Mad Men Season 4: In Which There Is No Fresh Start

Mad Men Season 4: In Which There Is No Fresh Start

Just because she speaks French does not mean she will let you cheat on her.

Belinkie: Because my college copy of Conquest of Cool is in my parents’ attic, along with my old MC Escher posters and Phish tapes, I’ll let the commenters address when Madison Avenue started trying to market to kids. Let’s move on to the future Mrs. Don Draper. You say that he could never be happy with Faye, because she challenged him and encouraged him to grow as a person. But WASN’T he happy with Faye for a while? He courted her like a grownup, even putting off that first trip to the bedroom (before they broke the lamp). He told her the truth about his past, and she accepted him for who he REALLY was. It seemed to me like Don was happier with Faye than he ever was with Betty. So what happened? Why did he suddenly, over the course of one episode, fall in love with Betty 2.0? He seems to have chosen to revert to who he was, rather than evolve into somebody new. Any particular reason he gave up on the new Don Draper?

Perich: I didn’t say Don couldn’t be happy with Faye. I just said he couldn’t marry her. Mrs. Don Draper has to fit a certain role: good with kids, beautiful, supportive, interesting. But not challenging.  Don needs a wife who’ll buy the beer she sees in an in-store display, serve it to clients at dinner, and then be quietly civil when she realizes she was an object lesson (remember Betty in S1?).

Besides, Don was happy with Faye. She helped him out of a tough spot. She served her purpose. Now he’s done with her.

Blame Canada?

Don has had his eye on Megan ever since Ep10 (“Hands and Knees”). The episode ended with him looking at the Beatles tickets on his desk, then looking up at Megan as she applied her makeup for a night out. The two of them got together in the next episode (“Chinese Wall”), were friendly but adult about it in Episode 12, and are back in bed in Episode 13.  That’s at least three months of time in the show. Falling in love with someone over three months isn’t common, but it’s not unheard of.

California cast a spell on Don. It always does. It’s sunny, it reminds him of the past, his kids are happy there. And Don has always been susceptible to the power of marketing. That’s what makes him so good at it.

Belinkie: And here’s my big question: where do we go from here? Drama is all about characters changing and evolving. There certainly can be drama in characters that CAN’T change and evolve – just ask Samuel Beckett. But I don’t think Season 5 can be about Megan turning into Little Miss Bitter when her Prince Charming isn’t all he was, um, advertised to be. There’s got to be more to it then Don just getting bored and flirting with ANOTHER pretty secretary. Right? Even though Don thinks he’s going back to the way things were, he can’t, can he? There are no fresh starts.

Perich: Don, as a character, is not going to change. At least not much. He will not make it out of the Sixties intact. But everyone around him is going to change. That’s the show’s tragic arc: that a desirable man with his finger on the pulse of the culture can’t keep up with it. Note how the partners react when Don announces his engagement. It’s a room full of blank faces.

Belinkie: You feel that Don Draper, a man who rose to the top because of his ability to reinvent himself, will get his comeuppance because of his inability to change with the times. After his proposal to Megan, I’ll reluctantly second that, and add that next season Peggy finally eclipses him. I’m not saying she ousts him as partner or anything, but she will create a brilliant ad that establishes her as a rising star, and it will be the kind of ad Don could never make. Then again, the show is ALSO about how hard it is to be a women in the sixties, so maybe Peggy doesn’t get the kind of success she deserves after all.

Raise your hand if you want to see these three team up to solve mysteries. Yeah, I thought so. Let's call it MadMoiselles.

Hey John, you ever notice how the Mad Men writers seem to find the female characters way more interesting than the male characters? Think about all the great roles for women: Peggy, Joan, Betty, Sally, Faye, etc. On the male side, you’ve got Don… and then who else? Roger, Pete, and Lane are the main others, and they’re all often played for comic relief. Maybe a better way to put it is that the women are significantly more relatable and empathetic.

Perich: I haven’t noticed that myself. I love all the male roles. Pete and Roger have depth to them, even when they’re not tossing off one-liners. Bert Cooper is the “Ralph Wiggum” of the partnership, if anybody. (I base that off a comment made by a Simpsons writer that Ralph Wiggum was the hardest character to write for, because every line out of his mouth had to be hilarious). I think both the male and female roles are interesting.

Perhaps the female roles seem more interesting because they’re confronting an elephant in the room – the subtle ways that men use power to keep women quiet – without resorting to cliches or shrillness. They’re a remarkably realistic depiction of women pushing at the boundaries of gender limits. If I had been pitched a show about “women trying to balance their careers and their personal lives,” I probably would not have been interested. (That says more of me than it does of the show, I think)

The lawnmower man.

Let’s talk a bit about the minor roles.

I’m glad Ken Cosgrove’s back. He’s always been the character with whom I most identify: works in marketing, trying to make it as a writer, kind of a douchebag. But this season gave him a bit of backbone. He calls Pete out on sniping him behind his back (did anyone buy Pete’s apologies?). He apologizes profusely when he has to abandon dinner with his in-laws over work. He treats Peggy as a real partner – she’s the happiest one to see him back, and they nail that panty-hose pitch. Plus, he has a life outside of work. He’s a contrast to the career men Pete and Don.

