The most notable thing that's happened in the Mad Men universe in the 18 months since the show was last on the air is that time has continued to march right on, and everyone has aged. Most notably, the once in-touch advertising genius Don Draper has turned 40. All signs indicate that the "youthquake" has permeated the culture and now this "dirty old man" is expected to be able to make baked beans "cool." But there's been a seachange in Don that is directly proportional and completely opposite to the one taking place in society in 1966 as a whole.
The first few minutes of the first episode of a season of any show often lays the groundwork for what the rest of the season has in store. This episode opens up with a civil rights demonstration. That, added to other mentions of college kids' war protests and riots, hints at unrest. Young people are dissatisfied and taking action. Meanwhile, Don Draper is phoning it in—showing up late for work and not really even putting any effort into any campaigns. Shockingly, he mentions to his new wife Megan that he doesn't "really care about work." While pop culture is skewing toward young people mobilizing, Don is becoming settled in his ways. As Pete's wife Trudy pointed out, "Dissatisfaction is a symptom of ambition." Is Don's lack of ambition an indication that maybe he's satisfied? Could he finally be happy? And although there are a few bumps in the honeymoon phase of his marriage—he didn't appreciate the swinging surprise party thrown by his hip, young new wife—it's much healthier than the one he had with Betty. It's stable even. Although, as Pete said, "Stable is that step backwards between success and failure." God, the Campbells are like soothsayers.
Everything in this episode pointed between the divide of young vs. old. Don lives in a happening new Manhattan pad—featuring a sunken living room—with his young wife, while we see that Betty is living in an old, scary, imposing house with her older husband. (Don even joked about it looking like it belonged to the Addams family.) But there was also an obvious divide between old man Don and his young wife. She likes attention, she's playful with her sexuality, she's a working woman, she has gay friends. What is she doing with a man who is so much older? Well, they both have a love for the impractical: She put white carpeting in her home and he put a sex kitten secretary in his. You can't make a ho a housewife. Not that Megan is a ho, but she does (pretend to) clean the house in black lace lingerie. Could Joan's mother have called it when she pegged Megan for being manipulative?
And speaking of Joan: We see she is busy looking after a little baby (Kevin) instead of a big one (Roger). (We also learned that it's OK to show testicles on TV as long as they belong to an infant.) Joan has every intention of going back to work even if she doesn't need to in a financial sense, she still needs to for her own sanity. She gets a lot of satisfaction from her work, way more than she does as a mother, she's discovering. Joan doesn't even let her own mother's undermining get inside her head, scoffing at the notion that she would need her husband Greg's permission to do anything and indicating that merely standing by one's man doesn't guarantee any kind of happiness or stability by implying that things between her parents didn't exactly work out. After seeing SCDP's phony ad in the paper as being an "equal opportunity employer," she transforms back in to her stunning self and makes her presence known in the office.
After getting a little postpartum emotional with Lane about how she feels alone around her baby and her mother and needs to be in the office, he offers her the best, most comforting advice, "It's home but it's not everything." And that holds true for most people at the office. Lane's wife is a nag; Roger isn't happy with the secretary he married; Pete is not digging suburban life. These people aren't just alcoholics—they're workaholics. And maybe their marriages aren't in the best shape because they're married to their jobs. The only one who doesn't seem to be in this predicament is Don. But that could possibly be because he has merged the two. But as evident at his party, he likes having his home life at the office but not his office life in his home.
Oh, and Joan wasn't the only one who took the SCDP ad seriously. It attracted many black applicants, which opens the door wide up for the kinds of racial discussions that haven't been nearly as present on the show before. Or, at the very least, there will be another "chocolate bunny" sub-plot with Lane, who was all but too happy to greet the aspiring new secretaries.