Welcome back to the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency…and, yet, although this is the premiere of the third season of “Mad Men,” it’s actually the first time that Premium Hollywood has gotten around to blogging the series. It’s certainly not that we haven’t been watching (the series did, after all, end Season 2 at the top of Bullz-Eye’s TV Power Rankings), but…well, the reasons why we haven’t done it before now are moot. We’re here now, so let’s get cracking, shall we?

I have to admit: the opening flashback sequence left me uncertain at first, and I wasn’t entirely sure if we were supposed to infer if it was Don’s own birth or not, but, yes, it does indeed appear that not only does Don have someone else’s identity, but it’s highly possible that he’s never really known who he was. Well, that would make it easier to escape into someone else’s life. As it turns out, not nearly as much time has passed as we might have expected: Betty is still in the final stages of the pregnancy we learned about in the season finale, so we haven’t even moved forward nine months. As ever, though, series creator Matthew Weiner managed to tease us a little bit about the timeline by having us presume that Don was warming formula for the new baby when he was, in fact, just getting Betty a bit of warm milk to help her get to sleep.

Time to jump over to the offices of Sterling Cooper, where there’s clearly been a bit of a British invasion since we were last around. John Hooker could be an interesting character, given the way he’s carving his niche as an assistant rather than a secretary. Could a relationship with Joan be in the cards? Too soon to tell. Based on the comments around the office, some firings have clearly been taking place (clearly, it’s not the least bit coincidental that the conversations about job loss, medical insurance, and taxes echo just as strongly now as they did in the 1960s), but I can’t imagine any of the others have been nearly as entertaining as Burt Peterson’s. It’s always good to see Michael Gaston’s face – I still think of him as Gray Anderson from “Jericho” – and he made a great explosive show of Burt’s departure. Burt’s screaming behind the closed door of his office was hilarious, but I think the biggest laugh came from Roger Sterling’s late arrival to Burt’s farewell. (“Oh, it’s that meeting.”) By the way, after all of the intense discussion last season over the meaning of the painting in Bertram Cooper’s office, I enjoyed a chuckle when Cooper’s premiere appearance involved a discussion about new pieces of artwork.

Vincent Kartheiser never fails to impress me with his work as Pete Campbell, running through the gamut of emotions this episode. First, he’s scared shitless that he’s destined to suffer the same fate as Burt, only to have his nervous twitching turn into a full fledged dance of glee when he gets the news that he’s being given the title of Head of Accounts. Then, when he learns that Ken has gotten the same news and that the higher-ups are basically playing the two of them against each other, he develops a stone face that would put the heads on Mount Rushmore to shame. And just as you think he’s going to go whine to Don (as he’s already done to his wife), he’s put in a situation where he has a chance to toady up to both Sterling and Cooper simultaneously, which you can bet he takes advantage of. You probably wouldn’t want to watch an entire series revolving around Pete, but for my money, he’s arguably an even more deep and complex character than Don is. I know Kartheiser has gotten recognition through the Screen Actors Guild, but it’d be nice if the Emmys threw a little love his way next year.

We didn’t see a great deal of Peggy this week, though there was that brief scene which indicated that she still isn’t getting a great deal of respect around the office, not even from her own secretary. Also, the conversation between Peggy and Joan as they waited for the elevator may not have been long, but it was still one of my favorites of the episode. We haven’t really gotten to see them interacting much since the first season; it’s remarkable how much the dynamic has changed between their characters in that time.

It was nice to see Sal finally get more screen time, since he’s a character who tends to hover in the background and only come out (you’ll forgive the unintentional pun) for brief moments in the spotlight. That’s the problem with a show like “Mad Men,” where almost every character manages to be fascinating in his or her own right: there are just aren’t enough hours in the season to explore them all in equally substantial fashion. But sending Don and Sal on a business trip together was genius, and I laughed out loud as Don’s vaguely shocked reaction when Sal says he’d never seen a stewardess that game.

Sal is, unsurprisingly, not the greatest wing man, but he starts to get the hang of it after a few minutes of following Don’s lead. I can’t imagine anyone who’s ever watched an episode of “Mad Men” being surprised that Don, despite knowing full well how much Betty wants their family to be perfect, was fully prepared to leap headlong into a sexual liaison with an engaged stewardess…and using the excuse, “It’s my birthday,” no less. Meanwhile, how cruel was it that, after all this time, Sal got within spitting distance of finally scoring some full-fledged man-on-man action (nice sight gag with the ink pen), only to get cockblocked by a fucking fire alarm? Oh, well, at least it also forced Don to be faithful to Betty…this time. As for the actual business meeting that sent them on the trip in the first place, the London Fog discussion was classic “Mad Men,” with Don Draper getting another chance to do what he does best: sell.

Just a few other random comments:

* As I suspected would be the case, Harry is clearly a major player in the company nowadays, based on his offhanded citing of statistics about how important television is to the advertising industry now.

* The fact that Ken clearly made a better impression when he was informed about his new position, plus his refusal to take the bait when put in a position where he’s supposed to battle with Pete, makes him the better businessman. But given Pete’s tendency toward desperate moves, I’m wondering if Mr. Campbell is going to force Ken to change his tactics out of necessity.

* John Slattery is clearly channeling the spirit of Dean Martin on occasion, but I immediately thought of Dino when Sterling told Pete, “Help yourself. Not the Stoli.”

* So is Don really going to be a better husband this season? And if so, why do I feel like it’s just a passing fad?