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Mad Men Season 4 Premiere Recap: Episode One: Public Relations

July 25, 2010
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Who is Don Draper?

That’s the question that opens Mad Men’s Season Four, and the question Don is asked by the Advertising Age journalist who is interviewing him about the SCDP Glo-Coat commercial that is the talk of the town. A man with much to hide, Don is spooked by this delving and clams up, demurring that Midwesterners don’t think it polite to talk about themselves. His reticence and stonewalling frustrate the reporter. As the reporter gets up to leave, a prosthetic leg reveals him to be a Korean War veteran, like Don. But true to form, Don keeps this commonality to himself also.

SCDP has now been in business a year, and a very successful year it’s been, mostly due to Don Draper, who is now even hotter property. When he’s introduced to clients, their faces shine as though they too, have been buffed with Glo-Coat. Pete is hard at work lining up new account pitches, this one with two members of the family that owns Jantzen, the swimwear company. They want to figure out a way to advertise their two-piece swimsuits without calling them bikinis, or associating them with the bikini’s “gutter” reputation. A rather tricky challenge—sounds like a job for Don Draper.

We’re shown SCDP’s snazzy new offices, which are bright, with lots of glass walls and a mod, perfectly 1964 “SCDP” logo on the lobby wall that contrasts with the traditional “Sterling Cooper” lettering that used to hang in the wood-paneled lobby of the old firm.

Still, Bertram grouses about the offices, saying they’re too cramped, and refuses to go along with Pete’s charade of telling clients there is a second floor. Pete, on the other hand, buzzes around, bright as a penny and seems to positively revel in SCDP’s role as the “scrappy upstart.”

However, when their client Sugarberry Ham sends just one can of ham to the whole office for Thanksgiving (just stuffed into a box, without even a note!), Pete worries that Sugarberry is losing confidence in SCDP. Peggy retorts that that’s because they would only pay for ad testing in three grocery stores in Queens, two of those in Jewish neighborhoods, but she knows Pete is right. They can’t afford to lose this account. She schemes up a publicity stunt to make the client happy: hire two actresses to fight over a can of ham in a store, and get the fracas in the paper. Pete agrees and they call Casting. They agree not to tell Don, a decision that will come back to bite them.

As he always does, Roger worries about Don. Just thinking about what Don does after hours is making him sad. Seems after his own painful divorce he is now a happy family man who wants Don to be the same. He invites Don over for Thanksgiving, but Don claims to have plans. So then Roger sets Don up with Jane’s friend Bethany, “a Mt. Holyoke girl,” making a reservation for them at Jimmy’s LaGrange, famous for its Chicken Kiev—“the butter squirts everywhere!”

If you’re wondering where you’ve seen Bethany before, my editor here at Frothygirlz, Shannon, recognized her as Anna Camp, the actress who plays Sarah Newlin, Rev. Steve Newlin’s wife, on True Blood. Ring a bell now? She’s a silly pretty young thing, but looks as though we’ll see her again, as she’s invited Don to be her guest at the opera, where she works as a supernumerary, that is to say a stage extra. At least Bethany is smart enough not to let Don show her up to her room. Which one couldn’t at the Barbizon, anyway. It was a residence for single girls from good families and no men were allowed beyond the lobby in those days. I even knew a girl who lived in the Barbizon in the 1990s and the no men rule still applied on certain floors. Although what am I talking about, smart enough… I’d let Don show me up to my room no question. Whew! Bethany does make a mention of a friend of a friend who has been killed in a civil rights action in the south, giving us a rare glimpse in the world outside SCDP.

Oh, and Don’s bachelor apartment is at Waverly and Sixth. Interesting address for a corporate man in 1964. Of course, as we know, Don is not your average corporate man.

Harry returns from LA with a comical sunburn, excited about a Jai Alai special he’s sold to ABC. He can’t wait to break the news to the team and asks Joan to keep it secret. But poor Harry never gets his chance. Roger has the Advertising Age article and it is a disaster, entitled “A Man From the Town With No Name,” and referring to Don as a “handsome cipher.” Not exactly the way to win clients. In fact Jai Alai has called, upset at not being mentioned in the article. They are leaving, making Lucky Strike 71% of SCDP’s business—as the furious Bertram says, an untenable situation. When Don says, defensively, that his job is just to make good work, Bertram corrects him: His job is to turn creative success into new business. And at that he has failed miserably. He advises him to call the WSJ and give a good interview. It’s the only way to fight this bad one, but Don shuts down, muttering that he doesn’t know what he could have done differently.