(I don’t think Weiner envisioned this role for Cosgrove from the beginning. He’s just a handy one to fill it, given how little we’ve seen of him otherwise)

What do you think about Cosgrove? Or Harry Crane, for that matter? Or Lane Pryce?

Belinkie: At first I was annoyed that Ken ended up back in the office, because it seemed so artificial that every single character from the original Sterling Cooper wound up working for the new Sterling Cooper. In the real world, people come and go, and old friends end up working for rival agencies. I sort of liked having Ken elsewhere. But I think in the finale, they’ve started to make him into one of the few actual nice guys on the show. He loves his wife and won’t exploit her for business purposes. He treats Peggy as an equal. He’s good at his job but keeps it in perspective. He doesn’t even seem to have a drinking problem! In a show where it’s taking for granted that all the men are selfish egomaniacs, Ken seems refreshingly out of place.

Still lazy after all these years.

Lane was a nice surprise this season. Last year, he was kind of an antagonist – a foreigner who took over Sterling Cooper and put our beloved Mad Men through the wringer. But this year, he’s become one of my favorites. The episode where he used a steak as a belt buckle, watched Godzilla, and then had sex with a prostitute was pretty amazing. And hey, kudos to him for dating a Playboy bunny.

I have to admit, I was hoping that after Roger lost Lucky Strikes, he would find a way to redeem himself. He’s sort of a fan favorite, and we hate to see our favorites feeling that miserable. My fantasy was that he’d dig deep, turn on the charm and the cunning, and either get that account back or another one just like it. But nope, that’s not how Mad Men works. Roger is, in fact, worthless. I don’t expect him to find redemption – sort of the opposite.

Perich: So after last season’s recap, I made a bunch of predictions to what Season 4 would bring. Weiner jumped the clock ahead to 1965 just to spite me, so no joy there. But do we want to take a stab at Season 5?

Belinkie: Don’t look at me. Last season, I had all sorts of theories about Draper’s new agency doing some work for Nelson Rockefeller, thereby giving the writers an excuse to have him interact with Henry Francis. No joy. The one thing I’m sure about is nothing that I predict about Season 5 will actually happen. I should probably take advantage of this by predicting what I secretly DON’T want to happen, thus making sure it doesn’t. But instead, I’m going to make some real predictions, just for fun.

The next season will jump ahead 1-2 years. Don and Megan will be married, settling into their new life together in a house somewhere. Don follows through on his dream of being the all-American paterfamilias by getting custody of at least Sally, who’s starting high school. Megan wants to be a copywriter, but Don just wishes she’d stay home and get pregnant. Betty discovers Henry Francis is cheating on her, but chooses not to confront him about it – she can’t afford another divorce. Joan will be raising the baby on her own, and Roger will be drinking himself to death over it. Joan’s husband never figures out it isn’t is, even thought he thinks it’s a little odd she was pregnant for 11 months. He will NOT die, but he will return home seriously injured/disfigured, and Joan will reluctantly quit her job to care for him fulltime, which she sees as her penance for the baby. I’m sticking with my prediction that Sterling Draper Price will find its new niche doing cutting edge counter-cultury stuff, with Peggy in the lead. The agency will be in a new office, possibly down in the Village. At some point, Don will become jealous of Peggy’s success, try to fire her on some pretext, only to be overruled by Lane. Don quits in a huff and storms out to California by himself. He tries to hook up with Anna’s niece, and she rejects him. Chastened, he returns to Megan and the agency to stare wistfully out the window. End of Season 5.

Okay, what have you got?

Perich: Roger re-enlists on a dare, is shipped off to Vietnam, and confesses his cuckoldry to Dr. Rapist. Joan quits SCDP in a rage after Lane drunkenly tries to bounce a quarter off her ass and gets a job at Ms. Magazine as a secretary. A chance remark by Sally leads to Jeff Beck getting fired from The Yardbirds. Ted Chaough and Peggy have a brief fling, but when Chaough steals her idea for the Palmolive account, she brains him with Don’s Cleo. She enlists the help of Duck and Joyce to cover for Chaough, sending out memos and ducking in and out of offices in a trenchcoat and hat; by the time the fraud is exposed, she’s re-signed three clients to another ten million in earnings. Pete discovers that he’s been hypnotized by Communists to assassinate Presidential candidate Richard Nixon. Megan and Betty get in a catfight that lasts for three episodes, then is dropped without any meaningful resolution. After a long, intense struggle, highlighted with flashbacks to his youth, Don gives up chocolate. And Bert Cooper, Paul Kinsey and Sal Romano move in to a walk-up in Alphabet City. Hijinks ensue.

Belinkie: I don’t see Don giving up chocolate, but the rest seems plausible. Let’s write another 5,000 words about it next year.