WARNING – SPOILERS OF SEASON 3 AHEAD
Matthew Weiner’s impeccable, multiple award laden drama series about 60’s New York ad men climaxed superbly at the end of Season 3. Lead character Don Draper’s life has gone into complete meltdown, after 3 years of keeping his hidden past under wraps wife Betty finally found out about his secret past life (devotees of the show will know Draper is not his real name, long story) as well as his numerous affairs and their marriage broke down. Don was kicked out of the house and Betty brought in her new beau Henry. In addition to this the company, Sterling Cooper, was being sold and merging with the British company who bought SC’s at the end of Season Two. Meaning now that previous heads Roger Sterling and Bertram Cooper had to break off from the company and start afresh with making Don and British executive Lane Pryce partners, taking with them the integral employees of their old business. Creating the new company: Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
What Weiner and his team of extremely talented writers appeared to be doing was completely wiping the slate clean in order to set up a new world and a new set of rules for our now very familiar characters to roam into. We knew things would never be the same.
We open on a close up of Don, offscreen we hear a reporter interrogate him “Who is Don Draper?” Draper sits and pauses contemplating the question. Do we, the audience, even know who Don Draper is anymore? Probably not. But more importantly does he even know who he is anymore? He quietly quips back “I was raised in the Mid West, we were taught that it’s not polite to talk about ourselves.” A lot has obviously happened between the last season and this one. It’s Thanksgiving 1964, Betty is now married to Henry, and the three children permanently stay with her, while Don remains in a lowly apartment in Manhattan. Nothing is quite right in either of the couples.
There is indication Don’s health is poor, he is not eating, his diet simply made up on whisky and cigarettes. His out of office activities seem to be getting drunk and bedding more women than he did in the previous series combined, but crucially failing to maintain a stable relationship. Don’s personal troubles seem to be leaking into work where his refusal to participate in a client’s questionnaire and audience testing puts him at the odds of a potentially profitable investment. As well as becoming irritated by a bikini company trying to portray a “family image”, meaning the less skin shown on the ads, the better. As always with Mad Men all the darkness and pain is implied rather than explicitly shown which makes it all the more fascinating.
With Betty her chilliness and stern nature has worsened from the previous seasons, what matters to her now is appearance and maintaining the image of perfection with her new husband and his family. However ther hostility between mother and daughter Sally, beautifully played by January Jones and Kiernan Sirka, ruins Betty’s desire to keep the perfect image of herself.
Meanwhile Don’s attempts at maintaining a strong public image for the company while it gets to the original power is failing as the New York Times publishes an insufficient article to promote Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, which makes Don appear to be an arrogant enigma. The show has always been about maintaining surfaces that characters can hide underneath, which in this most vulnerable of times for Don, he is struggling to do. Jon Hamm is on blistering form, his often laconic approach is a perfect match for the character. For a man once so cool and collected it’s interesting to see him transform into a leecherous, bitter loser.
The episode is a perfect set up, re-establishing everything and creating a blank canvas for which to take the show new and perhaps darker places. It is however inadviseable to pick up the show from here, there are far too many elements and nuances which bleed over from the previous seasons, and according to reports more of this is expected to happen throughout. The so-called “Best Drama on TV” might just be getting a whole lot better.