Mad Men: Season 4 – A Preview

God love you, Matthew Weiner.

Everyone in the free world is chomping at the bit to find out what’s going to happen when your show, “Mad Men,” returns to AMC on July 25th to kick off its 4th season, and all you’re willing to leak to the press is this nine-word description:

Don makes a mistake that jeopardizes the new agency.

Give the man credit: he’s dedicated to keeping as many surprises under wraps as he possibly can…and, as regular readers of Premium Hollywood know by now, I’m not going to be the one who breaks his trust by giving you the scoop on what happens during the season premiere. I will, however, say this: yes, I’ve seen it, and, yes, you will very much feel that it’s been worth waiting for.

If you weren’t watching “Mad Men” during its third season…well, the statute of limitations has probably expired on us giving you crap for that, but since Season 3 has been out on DVD since March 23rd, you really have no excuse for not having played catch-up by now. Still, for those of you who’ve been busy and feel as though you could do with a refresher course, I suppose we could help you out on that front.

When Season 3 kicked off, morale at the firm of Sterling Cooper was at an all time low, thanks in no small part to the arrival of one Lane Pryce (Jared Harris), a financial officer from Sterling Cooper’s parent company, Puttnam, Powell, and Lowe. Pryce, bless his British heart, didn’t exactly fit in, but he certainly enjoyed making waves whenever the opportunity to do so presented itself, which is probably why he seemed so gleeful when he sent Don and Sal to Baltimore to work with a client. Really, though, I only bring up Baltimore because it’s where Don unintentionally caught Sal on the verge of getting in flagrante with a gentleman in the employ of their hotel. By season’s end, the effects that this incident ultimately had on Don’s working relationship with Sal would lead to Sal’s departure from Sterling Cooper. Will we see him return in Season 4? There’s no sign of Bryan Batt’s name in the credits yet, but time will tell.

We will, however, see plenty of Pryce. Although his dedication was unquestionably to PPL when we first met him, it quickly became evident that his compatriots at the home office had limited respect for him, treating him in a subservient capacity whenever possible. Indeed, although he continued to tow the company line, cutting costs at every turn just as he’d been instructed, they were planning to kick him elsewhere. Thank God for that unfortunate lawnmower incident, then, eh? By the end of the season, though, Pryce’s level of frustration is right up there with everyone else’s, and when it’s discovered that PPL is preparing to sell Sterling Cooper…well, hang on, we’ll get back to that in a moment.

Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) went through a major personal-growth spurt during Season 3. First, she starts questioning the sexism of certain campaigns, then she begins considering a possible move to Duck Phillips’ (Mark Moses) agency while pursuing a fling with Duck himself. This is definitely a more adventurous Peggy than we’ve seen before, one who reaches a point where she finally begins to step out of Don’s shadow. Unfortunately, by the season finale, she’s stepped back into it, but now that she’s seen what kind of opportunities are available to her if she wants them, it’s hard to imagine that she’s just going to sit idly by take everything without talking back on occasion. Elsewhere on the female front, Joan (Christina Hendricks) has departed Sterling Cooper, but that plan of action ends up backfiring when her husband doesn’t get the promotion he’s anticipating, leaving her struggling to find a new job and struggling in her marriage. Eventually, though, she does end up finding her way back to Sterling Cooper when…well, hang on, we’ll get back to that in a moment, too.

Don, of course, has a hell of a time in Season 3, both in and out of the office, but let’s tackle the homestead first. Obviously, Don’s never been afraid to step out on his wife, Betty (January Jones), but for the first time, she finally finds the strength to step out on him with Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley), and – somewhat unsurprisingly – Don doesn’t take it terribly well. Betty’s a character who makes it very hard for you to be sympathetic toward her, but between carrying her third child, losing her father, reaching maximum tolerance for Don’s extra-marital affairs, and finding out about his heretofore-unknown past…well, you have to admit that she’d kind of earned the right to act out somehow or other. Still, it might’ve been better for the kids if she’d decided to take a refresher class in parenting instead, especially given the way we see Sally (Kiernan Shipka) acting out during the season.

Meanwhile, back at the office, Don’s relationship with Roger Sterling (John Slattery) is going down the tubes, and it pretty much hits free-fall when Don tells Roger that he’s foolish to have dumped his wife for a pretty young thing. Oddly enough, the person who ends up filling Roger’s spot in Don’s life is Conrad Hilton. The two forge a unique relationship, one which Don finds impossible to read, and the whole thing eventually falls apart, but not before Connie lets Don in on the secret about PPL preparing to sell Sterling Cooper.

The finale of Season 3 was arguably one of the best episodes in the history of the show to date, with Don hatching a scheme which, after going through a few permutations, ultimately finds him teaming with Roger, Bertram Cooper (Robert Morse), and the aforementioned Mr. Pryce to start a new firm, taking with them only the best and brightest from the firm: Peggy, Joan, resident TV ad guru Harry Crane (Rich Sommer), and young upstart Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser). Also in the “clean break / fresh start” department, Betty leaves Don, more or less with his blessing, and heads off to find her own destiny with Henry.

Has Don really gotten what he wanted? What will the future hold for the new firm of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce? Well, you won’t find out all the answers on July 25th…I mean, come on, if Matthew Weiner is only going to dole out nine words about the season premiere, surely you don’t think he’s going to show you his whole hand in the first hour…but you’ll get enough to keep you coming back to AMC every Sunday night for the rest of Season 4. And when you do, be sure to regularly check out my blog for the show, which – fingers crossed – will be waiting for you here on Premium Hollywood no later than Monday morning.

  

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