Thoughts on “Public Relations”

The fourth season of Mad Men began airing on Sunday night.

Want a recap? Here’s a great place to start. Want some commentary and reaction? It follows after the jump.

The episide kicked off mid-interview, with Don talking to a reporter from Advertising Age. A one-legged reporter, actually. Don is being what I called in my J-School days, a ‘bad interview.’ He’s being asked open ended questions, but he’s also playing hard-to-get. He’s doesn’t offer anything resembling a quoteable answer, save one good quip:

“I’m from the midwest. We’re taught it’s impolite to talk about one’s self.”

This is Don not so much refusing to brag as it is Don putting up a wall of mystique. The reporter’s Korean vet and even Pete chimes in with little complement to the reporter. Don didn’t say anything, especially in regards to his own service in the war. He could have said something to try and bridge the gap, making a connection. He didn’t: he’s still trying to foster an engima; “I let my work speak for me.”

Why was Don being interviewed? After jumping from a sinking Sterling Cooper, Don’s new agency has a knockout ad for Glo Coat, some kind of a cleaning thing. I’m going to take the leap and assume Don took the lead in developing the spagetti-western influenced ad (it’s really nicely shot) and there’s a great scene of Don just sitting down, watching the ad play on TV and seeming to enjoy it.

Indeed, his profile is skyrocketing.  he’s more then JUST a creative director. People are coming to new bright-shiny-glass-enclosed offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP) just to speak to him: Two reporters, a bikini company, etc. He’s a man of consequence now, a man who can make things happen. Maybe that’ll be the subtext to this season: newly free Don Draper, testing and flexing his muscles and seeing if he can swim.

He seems freer then ever in his new role, too: he has power to go with vision. One such company is a family friendly bikini company that wants him to work his magic. They’re unwilling to go “into the gutter” like the competition but they want to compete.

Draper congures up a cheeky bikini ad – a wink, he calls it –  that’s a really great example an example of his new freedom at SCDP (or whatever). It’s sly without being crude and it’s still kind of provoking, even now. And the bikini company hates it – and Don flips his shit. His yelling at a cliant is an example of his power at the new firm. He’s free to bang out whatever ideas he wants and to push the boundries like he never has. He’s not as worried about the consquences, maybe because as a partner, he thinks he’s a little more immune to them.

After all, he didn’t see any problem with the profile in Advertising Age.

Oh, but problems are all around Draper. His personal life has fallen into the trash and I’m getting the impression of some kind of depression. Don’t polishing his own shoes, hiring whores (and having them smack him around) and letting his ex-wife crash in his house for free. He’s not the same self-confident guy he was a year ago. It’s like since his marriage collapsed, Don’s self-confidence has shattered, and stuck he’s feeling sorry for himself. Home Don and Office Don are two very different cats. More then anything else, I really want to see where this dichotomy leads.

Meanwhile at the ever-actiony offices of SCDP, Pete Campbell and Peggy Olson are up to no good. Together, they conjure up a neat little PR stunt and hire two actresses to fight over a can of ham. And they fight. And get each other hurt. And one eventually presses charges. Oh the unintended consequences! Unlike Draper’s mistake, this gaff works out well on the larger scheme (the ham company increases the media budget) but not so well on the smaller (Peggy ends up pleading with Don for bail and bribe money; the old B&B fund). Things end up working out, more or less, for Peggy.

But the best part of the B-story was a little moment with Peggy in Pete’s office, when he’s showing off a clipping on the store fight: as they discuss how to riff off the fight, Peggy comes up with a whole campaign in something like 10 seconds: tag line, illustration (cartoon pilgrim and Native fighting over a turkey) and everything. She’s an exceptional talent, that Peggy Olson.

Other Notes

  • Does it mean anything that a) Don didn’t say his third kid’s name (I seem to remember him hating the name Eugene) and didn’t correct the reporter when asked if he had two children? And that we didn’t get to see the baby, either?
  • Not a ton of new faces at SCDP. I thought we’d see a bunch of new people, but a lot of the old crew jumped over. I wonder if some of the other faces – Kensey, Sal – will show up again? (Probably not)

  • I forgot how jarring the show can be between shots. I watched it in the dark, with the blinds drawn and lights off. When it was Don’s home life, the scenes were shot really dark, especially when he’s drinking and cavorting… and when it cuts to a bright shot of him lying on his bed, the sudden jolt of light does a neat job at getting at the severity of what I’m assuming is Draper’s hangover. Really cool.

Overall Thoughts

On the whole, a good episode, but not great. It did a good job at setting this new season up: new office, new roles and out with the old, in with the new and the pushing, pushing, pushing at boundaries.

The bikini ad pushing at the boundries of taste. Betty getting pushed out of the home. Peggy and Don pushing at theirs, seeing how much they can get away with.

Absolutely looking forward to next week.


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