Mad Men 4.1 – Ladies and Gentlemen, The Scrappy Upstarts!

“Who is Don Draper?”

Those are the first words we hear when “Mad Men” returns for its fourth season, but it’s certainly not the first time we’ve heard the question asked. This time, though, it’s coming from a journalist who’s interviewing Don and trying to wrap his head around his subject. The question, as you would expect, thoroughly flummoxes Don, but he recovers nicely, turning his instinctual expression of concern about the query into one of mild annoyance, then firing back, “What do men say when you ask that?” As it turns out, he actually is kind of annoyed by the question, though it quickly becomes evident that it’s mostly because he just plain doesn’t like talking about himself. He’s not used to being on a firing line like this one, and if he had his way, he’d clearly avoid it altogether. Unfortunately, that’s not going to be an option in this new scenario in which he finds himself. The members of this new firm have to promote both the company and themselves…and, yes, that includes you, too, Don.

In a moment of perfect timing, the interview wraps up just as Roger Sterling and Pete Campbell walk up to the table. Pete’s clearly just as obsequious as ever (“We’re grateful for your sacrifice”), and Roger, it seems, has been spending some time on a book. His memoirs…? He doesn’t clarify. He does, however, offer up a trademark zinger within the first three minutes of the episode, so it’s clear that this is, at least to a certain extent, the same old Sterling that we left at the end of Season 3. It does appear that he may be drinking a bit more, however. This is a slightly impressive accomplishment, given that his alcohol intake was rather heroic to begin with, but it’s never a good thing to use booze as a crutch, so I’d expect that we’ll see more of this development sooner than later. Is Roger on track to become this year’s Freddie Rumsen?

Don, Roger, and Pete meet with a new client: Jantzen, who – according to the stats they cite during the meeting – maintain 25% of the bathing suit market. They’ve got some concerns that need addressing, and once again, we see Don’s limited tolerance for current goings-on. You know, when a client says, “I’m getting tired of saying this today,” you’d think most people would have the tact not to respond, “Next time, just have one meeting.” They also probably wouldn’t openly mock the client’s delicate sensibilities and their position that the inherent sexiness of a bikini is somehow diminished if you simply refer to it as a two-piece bathing suit. But, then, Don didn’t get where he is in the ad game by keeping his opinions to himself, now, did he?

Dig the score as the power trio sweep into the offices of the newly-formed Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. That swings, baby! It’s interesting Cooper paints a picture of part of the design of the new building – instead of a conference table, there’s a circle of chairs – without us actually getting to see it, but I’m sure we’ll explore the whole place soon enough. So who’s this new kid that Cooper tells to get back to work? Well, we’ll get back to him. For now, let’s focus on Don’s inability to catch a break. The guy’s in a position where he’s being asked to be all things to all people all at once. If he goes to one meeting, he misses another. Oh, well, at least he had a good excuse for missing this one: “I didn’t know he was coming, and I don’t know who that is.” The relationship between Cooper and Don seems about the same even in the new surroundings, like a grouchy father trying to talk sense into his opinionated son, but it’s still a little odd to see Pete acting like one of Don’s peers rather than a subordinate. Glad he gave us a last-second bit of sucking up. Ah, seems like old times…

Any Stan Freberg fans in the house? I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Freberg a few years ago during a “Mad Men” panel, when I saw him quietly strolling into the room, and I was able to experience the cheap thrill of shaking the hand of a living legend of both comedy and advertising. If you’re wondering what the hell Peggy and New Guy were on about with all that “John!” and “Marsha!” stuff, they were quoting from this:

Other things which remain unchanged from last season: there’s still some tension between Pete and Peggy, and Peggy’s still sticking up for Don. When we see him meeting with his accountant, you can kind of see why. The dissolution of the relationship between Don and Betty isn’t quite over yet, nor will it be until she and her new boy get their butts out of the house, where they’ve lingered well beyond the date when they were supposed to have vacated. It seems pretty clear that Don hasn’t pressed the issue because he doesn’t really want to admit to himself that it’s over, but is that also why Betty still hasn’t gotten out of Dodge yet?

Wow, you know things are bad in Don’s personal life when even Roger is starting to feel sorry for him…and, yes, it does seem to be a pretty dark and lonely lifestyle that he’s living, even he does have a housekeeper in his employ. Not that he had a choice, but, really, it’s probably best for him that he took Roger up on his offer to set him up with a date. And what a date it is: it’s Anna Camp, who played Rev. Newland’s hot wife on “True Blood”! Although it starts lighthearted, their conversation briefly turns strangely serious, with talk of the pall that’s fallen over the country in recent months. Fortunately, it soon turns flirtatious. Behold the power of Chicken Kiev! Even that delicious dish, however, isn’t enough for things to get any more heated than a goodnight kiss. We’ll see where they are on New Year’s Even, I reckon…if Don’s balls can hold out that long. Ah, who am I kidding? Don’s balls didn’t even make it through Thanksgiving…but, really, isn’t the holiday all about overindulging, anyway? Oh, and what’s this new development with all the slapping during sex? Man, I knew Betty bad for him, but this takes it to a whole new level.

