Mad Men, “Public Relations”

I’ve been clamoring to get to the Mad Men season four premiere since it aired for the first time on Sunday night, but my traveling home and subsequent sleep deprivation kept me from doing so until early this afternoon. I was also kept from reading others’ thoughts on the premiere effort, “Public Relations,” which perhaps made me just as angry.

Anyway, you’ve read thousands of words about “Public Relations” at this point. But here are mine, just for the record.

As 1964 nears to a close — we’re nearly a year removed from the Draper divorce and the formation of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce — Don Draper is a little lost. While his professional life seems rock-solid on the surface, with both Peggy and Pete basically admitting their working at the new firm because of Don and his talent, things aren’t on a great of foundation as they may seem. The new firm is flailing financially despite Don’s big ideas and when Sterling and Cooper attempt to turn Don into a media superstar with little luck, everyone scrambles to inform Don that being his mysterious, 1962 self won’t work in this new, ever-changing era. Mr. Draper might be the most creative man in creative, but unless he’s willing to talk about himself to the now more important media covering his industry, it’s all for not.

But of course, that’s not how Don operates. He hinds behind a midwestern upbringing and modesty, but in reality he doesn’t talk about himself to the reporter because he honestly doesn’t know the answer to the first question of “Who is Don Draper?” In the past, Don Draper was a facade, a performance that Dick Whitman used to run from his past. But when he dropped Dick and tried to really become the person he previously pretended to be — the family man, etc. — it all blew up in his face. It seems like Don’s attempts at being honest and open backfired in his face and he’s been pushed back into a shell. But it’s a shell without an identity. Dick Whitman is long gone, but this man is no longer comfortable in his second persona either.

Moreover, Don’s identity crisis surely isn’t helped by the people and world that’s changing around him. Multiple times in “Public Relations” Don finds himself having to defend or apologize for actions that would have never been an issue in previous eras. His faux modesty in the interview blows up, his attempts at inspirational pitching doesn’t work on the family leaning bathing suit company and even his previously-suave moves don’t work on the ladies (enough so that he has to now pay for sex — and slapping).

The changing times and work set up means new roles for both Pete and Peggy, both of which seem more active, confident and self-assured in their ability to get the job done at the new firm — even if the job is setting up a little bit of viral marketing. This is clearly going to be Peggy’s “time” all season, and we see glimpses of that in “Public Relations” as she’s not afraid to nudge male co-workers around, come up with a number of excuses as to how to avoid Don and his rage and is even willing to call him up and ask for a big heap of cash. Pete also seems more comfortable at SCDP, which I can only imagine stems from more job security and appreciation in a firm that’s much smaller and much more reliant on his talents. He no longer has to fight Ken for a job and seems okay with his relationship with Don and Roger since they buttered him up, and frankly, I like that. If there was one thing that season three did wrong, it was push Pete to the sidelines.

And unsurprisingly, SCDP is having trouble keeping up with the changing times as well. Perhaps this is most true because of the firm’s connection to the drowning Don, but even aside from that, the episode goes out of its way to show us that the new firm isn’t going to just be dressed up differently while still telling the same stories we watched in the first three seasons. While Sterling Cooper was never *the* biggest firm in the ad world, we were always given the sense that it held its own. Here, it’s obvious that SCDP can’t stand to lose the Ho-Ho account that’s slipping through their fingers and with Don screwing up their one major press shot and Peggy and Pete messing up on the side, there are lots of balls in the air that could fall out of the sky and onto sharp knives at any moment.

Finally, while many things have also changed for our least favorite divorced blonde Betty Draper, many things have stayed the same. She’s seemingly been given all that she wants — a big family, a husband that actually loves her and stays dedicated to her — and yet, she’s even more of a monster. Betty has always sucked, but at least when she was with Don, there was an air of sympathy to her, but now, her spoiled, bratty routine is even more insufferable. She’s really just a horrible, kind of abusive mother that can’t handle the responsibilities she’s been given. Even Henry’s grown tired of her act and is confused as to why Betty won’t just move out of the Draper house. With Don completely aimless and Betty destroying another man’s outlook on life, I have to wonder if the Drapers will come back together at some point, but I don’t really see the story potential in that.

Not a lot for Joan, Bert or Harry to do this week — aside from get a sunburn — and there’s nothing to be seen of Paul or Ken. That’s sad. Matt Long’s turn as Joey is a nice addition to the cast, though (Jack and Bobby FTW!).

Anyway, great to have the series back and I’ll be interested to see how Don continues to adapt to his new surroundings. My guess is not so well.

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