Don’s marriage to Megan is an increasingly uneasy one—and it’s now bicoastal. She’s living in Los Angeles full-time, finding work as an actress. He’s in New York five days a week, even though, unbeknownst to his wife, it’s been two months since he had a real job there. Essentially, then, Don has built a whole way of life on a lie, and he’s married to a woman who (as he implies later in the episode) knows not to ask too many questions. Sound familiar? And just like he shared some surprisingly honest exchanges with Rachel Menken in the series premiere, this episode found Don in another rare moment of revealing honesty with a woman seated next to him (Neve Campbell!) on his flight home to New York.
Toward the end of the episode, it’s revealed that Don’s been helping Freddy Rumsen with freelance work, and that Don was the real mastermind behind the “home-run” Accutron pitch. “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” famously introduced Don as the top creative thinker in the ad industry; “he’s still got it,” “Time Zones” seems to be saying.
When Weiner told Rosin about Don full-circling back to his life as it was back in 1960, he continued, “Why is he doing this? Because he is in a state of chaos.” That’s just vague enough to be open to interpretation, but I take that to mean that Don’s overwhelmed—by the rapidly changing world around him, probably. So he’s reverting back to his old ways, because that’s what’s familiar. I think this also rings true in the case of his partnership with Freddy: Don points out that the agency’s still paying him, and Freddy makes an aside about how he should be paying Don for his help. Don, then, isn’t getting paid for the work he’s doing, and doesn’t necessarily have to even be doing work to be getting paid. But he’s latched onto this project with Freddy because it’s something he’s good at and takes comfort in doing.
The most striking difference, however, between the Season One premiere and the Season Seven premiere is in their revelatory final scenes. The last shot of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” is of Don’s home life, complete with a pretty young wife and children—which reveals that Don spends his days lying to and fooling other people. “Time Zones,” however, finds Don lying to everyone about how he “has to get back to work” and remaining somewhat deludedly optimistic about returning to SC&P, then ends with a closing shot of Don’s home life. This time, he’s sickly-looking and miserable, out alone in the cold with just his muddled thoughts. This time, it looks more like he spends most of the day consciously fooling himself.