Mad Men – 4×01: Public Relations

Sometimes when I really like a series I hype the living hell out of it prior to its premiere only to be just satisfactorily pleased once the day finally comes. Yesterday was not that day.

Wow. I haven’t been this excited about a time-jump since the S3 premiere of Alias! In last night’s S4 premiere of Mad Men we jumped two years into the future to 1964 after which time Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has taken over a floor of the Time Life building, Betty Draper is now Betty Francis, Peggy has become a real life woman, and Don Draper has become a sadomasochist (?!). Need I say more? Yes. Yes, actually I do.

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce

The new space just feels so much more modern. The times are a-changing and what a perfect time for the show to change the decorum a bit, too! I’m not an architect or an American fashion expert but the difference in colors and materials in their new office compared to the dark browns and woods and carpets of the old Sterling Cooper are quite significant. Nothing too drastic but enough to make you feel a transformation and the fact these characters have also made a change in themselves, of which most certainly have. (Most.) They have a cute new Art Director and Peggy is pretty much the bulk of Creative, along with Don, as far as I can tell. Can you believe that they went from a team with three or four men to one woman? Wow. It’s interesting to see them all struggle to build up a company from only bits and pieces of something else after becoming so accustomed to the prestige that came with the Sterling Cooper name, and how they would all sell themselves in that fashion. Once again, Don will have to pull himself up by the bootstraps and make something out of nothing. But he’s done it already once before, what could be so different now?

Don Draper

Here’s the thing. Who wants to start from nothing twice? He’s lost his prestigious position as creative director of Sterling Cooper. He’s lost his wife. He’s lost his children. He’s even lost his house! The good news is that he hasn’t lost himself. I might get some criticism for this, and I don’t mean it in any chauvinist or sexist way, but men in the 60s just couldn’t pussy out the way men can today. I want to use the term ‘pussy out’ because it is what it is. In today’s world men and women alike pussy out on life all the time and seek psycho-therapy and treatment and take sabbaticals and everyone thinks all great to talk about your feelings 24/7 and to take a pill when the world gets too difficult. Obviously on Mad Men we are shown the exact opposite of this kind of world: one in which no one ever ever talks about how they really feel and are forced to play the roles which society has laid out for them. My point in all this is that were Mad Men set in 2010, Don Draper would probably have become an alcoholic who couldn’t function anymore and was walking the streets prowling for some hooker and making 3 AM phone calls to Betty. He’d probably be suing Betty and Henry for living in his home beyond their agreement if not making a show of it and threatening to take the children if they didn’t comply just for the sake of drama. Isn’t this the trend on most shows now a day? The trend is that something tragic happens to a man and they lose all their sense of self. However, this isn’t Don Draper’s style, and it can’t be because the times don’t allow for such ‘pussying out’ whether he wanted to do so or not. So I’m not going to say that I give him all the credit for it either, simply that I’m glad to see it play out this way.

Is he sleeping with hookers? Yes. Is he lonely? Yes. Does he resent his wife’s new husband? Yes. Is he having problems at work as a result? Yes! But think about the way in which each and every one of these issues are presented. The way in which Don handles them are impeccable considering the circumstance. They aren’t perfect but they are made with conviction and with at least some semblance of dignity which makes it difficult to pity Don Draper being that he’s not crying into his Wheetabix every morning. And thank God, because I’m tired of just feeling sorry for characters who create their own problems, and Don certainly has. Okay, sure he’s getting slapped by hookers so “AWW” but, that was one hot hooker so I don’t feel too bad for him (;

