Monday, July 26, 2010

'Mad Men:' Public Relations (Season Premiere)

*Warning: Spoilers ahead from the recent episode of Mad Men.*

Who is Don Draper? Someone who was almost unrecognizable during the season four premiere of Mad Men.

His confidence in everything appeared to have been shaken: Don screwed up an interview with a reporter from Advertising Age, that was meant to promote Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, by refusing to say much of anything at all. He appeared to be flailing around in the sleek, glass-walled confines of SCDP as the face of an underdog firm with money issues and no conference table. He hasn’t been eating, according to his housekeeper. He was being set up on dates by, of all people, Jane Sterling and even got shot down (as far as walking her up to her apartment) by her young friend in a cab at the end of their date. And, most shocking, Don has been hiring a woman to have sex with him and repeatedly slap him in the face, because, apparently, he’s been a very bad boy and deserves to be punished.

Don Draper is now into being dominated? (Don, the child of a prostitute who was nicknamed “the whore child,” wanted to be slapped around by a call girl? Freud would have a field day.)

It seems as though his postcard-perfect (on the outside) family, with wife, kids and the house in the ‘burbs, really was important to him after all – though he realized it too late – and he now knows, deep in his core, that his deceitful and duplicitous ways are responsible for that. No more trying to shift blame onto Betty. When the episode began, Don was still allowing Betty and Henry to live in the Ossining house for which he was paying the mortgage (so much for Henry saying he didn’t want Betty to owe Don anything) even though the divorce agreement says they were supposed to have moved out a month ago.

I literally was dumb-founded watching this version of Don Draper walk around, lonely and disconnected. He was almost like a foreign character who I didn’t recognize, save for Jon Hamm’s face. Even in the first three seasons of Mad Men, when Don had tremendous difficulty allowing people to capture a glimpse of his true feelings (Midge, Rachel, even, to some extent, Miss Farrell got to see them), he wasn’t THIS inaccessible, just going through the motions of life. Observing a depressed Don Draper was disorienting. It made everything, from SCDP to his dark apartment, feel unstable, different.

Was this dour episode – where the fit he threw over Jantzen’s two-piece bathing suit campaign that his clients rejected – the catalyst for Don to finally say, “Enough of the self-flagellation?” For him to evolve? The Wall Street Journal interview, where he promoted himself with vigor, seemed like a turning point.

Meanwhile, I loved – LOVED! – what a year has done to bolster Peggy’s confidence so much so that not only would she pull a caper like hiring two actresses to stage a faux fight (which evolved into a real one that necessitated bail) over ham so that they wouldn’t lose their account without consulting Don, but Peggy was willing to talk back to Don as good as she got. When Don was feeling extremely down, he tried, as he has in the past, to direct some of his ugly hurt onto Peggy, but this time, Peggy was having none of it. It was a glorious site to behold.

By the way . . . Joan in her own office, a vision.

As for Betty and Henry, all I can say is . . . ick. The two of them, together, have zero chemistry, and are extremely unsettling to watch, particularly under the attentive eyes of Henry’s calloused mother who later referred to Betty as a “silly woman” and chastised Henry for “living in that man’s dirt.” (“Silly,” maybe so, that sweet potato/pinching incident was embarrassing. But “dirt?” No.)

What did you think of the season premiere? Of sad Don? Of Betty and Henry?


Kenneth said...

It's all a set-up for the season. A down depressed Don, in a dank dark apartment in a dimished role in his dying start up company watching his darling wife in a dreadful new marriage. He slightly turns the corner at the end and we can see what is ahead. Don starting to turn on the creative marketing machine to win over the business world and to woo back his wife from her "temporary" relationship. they had to put Don at the bottom, so we can watch him climb back up.

Meredith O'Brien said...

You think he's really going to try to woo Betty back?

I've heard some folks suggest that Bethany -- the person with whom Jane set him up -- is a Betty-like character and that when Don said, "I'm surprised two people can wear that dress," he was thinking about two blondes whose names sound the same: Bethany and Betty.

I'd much prefer Don pursue a reunion rather than seeing more scenes of Betty and Henry in bed together.