Monday, July 26, 2010

"Mad Men" Season 4 Premiere: "Public Relations"

"Mad Men" has always been a slow-burn kind of show. The season never starts with a bang; instead, the first episode is invariably about setup - reintroducing us to the characters, establishing where they are in relation to where they were, and laying the groundwork for future narrative developments. Season 4 stuck to this pattern, which works just fine for me. However, it doesn't leave me with much to say about the premiere other than these scattershot observations:

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce: New digs! Closer quarters than we're accustomed to seeing our Mad Men (and women) occupy; but still a prime location in the Time Life Building. Overall, it's hard to tell how the firm's really doing. Up and coming, yes; secure, no.

Who is Don Draper?: Who indeed. Good luck, one-legged man; we've been trying to figure that one out for years.

The new Don looks, talks, and walks much like the old one, but people aren't falling all over themselves for him anymore. Is he off his game, or has the game simply changed? On the whole I lean towards the latter view, and I have faith Don will pick up on the new rules. Clearly, it'll take some time - the man so good at selling his product still has a good deal to learn when it comes to selling himself - but he certainly seemed to be coming around by the end of the episode with the Wall Street Journal interview. As for his blow-up with Jantzen, on the one hand it was uncharacteristic behavior for him (and costly for SCDP); on the other hand, I'm not so sure we aren't supposed to see him as right and Jantzen as wrong, or at least wrong for SCDP.

As for Don's personal life, it's true he's not scoring with the ease he's accustomed to, but then I wouldn't expect a divorced man to have the same perverse appeal (or target market) as a married man. I expect he'll learn to adapt in this arena, too, though it's obvious he hasn't lost his madonna/whore complex when it comes to women.

Roger Sterling: Insouciant and incorrigible as always, the old Roger appears to be back, along with some semblance of the old Roger-Don dynamic. Be interesting to see how that relationship evolves.

Bert Cooper: Still as sharp as ever, and as eccentric - I love his rationale for no conference table.

Pete Campbell: Pete seems more comfortable in his own skin and looks like he's enjoying the challenge of launching a start-up firm. Still, I had to laugh when he jumped to thank one-legged man for his service in Korea. That's our Pete, smarmy as ever.

Peggy and her boy(s): Peggy continues to acquire greater poise and self-assurance, and to stand up to Don when necessary. She is, however, as exasperatingly inscrutable as ever. Glad to see she and Pete have learned to work together, even if it's over dumb publicity stunts with hams. (Side note - was the ham an in-joke for those who remember Jon Hamm hawking ham on Saturday Night Live?) And she seems to have a comfortable rapport with the cute new art guy (Matt Long, whom I remember from the WB's short-lived "Jack and Bobby"). Will sparks fly? But who's the guy who claims to be her fiancé? Ah, Peggy - always the dark horse.

Deep-fried Harry: In his brief appearance, sporting a lovely John Boehner-esque shade of orange, Harry doesn't give any sign he's become more competent... but we'll see. If he doesn't shape up quickly, I hope Joan pushes him out.

Mostly MIA: Lane Pryce and Joan. Presumably they'll have more to do in future eps.

In the household of Henry Francis: Oh, Betty. It's hard for me to defend you when your idea of disciplining Sally is to force-feed her and then rush her from the table and pinch her when she protests. And you really need to stop trying to get "even" with Don, now that you're free of him. That said, I'm already on your side when it comes to dearest Mother-in-Law. That woman is a biatch. Battles loom ahead.

Henry himself came off ok in this episode, all things considered, but trouble is definitely already brewing in that marriage. I hope his mom doesn't make him regret his decision. Wonder what kind of relationship, if any, will develop between Betty and Henry's daughter? Henry and the Draper children? I am not optimistic - this is "Mad Men," after all. Hoping to see more of Bobby - it *is* the same actor as last season, right? Both of the kids have grown a lot since then.

All in all, a quiet episode, but one that's definitely sown some promising seeds - per usual for "Mad Men."


Blogger EC said...

I actually like Betty's new mother-in-law. She pointed out that Betty terrifies her kids, and I think she'll be a good contrast to Don's non-existent family and to Betty's own mother (who taught Betty she was only worth her looks. Where do you think Betty's bad mothering comes from?)

12:56 PM  
Blogger lylee2 said...

What rubbed me the wrong way was her line about Betty (and, I suppose, her baggage) being "another man's dirt." The implication being that as a divorcee she's somehow tainted or cheapened.

10:22 PM  

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