Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Five Questions for Mad Men Season 4

The end of Mad Men’s Season 3 saw Don Draper’s work and home life in a state of flux. He’s entering a world without Betty and into a new business with familiar faces. With this universe upheaval comes some questions for the season premiere airing this Sunday on AMC at 10pm.

1.What’s ahead for Sterling Cooper Draper and Pryce?
When Roger and Don stood in the gutted Sterling Cooper offices at the beginning/end of their coup Roger asked, "How long do you think it'll take us to be in a place like this again?" to which Don replied, "I never saw myself working in a place like this."

We can probably assume the days of hard drinking, endless partying and general debauchery are over in the new company. Who would they party with anyway? There’s so few of them. But it also means an end to doing business the old way. Don has always been a master salesman; it’s his true gift. But after the falling out with Conrad Hilton, I can’t help but think the new agency will go about their business in a very different, much more progressive way. I like this idea from the context of the show because it gives the chance for business to change with the times. These are the sixties after all.

2.The Draper marriage, kaput or on hiatus?
Season 3 ended with Betty on a plane to Reno alongside new beau Henry Francis and Don promising to not meddle in the split. It also detailed painfully just how difficult a divorce like this would be on their kids as they sat watching television without either parent.

Given that January Jones is up for an Emmy, she will certainly continue to be a major focus of the show. But how? Does she realize life with Henry isn’t so different from life with Don? Does Don do what he does when he’s trying to land an elusive account? Make great sales pitch after great sales pitch? Or do they reconcile Tony and Carmela-style with more a business approach to fidelity than a loving one? Whatever the answer, there’s no easy way to completely separate them.

3.Is Don finally over Dick Whitman?
The end of Season 3 showed us the death of Dick Whitman’s father (murder by horse hoof). And with it, I can’t help but feel the story of Don’s secret life may finally be over. To some degree that happened when Betty found his memory box, and in some ways freed Don from his past.

Much of Mad Men has been about the Don vs. Dick debate waging inside Jon Hamm’s character, but the move out of his old office, his heartfelt pleas to retain Peggy and Pete, his divorce and final move into the new company looks like it could finally merge the two personas into a powerful and personal combination. Or he could remain dichotomous but now with an Old Don vs. New Don inner debate.

4.How goes the empowerment of Peggy Olsen?
Peggy has always been, in my opinion, the most mysterious of all Mad Men characters (outside of Don, of course), mainly because I’ve struggled to come to grips with her motivation. Is she searching solely for respect? Does she want to believe in herself? Does she just yearn for success? Or does she epitomize the gaining steam of Women’s Lib Movement? This last one is probably the best explanation; she wants equality after all. But Peggy goes about her empowerment more as a one-on-one war without involving the strength of her sisters. If anything, she just doesn’t get other women and doesn’t understand their complacency. Is this the season she has an awakening outside of her own job?

5.Mad Men and the Vietman War?
Historical events have mostly operated around the periphery (and sometimes in the margins) of Mad Men. Of course the Kennedy assassination in the penultimate episode of season 3 was a story in and of itself, whereas things like the Cuban Missile Crisis and Marilyn Monroe’s death were dealt with in the context of how Sterling Cooper did business.

But like JFK, the Vietnam War is just too big to ignore or cast off as a simple historical subplot. As we saw in Kevin Arnold’s kitchen in The Wonder Years, the Vietnam War was the first one televised and these guys work in advertising. Is the war an opportunity for them? A distraction? An office joke? (Mad Men has joked about worse.) Whatever it becomes, the war will certainly play a role.

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