Betty and her kids are with Henry Francis’s family for Thanksgiving dinner. When Henry Francis’s mother wants to know why Sally isn’t eating, Betty shoves a spoonful of yams into her mouth, causing her to gag onto the table. Betty shoves her out the doorway and you hear poor Sally yell, “Stop pinching me!” That loving mother Betty.

And what is Don doing for Thanksgiving, you ask? What were the plans he told Roger about? A prostitute, it turns out, who is on her way to her parents’ for dinner afterward… nice touch. A family girl. She has made house calls to Don’s dark and depressing apartment before, and knows exactly what he wants—to be slapped, hard, and repeatedly, while she rides him. So the truth of Don’s life outside the office is even sadder than Roger had imagined.

Don’s post-coital nap is interrupted by a call from Peggy. Her stunt has backfired. The two women who were paid to fight over the ham in the grocery store have fought for real, and now one is pressing charges against the other. She needs $280 in cash–$80 to bail the one woman out of jail, and $100 apiece to keep the two quiet. Don is not pleased, and gives her a humiliating scolding in the hallway outside his apartment. He does not approve of these kinds of stunts (oh, what would he think of viral advertising today??). Peggy has brought along a young man with her who, when asked, claims to be her fiance. Holding a covered casserole dish. Not a good way to meet Don Draper. As Peggy and the man scurry out she says, with a look of incredulity and scorn, “My FIANCE???” He shrugs, apologetic: “It just came out!”

Late at night, a nightgowned little Sally tries to call Dad to wish him Happy Thanksgiving, but mean Betty cuts her off and orders her to bed. She tells Henry Francis she’s going to have to disconnect the hallway phone so that bratty daughter of hers can’t just up and call her daddy whenever she wants. Perhaps beginning to be disturbed by her cruelty, Henry Francis tells her he’s “too full” for sex, leaving Betty frustrated.

As if that’s not enough, when Don arrives to pick up the kids for the weekend, Betty has already sent the baby away, so she and Henry Francis can be alone. Too bad if Don wanted to see him. Could she be more spiteful and selfish? It’s all okay with Henry Francis, though. They have car sex before they even get out of the garage.

The next night, when Don returns the kids, he has to wait for Betty, who is late getting back from her trip. She’s rude to him, as always, and he tells her she has to get out of the house, something she had agreed to do a month before. Although his accountant had advised him to do it Don hadn’t intended to do so, until piqued by Betty’s cold behavior.

A big case of ham arrives at the office. Sugarberry is happy. The newspaper stories have driven up ham sales. Ham for everyone! Peggy and Pete are ecstatic. They can’t tell the client what they’ve done, but they can capitalize on the publicity. Peggy dreams up the tag line: Ham worth fighting for. Don is still not happy, and scolds Peggy. That is not the kind of work they want to be known for. He also tells her he doesn’t want her there at the important Jantzen meeting: “Better not to have a girl in the room.”

Peggy thinks that’s spiteful. On her way out, she turns and tells him, “We are all here because of you. All we want to do is please you.”

Henry Francis is at his mother’s, helping her put away dining table leaves after the holiday dinner. She disapproves of Betty and the way she treats the children. “They are terrified of her.”

The Jantzen presentation is a disaster. Don’s ad is a marvel of provocation. The tag line across the girl’s bosom latitude is “So well built we can’t show you the second floor.” The thing practically gives the Jantzen father and son heart attacks. They wanted a WHOLESOME two-piece swimsuit ad!! That raises sales!! Never mind that that’s impossible.

Don storms out, furious. He yells at the Jantzen pair to get the hell out of his office. Enough of groveling for their stupid account. Enough with fighting against Y&R’s six floors of creative. He calls the WSJ.

In the last scene, he is in the same restaurant as in the first, giving a charming, anecdote-filled interview to the WSJ writer, spinning a gossamer tale as only he can do (claiming, for instance, that SCDP now occupies three floors) that you know will restore SCDP’s reputation.

Don Draper—and Mad Men—are back. Three cheers to that!

* And by the way, what a great title. The whole episode was about Don’s relations, public and not-so-public.

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