Mad Men, Season 4, Ep.1: Public Relations.

Our constant readers know there are few things we here at PostBourgie look forward to more than a new season of Mad Men, so one can imagine my sigh of contentment on Sunday night sinking once more into that world of sharp suits, cigarette smoke and intrigue.

Season 4 picks up a year after the close of the last which saw the creation of the upstart agency Sterling Cooper Draper Price. The boys at SCDP have come a long way from that hotel room they were holed up in – they’ve managed to garner enough buzz that Don is being interviewed by Advertising Age. The episode opens with Don skewered on the same hook since day one: “Who is Don Draper?” Don is clearly uncomfortable as he watches the reporter scribble in indecipherable shorthand and struggles to find something to say about himself, reacting with familiar guardedness. In past seasons we have seen the psychic battles between the man that was Dick Whitman and the idea that is Don Draper. It would seem that in the wake of striking out boldly with SCDP and attempting to be its front-man, Don will be forced to conceive of and create Don Draper the brand – a task he clearly had not anticipated.

Unsurprisingly, Don’s reluctant interview yields a lackluster article that renders no insight into himself or the company, focusing instead on his impenetrability. The headline: “A Man From A Town With No Name”. As if that wasn’t bad enough he’s called a “handsome cipher” and a reference to “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is thrown in for good measure. It all has the effect, as Roger so aptly puts it, of making him sound like a prick. What Roger and Bert understand, and Don is stubbornly fighting against, is that being partner means selling, in some measure, yourself. Don still wants to be the contract-less, unorthodox creative director who isn’t pinned down to a particular image. He cries petulantly at Bert’s suggestion of a new interview with the Wall Street Journal, “My work speaks for itself!” To which Bert sagely and firmly counters, “Turning creative success into business is your work! And you failed!” In typical fashion, after Don is upbraided he becomes edgy and destructive, chastising Peggy (more on that in a minute) and blowing up at a client. He does see the light though and does the WSJ interview embracing his role as the face of SCDP. It will be interesting to watch how this new facet of Don Draper (and the ego-ridden foibles it is sure to precipitate) develops as the season goes on.

The rest of the gang is in full effect – Pete seems far more self-assured now and less slimy, but who knows if that will last. Peggy is still on her quest for validation of her talents and Don’s positive regard. While her appearance is much more slick and put together now, it’s clear that she is still dealing with some old insecurities. We see hints of it when she asks why Pete can’t come see her and the new guy in their office and her nervous giggle and cigarette smoking when she explains how the Sugarberry PR stunt went awry. Peggy can hold her own through the occasional hiccups now though – when Don accuses her of not thinking about the company’s image (ironically, since he is unable to define it or himself) she replies stingingly, “Our image remains pretty much where you left it.” Score Peggy.

Finally a note on what remains of the family Draper. Henry Francis and Betty have married and are still living in Betty and Don’s old house along with the kids. Sally is taking the divorce very badly as we could have anticipated from last season, going so far as to act out and vomit on Henry’s mother’s Thanksgiving dinner.  The happy family tableau was rather forced with Henry’s mother taking a dig at Betty with a veiled reference to divorce. Early in the episode Don expresses reluctance to force Betty out of the house and sell but this goodwill is exhausted when he is forced to wait hours for Henry and Betty’s return after he takes the kids (minus baby Gene) for the weekend. Betty is her usual infuriating bratty self, insisting even after Henry agrees they should leave the house that, “there’s nothing out there and he (Don) doesn’t get to decide!” Like Henry’s mother I am baffled as to why he married Betty and why he seems to want to make this work.

This was a monster premiere and there are volumes of things I haven’t even begun to touch on but I trust y’all can take it away in the comments. Here’s the odds and ends:

It’s pretty awesome to see Joan in her own office. This episode was very Joan light but I’m looking forward to seeing more of her. I wonder if Dr.   Rapey McMolester is deployed to Vietnam yet.

That thing Peggy was doing with the new temp guy is “John and Marsha” by Stan Freburg.

Roger inviting Don to Thanksgiving, saying he needs “someone white to carve our turkey.” WTF?

That Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman reference was shoehorned. I cringed a little bit.

Is it just me or was that date extremely boring? Maybe it was because Jane’s little friend reminded me a lot of Betty.

Speaking of Betty, seeing her interact with her kids, especially Sally, becomes more and more upsetting.  Her casual thoughtlessness about whether Don would want to see the baby irritated me too.

Don’s sad little apartment, his strange fixation on shining his shoes and the slap-happy hooker. Does Don feel like he has to do penance? Or is this is a larger part of him, something from that more retreating, submissive Dick Whitman part of his psyche?

  • belmontmedina

    I’m anxious to see what they do with Joan’s husband this season. Joan seems to always have a plan for everything, so I wonder how things will play out when he gets shipped off to Vietnam. And what about her and Roger- Jane has cost Roger a lot, literally and figuratively, and he’s back in close quarters with Joan, who seems to be even more powerful. Does Jane remind anyone else of younger version of Betty?