Peggy Olsen

The haircut. That little bob spoke volumes in just the first shot of her standing over that table in her office and… alone! Like I said before, its really just her running the show at that level, and not seeing her either (a) surrounded by men doing her job, or (b) alone at her church or apartment putting together a presentation, set the tone for her this season in a huge way because it was totally new. The way she dressed was amazing, and she wore skirts and great shoes and vibrant colors! She took a chance with that PR stunt, pulling out new tricks and using her feminine flair for the dramatic to add something to an account they were losing. Sure, she had to call Don to bail her out of trouble once things turned slightly south but, after all, that’s what Don represents to all those young people: a father figure. He’s the man you respect and admire, but too much to ask him about his personal demons for fear that you may offend him. Peggy and Don have one of my favorite relationships in television history simply because its so rare to see such a genuine bond between a male and female character on television that isn’t based on sexual chemistry, blood, or at the very least comedy. “Spit it out, honey…” Don says to her over the phone with a hooker by his side. Oh and did Peggy always drink a straight Jameson in the mornings with the boys? How things have changed…

Betty Francis (née Draper) and Family

She really did it. She left Don, and she got remarried. I posted last week that I was proud of her for finally making a move being that our sympathy for her situation would only last so long considering that we are used to seeing strong feminine roles today and a weakling like her just wouldn’t cut it. However, I’m starting to think that jumping from one marriage into another is not quite as admirable as all that. Of course it’s not Matthew Weiner’s job to make his characters amazing people, simply to be understood, and despite thinking she’s less than great I still understand her choices considering the times so this is in no way a judgment on Mad Men. That being said, Betty is the only character in last night’s episode who we got some storyline from but hadn’t changed a hair. January Jones may not be the most well rounded actress on television but she certainly has Betty Draper down packed and I believe her existence as a real person 100% every single time due to the fact that she’s so well constructed. Still, I noticed in this episode that perhaps she has been too specific and “constructed” and that it has left little room for change in her character. I always expect the same looks, the same hair, the same manner of talking, the same posture as if there’s an invisible book balancing over her perfect blond coif. I can’t be sure if she’s meant to have changed a bit in the last two years but if she has I couldn’t tell and I would certainly expect it considering what she went through. As far as Sally goes, I had a feeling even last week which seems to agree with the events in this episode, and that’s the fact that she resents her mother for leaving Don and glorifies her father as a result since she is too young to know what he did. I’m reminded of Mia Wasikowska’s suicidal teenage gymnast, Sophie, in the first season of In Treatment.

Joanie? Pete? Roger?

We got very very little on their stories. Is Joanie still with her doctor husband? Did he finally become any kind of doctor? Did Pete and Trudy finally adopt or was she able to conceive? We didn’t get much on Roger but it appears he and Jane are doing well being that they are setting Don up with her friends and Roger has got the juice on what she thought of Don. (By the way, did you catch Anna Camp from last season’s True Blood playing Don’s date? She’s come a long way from the white trash preacher’s wife, hasn’t she?). I’m looking forward to more storylines involving Joanie in particular.

Last Night’s Theme

Every episode of Mad Men has a very distinct theme and it’s a huge part of what makes each hour feel so rich and meaty. You can sense a common thread between the stories and the characters but most of the time all you can do is feel it because its so subtle that you don’t even know what it is, per say, and I love that! Therefore I will be pointing out the theme(s) from every episode here at the end of every post. Last night our theme was very clearly stated in the title of the episode “Public Relations”. We saw how uncomfortably Don dealt with being seeing as a public figure.

“I’m from the Midwest and was taught it’s not polite to talk about yourself.” – Don

As a result he damaged the Jai alai account that Cosgrove had closed, so by episode’s end he realizes he must sell the most interesting story he has: the story of how Sterling Cooper became Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Selling a story is something at which Don is a genius, but having to do it about himself is not advertising anymore, its PR. We get the same theme with Peggy, Pete and the new Art Director kid (name?) pulling that stunt for Sugarberry and the women fighting over a ham. Finally, we have Betty’s public persona as divorced wife in front of Henry’s very large and nosy family. She must better her relations with this new crowd of spectators now that they are part of her own family life, though she doesn’t appear to be too worried about it just yet.

By the way, what’s up with Betty and Henry’s sex life? No sex in bed but all-systems-go in the garage?

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