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“Mad Men”: Episode 2, “Flight 1”

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Buckle up — episode No. 2 of Mad Men gets the plot engines revving.

(Kathy Lyford weighs in with some very smart observations after the jump.)

As slow and deliberate as the pace of last week’s opener was, “Flight 1” takes right off — with a plane crash at the outset that represents tragedy and opportunity for our anti-heroes at Sterling Cooper. This seg is packed with great performances from the core ensemble.

First, I was greatly impressed by Elisabeth Moss’ self-assuredness as Peggy, both in her professional set and in the tense scene at her mother’s home with her mother, sister and the infant son she’d just as soon forget sleeping in the next room.

“I work with them,” Peggy corrects her suitor in the opening party scene when he asks if she works “for” the drunken ad men crawling around Paul Kinsey’s apartment in out-of-the-way Montclair, N.J. (More on that later).

Then Vincent Kartheiser renders Pete Campbell in 3-D as he reacts, numbly, to the news of his father’s death in the American Airlines crash. Campbell, as we know from season 1, is a craven, self-centered, conniving creep, and it is a credit to Kartheiser and the “Man Men” scribes that us viewers have any feeling for him at all. In Pete’s scenes in this seg, we’re shown (not told) why he is incapable of genuine emotion, or of having any selfless feeling for anyone else.

The scene with Campbell’s shellshocked but ever-proper mother and brother and Trudy in the family living room was  wonderfully unnerving — so many stifled emotions I felt the urge to loosen my own collar more than once.

And then wham! Here comes Jon Hamm’s Don Draper, a guy you can never psych-out no matter how much you try.

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