    • I hope Joan’s husband gets killed by his own nurses in Vietnam

  • Without Don, Betty is almost irredeemable as a character. I hope we see less and less of her as the season goes on.

    • Scipio Africanus

      She’s almost the WASP version of Livia Soprano.

  • Scipio Africanus

    Don’s from that generation where it was a big deal for men to have shined shoes, plus he was in the military, so it makes sense. Plus, when you’re shining shoes you can do some really good thinking about other things.

    And why do people keep saying this? :
    “That Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman reference was shoehorned. I cringed a little bit.”

    It was a few nights ago, but the way I remember the dialogue, she simply mentions Goodman’s name and that he was a friend of a friend. That’s not shoehorning. Shoehorning would be if she had explained in full to Don what happened with them in Mississippi, who should have at least known about the incident.

    This idea of shoehorning seems to recur whenver historical civil rights events are mentioned on this show. I only ever hear/read this from people who probably consider themselves well-versed in the history of racial shit in the US, especially the 50’s – 60’s portion of the Civil Rights Movement. I think folks like that may be more inclined to feel that they don’t have to be “told” about specific historical events because they already knew about them in the first place.

  • SB&Co

    I also find Betty more insufferable now than ever. I’m waiting to see how this situation is going to turn with her and Henry. I’ll be looking for the return of the hand numbing that will signal to her that she’s still not happy.

    I Love that Joan has her own office. She’s now more obvious as the backbone she’s always been. Good for her.

    Kudos to Peggy for stepping it up. I found the bail situation between Peggy & Don rather funny, considering the roles were reversed not so long ago.

    I’m curious whether Ken Cosgrove and Paul Kinsey will pop up even though they were left behind. I’ll miss how they tortured Pete.

  • aisha

    The date was boring because Don is used to cheating on Betty. It is quick and to the point and you know the parameters of the deal. The end is always in sight. Dating is something he isn’t used to. He’s used to a quick private romp.

  • This is a bit of a tangent, but that John & Marsha gave me a childhood flashback–the California Raisins spoofed it too! Peep the vid at 7:36

  • SB&Co

    Definitely pleased with the start of the season. It was a bit Don-centric, but its appropriate given his role as the face of the firm, thus the direction they will take.

    @ belmontmedina I’m with you on seeing what happens to Joan/her “husband”/ & Roger. Being back in close quarters should bring about some interesting interactions. Especially with Joan seeing more freedom (for lack of a better term) from the secretarial pool and being a more obvious backbone that we know she is.

    @ Seanathan Betty is absolutely insufferable on her own. I get the feeling she’s going to quickly find out that Don and his infidelity was only a part of what was wrong with them (although a mighty big one). Her hands will go numb again and she’ll freak out….we’ll see.

    @ Scipio Africanus I kind of agree with the shoe-horning from the execution sense and less of the reference itself. Often when a civil rights reference is made on the show, it doesn’t seem to quite fit. The way it was written in felt like the writers had a term paper due, spent an great deal of time forming how they were going to creatively get the point across, and achieving it beautifully. Then they look at the rubric and notice they forgot the last check box calling for a certain element and threw it any-o’l-where so as not to lose the points. The homage to Stan Freberg worked great, albeit nearly a decade after the actual spoof. The sudden transition to abysmal on a first date to mention Goodman and just as quickly revert to Chicken Kiev was a bit “thrown in”. I do agree with your point about those who sometimes take assume the role of “gatekeeper” for all things black and historical in popular media.

    @aisha Yeah, the date was blah. But I did like how she took charge of where their future (if any) interactions would go. She basically put him under siege. LOL

    Apologies for the ignorantly long post. I was trying to do this from my work Blackberry all day (don’t tell anyone) and I couldn’t post. I just had to get it out!

  • Fafah

    Thank you, thank you for the premier recap. I totally didnt see it coming. I was so disappointed to find I’d missed it, but glad I’d only missed one episode. (Cant get highspeed where I live..can’t do Hulu, iTunes, etc…Dark Ages out here!)

    Mad Men is my absolute fave show! Lately I’m really drawn to 50’s, early 60’s settings. I think it harkens me back to simpler times, although it’s before my time. Yes, they were complicated times, too. But people had more manners and such. Many problems werent so out in the open (violent crime, drug abuse, teen pregnancy and similar). It was there but not so ‘out there.’
    Anyway, I love the style and look of it. I enjoy most of the characters despite their faults. I’d really miss seeing Betty. She is the image of Grace Kelly and I LOVE her style. Don Draper is Dapper Don. Jane is stacked like a REAL woman…like Marilyn was. It’s facinating to see Peggy evolve.
    On shoehorning references: I’m not sure what you mean by that. Is that good or bad? Though I missed the episode, I know the reference on the 3 civil rights workers killed and I don’t know how it was handled there. But, I see the peppering in of historical events as time markers to orient one to whats going on outside the madmen world and sometimes directly or indirectly affecting / reflecting their inner worlds. Recall when Marilyn Monroe died?
    Thank you to all who post. It’s good to have a place to discuss what is for me a guilty pleasure.

  • Fafah

    A quick amendment to last post. I meant to say JOAN was built like a real woman.

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