Did I hear that correctly? Was it really the opening line for Season 4? Will it set the stage for whatever is to come?
Identity: New Don Draper, new firm, new players, new show
If Season 3 of AMC TV’s Emmy-award winning drama Mad Men was all about unveiling the secret life of its protagonist, Season 4 is about reinvention. In a larger sense, this is reinvention for all the players, the infancy of a new business, the turmoil of dramatically altered personal lives.
Deftly played by Jon Hamm, Don Draper is in the habit of pitching his ideas, not speaking about his life. Still reeling from losses – divorce, the devastation of revealing his true identity, missing his children, the comfort of the old firm – he’s anything but open during an interview with Advertising Age.
That turns out to be a mistake. A lost opportunity. Don is struggling with who he is, but as the face of the agency, either he pulls it together – or they all go down.
At the end of last season, cornered into disclosing his upbringing and identity switch, Don’s honesty resulted in disaster. Everything has changed. And Mad Men’s creators are taking a risk – drop-kicking the viewers straight into the chaos that is Don Draper’s life.
What could be more uncomfortable than tuning in your favorite show, and being tossed upside down by nothing you recognize except the occasional face? The office is different. A full year or more has passed, which we only piece together in the last seconds of the episode. The living spaces are different. New characters appear with no explanation and we’re not sure if we caught their names. And the relationships? What’s going on?
AMC TV – what have you done? The first half hour of the season premiere is confusing, disorienting, and daring.
About 40 minutes into the episode, Don walks into his old home to pick up his children. It is the day after Thanksgiving. We believe it’s 1965, based on how long Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has been up and running.
Those few seconds of Don entering his home, greeted by a chilly Betty, offer familiar ground. We breathe a little easier. The situation is different, but we recognize something. We hate seeing Henry there, in Don’s home. We’re disgusted at Betty’s behavior – with Don – and with her children.
Yet he’s been cutting Betty slack. Is it guilt? Decency? Love of his kids?
Only at the end of the episode is he irritated enough to force her hand. “When are you moving out?” he asks Betty and Henry, who have been living in the house he shared with his wife. “You were supposed to be out a month ago. Either do as we agreed or I”m going to collect rent. ”
Disorient your viewers? Brave move.
Brave move. And brilliant. We’ve just experienced life through Don’s eyes. Nothing quite fits. We don’t understand the back stories, the relationships, the framework. Don is less effective at what he does best. At least, until the end of the episode when he throws clients out of his office and agrees to an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
We need Don the performer, Don the natural ad man, Don the storyteller. Don who must master the art of Public Relations. He knows it; he takes control and spins a tale. He’s making things happen again.
You can be comfortable and dead, or take a risk, and be successful.
Those were Don’s words to a new client who won’t listen to his ideas. Could Don have been speaking of himself? Of the new agency? Is this the show’s creators telling us they’re not afraid to take risks?