Monday, July 26, 2010

Mad Men - "Public Relations"

Review by Paul Steven Brown

‘Mad Men’
Season 4 – Episode 1
“Public Relations”

When we last saw ‘Mad Men’ at the end of season three, it was late 1963, Betty was leaving Don for another man and the newly formed Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce had just set up shop in a hotel suite. The first episode of season four opens almost a year later and on the verge of Thanksgiving in 1964. Don and Betty are still apart; he’s in an apartment in the city and she’s still in the house with the kids and Henry. SCDP has been successful enough to move out of the hotel and into a full-fledged office with and a pool of secretaries. Even Joan has her own office now.

Still, things aren’t completely rosy for the start up and at the center of it all is Don Draper and his ego. Peggy points out that everyone is there because of Don. He’s the big star that brings in the clients. Unfortunately, due to his abundance of secrets, he gives a lousy interview for an advertising paper. The man has a reputation to be able to sell anything, but fails miserably at selling himself.

The chain reaction is interesting. When he fails to mention the jai alai account (or any other account for that matter), they’re ready to dump SCDP. Harry Crane has a fit since he just got them some time for ABC’s new eclectic sports show (presumably ‘Wide World of Sports’). This also demonstrates Harry’s ever-growing importance with the agency and the rising dominance of television as a commercial outlet. In fact, Don’s current success story is a much talked about floor wax television advert.

I wonder if television and the news media will be a big theme this season. Not only are we seeing Don fielding newspaper interviews and SCDP moving more into television, but also Peggy and Pete try their own hand at media manipulation with the grocery store fight stunt. When it almost blows up in Peggy’s face and Don has to help pay off the two actresses, he really lays into her. While this felt like a repeat of his rough attitude towards her during most of the last season (before he begged her to come work for SCDP), Peggy is no longer afraid to quickly defend herself. Also, she’s still working under Don, but now she’s got enough authority to have people in creative do what she says. I’m still betting that she’s going to be a partner by the end of the series.

We don’t get to see much of what’s going in Pete’s life outside of work, but he appears to be very happy at SCDP. He seems respectful of Don and not in a resentful way. He and Peggy continue to make really good team and seem to be getting along better than ever. Does this mean that they’ve finally come to terms with their own sexual tension and complex past?

At the beginning of “Public Relations” Don seems to be a drift in this strange new world that he now inhabits. By the end of the hour, he’s decided to take charge on several matters. He’s demanding that Betty and Henry move so he can sell the house or start paying rent. When the bathing suit company doesn’t bite at his campaign he tells them that their wasting his time and to get out. He ends the episode as he began: fielding another interview, this time with the Wall Street Journal. However, he immediately dives in and takes control of the narrative. Is this only a momentary attitude adjustment or a newly focused Don Draper?

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