Ah, remember the good old days when you couldn’t charge clients for putting on publicity stunts on their behalf? Still, as Pete says, “It wouldn’t be a bad idea for them to increase their media budget.” Surely we all knew that there was precious little chance that this “ham battle” would go off without a hitch. “Happy Thanksgiving, Don…oh, and by the way, I need bail money.” Awesome. Almost as awesome as the volume at which Don yelled at New Guy. (“Who are you?”) I still think Don was being spiteful later in the episode when he barred Peggy from coming to the meeting, but she kind of earned it with that snappy comeback of hers…which, come to think of it, was also awesome.

You can tell by the tone in Roger’s voice that whatever Lane has just told him can’t possibly be good news…and it isn’t. The article for which Don was being interviewed at the beginning of the episode has hit newsstands, and it paints a picture of him as a mysterious Dorian Gray type. Don shrugs off the skewed portrayal, “My job is to write ads, not to go around talking about who I am,” but Roger hits him where it hurts when he replies, “Who knows who you are?” There’s a reason why the expression “modesty is the best policy” didn’t take off nearly as well as the one about honesty. Poor Harry. In one moment, he goes from having a hugely successful trip to L.A. – it takes a real man to sell a jai alai special – to having the rug ripped out from under him, and, once again, Don’s deficiencies as an interview subject are to blame. By the way, did I detect some flirtation between Harry and Joan, or was that just Joan doing what she does best? (I tend to think the latter, but when it looks like there might be sparks between a chubby glasses-wearing schlub and a hot, buxom redhead, I have to do whatever I can to support the fellow in his endeavor.)

Nothing says “Happy Thanksgiving” quite like dinner with Betty and her beau, does it? Glad to see Sally hasn’t changed, though it’s a shame to see that Betty hasn’t, either. (“Ow! Stop pinching me!”) Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for the top contender for 2010’s TV Mother of the Year! You’ve got to respect someone who’s just out of the gate but is already leading the pack, but there’s just nowhere else to place someone who, when her daughter tries to call her dad to wish him a happy Thanksgiving, snarls, “You want to call him to complain about how awful I am? Don’t expect him to be sympathetic when he hears my side of the story!” The only thing Betty got right in that conversation was the fact that Sally would be seeing her dad the next day, as he stopped by to pick up the kids for an overnight stay at his place. Sorry, make that two of the kids: the new baby is elsewhere, and it’s clear that his absence is a small power play. A much larger power play comes when Don brings the kids back home after their fun-filled, action-packed experience at his swinging bachelor pad, only to find that Betty couldn’t even be bothered to make it back on time. Gee, thanks, Mom! By this point, Don’s had his fill: he demands either a definitive get-the-hell-out-of-my-house-by date or that he begin to receive some sort of monetary compensation. And what’s Betty’s fallback position? Concern for the kids?!? Oh, yeah, everybody believes that one!

Things finally come to a head with Don during the Jantzen meeting at the end of episode. The client’s making requests, and he’s basically saying, “I hear what you’re saying, but you’re wrong, and I’m right.” When they try for the umpteenth time to reiterate their “we’re a family company” line, as if saying it just once more will make Don understand what they’re looking for, he finally snaps and storms out of the office, leaving the clients looking completely befuddled…and understandably so. Of course, the expressions really go haywire when he storms back in and yells at them to get out. Back to the drawing board we go…and, hey, what do you know? Honesty is the best policy.

See, I told you there was a reason that expression took off.

Best lines of the night:

* “So how are your balls? Are you enjoying yourself?”Don’s accountant

* “I can use my expense account if I say they’re whores!”Pete

* Don: What do you need?
Roger: Someone white to carve our turkey.

* “This girl’s terrific. She looks like Virginia Mayo, she’s 25, Mt. Holyoke gymnastics team. See her this weekend. If you hit it off, come Turkey Day, maybe you can stuff her.”Roger

* I learned a valuable lesson: stay away from one-legged reporters.Don

* “He hung up on me. I think he was crying.”Pete

* “It’ll pass.”Joan

* “It was going great…until it wasn’t.”Peggy

* Henry: Don, it’s temporary.
Don: Believe me, Henry, everybody believes this is temporary.

* “Get your things and get out of my office. Now! Let’s go!”Don

  

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