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Monday, July 26, 2010

Mad Men Redux: Don Draper Unleashed

Posted by Jacob Schraer on Mon, Jul 26, 2010 at 10:43 AM

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"Who is Don Draper?" is the loaded question that began the fourth season of Mad Men. In the middle of an interview, meant to promote his new agency, Don instead extends the reporter his usual mixture of vague answers, false modesty, and self-indulgence.

Viewers waiting to catch a glimpse of your beloved side character beware; aside from a few choice quips from Roger Sterling, a signature Pete Campbell gaffe and a taste of a more assertive and creative Peggy, series creator Matt Weiner sets out to remind us that this is Don's show. Living alone in Manhattan and stepping up to the task of making a name for himself and his company, Don clearly holds the reins of this season.

Spoilers and a full episode recap after the jump!

Don would be pleased, with his anti-humility smugness. The world is lining up to showcase and exploit his greatness.

The episode, "Public Relations," was pretty standard as far as Mad Men season openers go. Season three closed in December of 1963, season four starts just before Thanksgiving, 1964, nearly a year later. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is doing well enough to have a swanky new office but tenously enough to be scrambling to keep accounts. Peggy resorts to publicity stunts, paying two women to fight over a ham in the market so the product will be mentioned in the paper. On the domestic side Betty is struggling to find acceptance with her new husband's family as Sally continues to act out and his relatives are scandalized by her divorce.

But above all we see Don, lonely in his apartment, trying his hand at dating, consorting with whores and light BDSM (playing a sub for a change), throwing fits, yelling at clients who don't immediately fall to his obvious genius, and working. The only smile he cracks is when he's watching his own commercial.

The episode's title reflects a favorite Mad Men theme, how we present ourselves to the world and how the world sees us in turn. Betty isn't having much luck with public relations but her son Bobby, with his tension easing lines, seems to have absorbed Don's lessons. When Peggy's hare-brianed scheme goes awry Don chastises her and she breezily dismisses him, clearly a much more assertive woman now, playing with her first position of real power.

Two interviews bookend the episode as Don, the hot face of his Pete-don't-call-us-an-upstart agency tries to drum up interest and confidence in his company. The end of season three promised change in the characters and the show and it looks like they mean to deliver. Don is selling his persona to the world now.

The episode set up the season well, and while I can accept that its Don's show, the characters are acting as extensions of him at the moment. It'll take the next few months to see where they go on their own.

So what do YOU think, Blogtownies? Was this episode the start of a beautiful season or the beginning of the end?

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