Thursday, 9 September 2010

Mad Men 4.1 'Public Relations'


“Who is Don Draper…?” – Reporter

What a great season opener for one of TV’s most critically-lauded shows.

‘Public Relations’ didn’t hit you over the head with what had gone before (that’s one of the things I love about Mad Men) it just threw you straight in, head-first, to the new world order of Sterling Cooper Draper Price.

The hotel room base we saw the fledgling company operating out of at the end of season 3 may now be gone but the business isn’t exactly prospering one year on; the company is haemorrhaging clients and Don isn’t doing his bit to help the cause.

The above quote that opened the episode could be the series’ tagline but it has never seemed as apt as it did for the start of the show’s fourth season. Don is in a downward spiral and almost everyone can see it, the problem is it couldn’t be happening at a worse time; as SCDP’s golden goose, the company needs Don to be on top of his game but right now he just isn’t.

The episode-opening interview is our first clue that something is off – Don has always kept his past shrouded in secrecy, from everyone, but for a man who definitely has the gift of the gab, his reluctance to offer up anything to his inquisitor was telling.

Perhaps he’s still reeling from what happened when Betty found out the truth about his past but this Don Draper seems even more like a vault than ever before, and thus the reporter took several liberties when it came to publishing the interview and the result was unflattering to say the least, both to Don and to SCDP.

Don’s self-destruction then manifested itself again as he threw the bathing suit company execs out of the building after they refused to alter their stance on not using sex to sell their product.

If his work persona wasn’t a big enough hint that this is a man that’s lost his way in the year since we last saw him then his home life was the metaphorical window to his soul.

Holed up in a crumby apartment whilst Betty and her new husband enjoy the run of the house that Don is still paying for, snapping at his housekeeper and then paying a prostitute to beat him during sex; Don Draper is hurting and seems to want to punish himself for what has become of him.

Speaking of which, Betty does nothing in this season opener to shake her tag as the most loathsome woman on television. Henry’s Mum has seemingly taken no time to catch on to the former Mrs. Draper’s awful parenting, telling her son the children are “terrified” of her.

She then intentionally keeps Don waiting when he returns the kids after their weekend with him because he’s kept her waiting “plenty of times”; this petulance is seemingly the catalyst though for Don to finally say enough is enough from his child-like ex.

Earlier in the episode Don had commented to his lawyer that he didn’t want to start “World War 3” by making Betty move out, but after her latest petty act Don snaps and tells her if she’s not out soon he’ll start charging her rent.

As Betty flips it gives Don the chance to reel off the episode’s best line; upon Henry commenting that the housing situation is temporary, Don retorts “believe me Henry, everybody thinks this is temporary”.

Much like his Mother I have no earthly idea why Henry has married Betty and the cracks in their relationship were already showing by the episodes end.

Elsewhere the episode’s main storyline was Peggy and Pete’s attempts to drum up interest in Ham by staging a fight between two actresses over a tin at a local supermarket.

This of course ended up blowing up in their faces when the fight got out of hand, one actress pressed charges and bail money was needed.

Don and Peggy’s love-hate relationship is still bubbling away, as it was back at Sterling-Cooper, it’s hard to tell why Don is so hard on Peggy – I’d like to think it’s because he expects so much of her but sometimes it does feel like he just enjoys using her as a punching bag. Peggy though seems to almost get some sort of perverse pleasure out of being chewed out by her mentor, and I dare say: idol.

The closing scene featuring Don at a second interview, this time with the Wall Street Journal, seemed to signify that the old Don Draper swagger was coming back as he proceeded to talk himself up whilst sporting a knowing grin.

Mad Men hasn’t always been a show that has had me hooked but this episode reeled me in from that opening scene and didn’t let go until the credits rolled. Given that we are a good few weeks behind the US I’ve read a few reviews stating that this could be the best season of the show yet and if this episode is anything like the rest of what’s to come then I dare say they may be right.

Bullet Points:

- Nice to see the sultry Anna Camp pop up as Don’s blind date for the evening – she was recently seen playing Sarah Newlin on True Blood.

- I thought it was a nice touch that the reporter that gave Don such bad press turned out to have lost his leg in Korea. Just another way to make Don hate himself, since all he could do in Korea was get the real Don Draper killed.

- I thought for a second that they’d replaced a second Draper child and that we had a new Sally this year but she’s just grown almost unrecognisably.

- Trimming some of the fat from the old ad agency has definitely helped streamline the show and focus on some of the more interesting characters; it’s just a shame for me though that Cosgrove and Kinsey were two of my favourite characters. Hopefully they’ll both be back in some capacity as the season progresses

Mad Men continues on BBC4 Wednesday @ 10pm


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