displacements: the fire alarm, the trip out of town, the relocating of an obnoxious male secretary. There are figurative and emotional ones, too, including Sal's initial disorientation at realizing the bellboy is indeed about to kiss him, oh wait, is kissing him, oh wait, is getting undressed.

And Don says, at one point, to the flight attendant, "I keep going to a lot of places and ending up somewhere I've already been." Everybody moves; nobody moves. Pete thinks he's going to be the big man, but no — he's still a toy being played with by men more powerful than he is. Sal thinks he's going to get a taste of freedom, but no — Don's response to what he saw is, in a roundabout way, to advise Sal to move into a closet with a lock. Everybody is displaced, but nothing ultimately changes.

And for Don, he's out of town, he wants to be better, he seems to think for a moment about not cheating on his wife — in fact, he has invented an entirely different life in an attempt to get to somewhere else. But he is still Dick Whitman and this is his birthday; his Draper driver's license — as he tells the flight attendant when she wants to see proof that it's his birthday — "won't help."

An excellent premiere — thoughtful and packed with interesting developments with loads of potential. And we barely even saw the women in this episode: Betty, Joan, and Peggy were all downplayed. (In fact, the woman who probably got the best showcase was Pete's wife Trudy, who is quietly hilarious in a way I think doesn't get nearly enough credit.)

So what were your feelings on the premiere? Your pet theories, raves, gripes, beefs, nitpicks, sighs, swoons, and grand statements on the theme are welcome.