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A triumphant return. I find it wonderfully confounding that for all the speculation in the ten months since "Mad Men's" second season closer about the big changes in store for Don, Betty, Peggy, Pete, Sal, Joan, et al, the major developments in the third season preem,"Out of Town," reinforce that nothing much has changed at all for our core characters.

Don is still a serial philanderer, attracted to ultra sexually aggressive Bobbie Barrett types who work outside the home. Betty is back to the blithe state of denial and I-just-want-everything-to-be-perfect mental state that can only mean she's in for a hard fall when life inevitably turns out to be less than perfect.

Peggy is still living in the deepest, scariest state of denial as she pursues her professional career above all else. Pete, even after learning last season that he has a child by Peggy, is still fueled by his status- consciousness more than anything else — acknowledging that he's fathered a child out of wedlock or ending his marriage to Trudy (as was indicated in last season's finale) would be too much of a blemish on his social-climbing endeavors.

Sal by the end of this episode is shoved more firmly back in the closet than ever, after the cruel tease of very nearly experiencing sexual ecstasy at the hands of a Baltimore bellboy.

Joan is still the Machiavellian queen bee of Sterling Cooper, even if she's outwardly proclaiming her distance from office politics — post British invitation — and her desire to leave it all behind after her planned nuptials.

And in the larger scheme, the picture of mid-1963 America presented in this episode indicates that the Cuban Missile Crisis period — when we last saw our heroes forced to face the threat of nuclear annihilation — has not had a lasting impact on the New Frontier/Camelot zeitgeist of the moment.

(Doing the math based on Betty looking to be about seven-eight months pregnant, it would mean that at least six months have passed since the October 1962 period of the sophomore season finale.)

We at home, of course, know that trauma that is lurking around the corner (Dallas, the grassy knoll, a convertible limo — you get the picture). But for now, life is all about empire-building, the march of capitalism, sex appeal and getting in good with the ladies from the docent program at the Met.

(Read Brian Lowry's take on this episode.)

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