On the Beginning of Mad Men, Season 4

1.  I love Sally.  I love her blunt honesty at Thanksgiving dinner and I love her response to her mother’s force-feeding.  In real life she’d end up as crazy as a loon, but who knows what will happen on this show?  During last season I predicted she’d lose it at some point and do some damage to someone.  That started to fade after a while, but this episode brought back that possibility to me.  Did you see how she rubbed her head vigorously after Don kissed her when he came to pick up the kids for the weekend?  Like the kiss hurt or burned her or something.  Zoinks.

2. Henry continues to be creepy and Betty continues to flummox me.  How can you not look at him and not say, “Yuck”?  Why is he essentially living in Don’s house?  Doesn’t he have one of his own?  Why does she stay with him?!?!  Yuck.

3. The no-conference table thing worked for me.  It was funny to see them sitting in a circle in their meeting together, and then later the client wanting to put his feet up on the coffee table.

4. I miss Sal, and maybe Ken, but not Duck and certainly not Kinsey – who I found pathetic in his attempts at pretension and hard to sympathize with as a character because he was such a fraud in so many ways.

5. My very favorite part of the show continues to be how Peggy talks to Don.  Don’t get me wrong: like pretty much everyone else, I love Roger – his humor, his salacious imagination, his crotchety WWII ways still going strong in the 60s – but there’s something that has always been fascinating about how Peggy just tells Don the truth, straight, with no real chaser.  And he takes it from her.  She has things to learn in the job, and he tells her so, but he doesn’t stop her when she’s really telling him the way it is or how others see him.  In fact, I think he relies on it.  I liked the ending of the episode – Don got some of his mojo back – and it could only happen after Peggy told him that they all rely on him.  Soon enough he told off the bathing suit clients and went out to lunch with the Wall Street Journal and started selling himself and his vision.  He was done with his penance for everything he had put Betty through.

It was a bit odd to see Don so low for the first 2/3 of the episode.  Telling his lawyer to let Betty alone in the house, downplaying himself in front of the reporter from Advertising Age, and then the interlude with the prostitute on Thanksgiving.  How about those slaps to the face while having sex?  J. and I were rather surprised by those slaps, each harder than the rest, after she had told him that she knew what he wanted and he told her to do it.  I’d say the self-loathing on his part, which was bubbling under the surface, kind of exploded in that scene.  It made for some awkward viewing, in part because Don often comes across as self-confident and in control but also because it was such a clear bellowing of self-disgust, much of which was centered on his acts of adultery with other women during his marriage.  It was a complicated moment that had to do with his desire for pleasure and his wish for punishment for that desire, because of the damage that this pleasure had caused him. By the end of the episode, he was back in charge, believing in himself and his vision at work with clients and with the reporter, telling Betty to move or start paying rent, no longer feeling guilty for what he had done so many times, including with that dimwit schoolteacher last season, no longer seeking punishment or abasement.  A lot of this had to do with Peggy, though certainly some of it had to do with Betty’s late return from her weekend getaway with Henry and Don’s frustration with her.

His frustration was there just under the surface for most of the episode, and I liked when he told those “prudes” who were potential clients to get out of his office because they were too scared or too dumb to succeed in business and either way he didn’t want anything to do with them.  Roger and Pete focus on client relations.  Don?  He focuses on the product and how to sell it.  He doesn’t give a damn about the client.  And that makes him the star of the firm because he won’t suck up to anybody.  And that also creates the tension, of course, because some clients are going to want him to pay obeisance, and he has little interest in that.  It’ll be interesting to see if his ego becomes an issue this season.

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