MAD MEN 4.1: Public Relations

Not without some irony, MAD MEN entered its fourth season focusing on the freshman year of struggling start-up Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and the tale of how Don Draper got his groove back.

As part of a seeming hangover from last season’s sometimes-turgid storytelling, Don (Jon Hamm) began the story by laboring through an interview with a reporter from Advertising Age. Don’s trademark smugness and reticence to talk about himself (despite his rampant narcissism) led the writer to pen what the partners at SCDP considered to be a hatchet job – and sent clients running for cover. Not that SCDP had a lot of clients to begin with. And the bikini maker SCDP was courting wanted to come up with a campaign that made “two-piece bathing suits” more appealing to family audiences without “playing in the gutter.” SCDP was nestled in snug little offices without a conference table (chairs, yes; table, no). Pete (Vincent Kartheizer) cheered, “We’re the scrappy upstart.” Yeah, but, dude, your office doesn’t have a conference table! And SCDP will have to be plenty scrappy, since Lucky Strike cigarettes was their single major client. And, of course, Don was responsible for their one hit campaign, a commercial for floor wax that appeared to be almost indistinguishable from entertainment programming. (Hmmm, getting a little ahead of 1964, aren’t you, MAD MEN creator Matt Weiner?)

When the unflattering story hit, Roger (John Slattery) admonished Don: “You turned all the sizzle from Glow Coat into a wet fart.” When Don tried to defend his charmless manner, Bert (Robert Morse) piled on: “Turning creative’s success into business is your work; and you failed!”

Roger forced Don to go on a date with one of Jane’s friends (a supernumerary at the opera), and while there were sparks (and chicken Kiev), Don doused the ardor by claiming he wasn’t ready. Betty (January Jones) has married Henry, but she still hasn’t moved out of Don’s home so it can be sold. The former couple could not stop spewing venom at each other. And while Betty dragged her spiteful children to Henry’s snooty family for Thanksgiving dinner, Don hired himself a hooker to slap him in the face during sex. (And no, that definitely did not appear to be a one-time holiday special).

Back at the office, things continued to sour, until Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) reminded Don that everyone who joined his little rebel alliance did so because they believed in Don – and he was letting everyone down. This apparently lit enough of a fire under Don that he came up with a great (if racy) campaign for the bikini-makers. Which they hated. Which prompted Don to throw them out! Yes, Don refused to kiss the corporate butts, and tossed them out on their butts. Then the once-again brass-balled Don quickly arranged for an interview with The Wall Street Journal. This time Don trotted out his super-seductive persona and turned on the charm for the reporter. In other words, he was the Don Draper viewers know and love and love to hate. Don was back!

And not a moment too soon. This opening salvo got the season off to a rousing start and set the table for some interesting stories this season: Don vs. Betty in open warfare being perhaps the marquee matchup. But I really want to know if SCDP is ever going to get a conference table…

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