Season two of AMC’s Mad Men opens with several characters getting ready for another day to the tune of “Let’s Twist Again (Like We Did Last Summer).” This brief sequence makes for the perfect curtain-raiser – a cue that the denizens of the Sterling Cooper ad agency are back for another summer sprint.
Typical of the series and its creator Matt Weiner, the apt choice of opening song is part nod to the show’s early-1960s setting and part self-referential wink. The Chubby Checker song was itself a follow-up to his original hit “The Twist,” which topped the charts in 1960, the same year in which season one of Mad Men was set.
A couple of years have lapsed in the narrative – John Kennedy clinched the presidential election late last season; while First Lady Jackie Kennedy guides a televised tour of the White House in this season’s opener. But the show wastes no time catching up with ad man extraordinaire Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and company, as they contend with problems old (politics in the office, tension at home) and new (automation, ageism and high blood pressure).
Secretary-turned-copywriter Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) appears to have bounced back from the shock that she was dealt in last season’s closer – a bombshell that probably stretched credibility for some viewers – while her colleagues, including the conniving Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), speculate about her rising-star status at the agency. Fans will also welcome back agency partner Roger Sterling (John Slattery) after heart troubles sidelined him, and Draper’s troubled wife Betty (January Jones) looks poised to take her fantasy life beyond the laundry room.
Of course, the main bit of business remains advertising. After saving the Lucky Strike account and pulling in Kodak last season, Draper now must figure out how to sell Martinson Coffee to a new generation of Pepsi-drinkers and convince travelers to wing it with Mohawk Airlines.
Still, Draper’s slick veneer cannot entirely conceal an inner life of quiet desperation, made manifest by the Frank O’Hara volume “Meditations in an Emergency” that he reads and then mails to an undisclosed recipient. Like the mariner in one of O’Hara’s poems, Draper is “always tying up and then deciding to depart.”
While the critical acclaim and Emmy nominations will no doubt attract some new viewers, the show’s period setting and morally challenged cast of characters are unlikely to connect with a mainstream audience. Think of Mad Men as a boutique agency – creative and specialized – and, judging from the opener, the show’s small but loyal following will not be disappointed with its second-season campaign.
The second season of AMC's Mad Men premieres on Sunday July 27 at 10 p.m.