“Who is Don Draper?”
With the season finale of Doctor Who conveniently falling on the same weekend as the premiere of Mad Men season 4, I’ve been recruited to add it to the Arts & Culture rotation. First, here’s a link to a quick recap of seasons 1-3 courtesy of Gawker TV.
It’s November 1964 and almost a year has passed since the events of the season 3 finale. “Public Relations” begins with an interview, but Don is typically reluctant to talk about himself. In his old life, he could get away with this; he was mysterious and confident, and people accepted whatever little bit he was willing to give of himself. He was successful at Sterling Cooper, but he could let his work speak for itself. Now, with his name on the door at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, he’s learning that he has no choice but to create a public persona. But who does he talk about? He can’t be Dick Whitman, obviously, and the life he created as Don Draper has fallen apart; his marriage is over, and he’s now living in a bachelor apartment in the West Village. He prefers to say nothing, hoping the reporter will interpret it as modesty, but SCDP has been successful and the reporter just isn’t buying the humble act.
The SCDP offices are beautiful but small, exactly what you’d expect for a “scrappy upstart” company. The smaller staff means that our main players all have basically the same jobs with a heightened sense of responsibility and power. Joan has her own office now and is clearly running things in ways that were only hinted at during her Sterling Cooper years. Harry is their show business guy, having just returned from a successful business trip to California, hilariously sunburned and giddy. Harry tells Joan that he sold the jai alai special, but he wants to break the news himself at the afternoon meeting. “I won’t even tell people after it’s aired!” Joan says dryly.
Whatever tension existed between Pete and Peggy last season seems to have disappeared. They banter and work together well, coming up with a publicity stunt to generate interest for their client, Sugarberry, seller of fine hams. They’ll hire two actresses to fight over the last ham at a supermarket in Queens, using money from Pete’s expense account to pay the women. “I’ll just say it’s for whores!” he offers. The plan works perfectly, but the women get so into their roles that they actually hurt each other and one of them ends up in jail. Peggy is forced to call Don on Thanksgiving Day to beg for hush/bail money, but she’s able to hold her own against him in a way we haven’t seen before. “We’re all here because of you. All we want to do is please you,” she tells him. Peggy is more confident than ever, and she’s got a new haircut and wardrobe to go along with her new attitude.
Meanwhile, the glimpse we get of Don’s private life is not wonderful. His apartment is dark and depressing and he doesn’t eat much. Roger sets him up on a date with one of Jane’s friends. “Forget that she knows Jane,” Roger says. “This girl is terrific.” I take it that things are still not going well in the Sterling marriage. Don meets Bethany, who appears to be a junior version of Betty. She rattles on about the sad state of the world, models her borrowed dress, and talks about her career as a supernumerary in the opera, a role that amounts to background scenery. “I do a lot of mock drinking, I’m a wench, I’m a courtesan, part of a harem. It depends on the opera,” she explains. Don says it’s fascinating, and you get the impression that he’s telling the truth. Being part of the background, changing character day to day — that sounds like Don Draper’s ideal life. He manages to get a kiss from Bethany later in their taxi, but she won’t invite him inside. She wants to meet up again for New Year’s Eve, as though they have potential for a real relationship. Instead, Don seems more comfortable hiring a hooker to keep him company. She comes over on Thanksgiving Day, and it’s not their first time together. For the first time, we see what kind of sex Don wants when he doesn’t have to worry about pleasing his partner at all, and he apparently likes to be slapped in the face. Very interesting.
On the surface, Betty seems to be faring better than Don in her personal life. She and Henry Francis are now married but still living in the old Draper house. Betty was supposed to move out on October 1, but she shows no signs of leaving the house that Don still owns. He arrives to pick up the kids for the night becomes annoyed when Betty tells him she sent baby Gene away before he arrived. “I’d like to see him,” he says, and Betty just shrugs. The only time Don seems happy in this episode is when he’s with his kids, and Betty seems determined to use that against him. She tells Don to have them back by 9pm, but when he arrives with a sleeping Bobby in his arms, the house is totally dark. Sally opens the door with a key she keeps on a chain around her neck, which struck me as very sad for some reason. When Betty arrives home, she snaps that she’s waited for Don plenty of times. They fight while Henry stands by Betty like a third wheel, and Betty refuses to move out of the house. It seems that everything she’s doing is designed to provoke Don, and Henry is already growing tired of it. “This is only temporary,” he tells Don of their housing situation. “Believe me, Henry, everybody thinks this is temporary,” he replies. Ouch. There are cracks elsewhere in the Betty-Henry relationship. He rejects her in bed only to get excited when they get in the car together, kissing her like he did when she was still married to Don and Henry’s fantasy of Betty was still intact. His mother hates her as well, calling her a “silly woman.” It appears that Betty is going to be less popular than ever this season.
Back at the office, they’re feeling the effects of Don’s horrible interview. They lose their jai alai client because Don didn’t mention him (or anyone, really) in the article. Don completely loses it with some finicky clients when they reject his ad idea, kicking them out of the SCDP offices. He sets up another interview with Bert Cooper’s contact at The Wall Street Journal, and this time he’s ready with his heroic tale of their Sterling Cooper walk out. He takes his place in the spotlight, the new version of Don Draper.
AUGUST 1: A last minute visitor threatens to spoil the agency’s Christmas party in “Christmas Comes But Once a Year.”
Photo courtesy of AMC TV.