Wednesday, April 06, 2011

MAD MEN Season 4

I do not ordinarily review television shows but when the show in question is as filmic as MAD MEN is, it is pretty hard to resist. Now I, like many of you, are surely disappointed to hear that the highly anticipated fifth season of the AMC program will not be returning until 2012 but all is not lost. First of all, showrunner, Matthew Weiner was able to secure a deal that will allow for the core cast and creative team to stay in place, ensuring at least two more seasons of television's most poetic and pristine drama. Furthermore, the fourth season was just released on DVD and Blu-ray, so at least we have that to keep us busy in the meantime.

When we last left Donald Draper (Jon Hamm) and "friends", he had orchestrated a coup to take back the company that had previously been sold to a British parent conglomerate. The newly formed Sterling Cooper Draper Price was setting itself up in a hotel suite and was ready for business, with only the best of the former Sterling Cooper firm still on board. This season follows the firm's inaugural first year in business. With some months behind them, SCDP has moved into fancy new office digs and is rolling smoothly despite its modest capabilities. Still, their business is tentative as it consists mostly of one client, everyone's favorite tobacco manufacturer, Lucky Strike. The ad men have to scramble to generate new business and we've never really seen them squirm quite like this.

Meanwhile, Don's home life was nothing short of ruined. At the close of the third season, Don and Betty Draper (January Jones) have split. They are now divorced with Don living in the city and Betty already remarried to the handsome governor's aid, Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley). Their older children shuttle back and forth between them while baby Gene is inevitably learning to see Henry as his actual father, given that Don is never around. Don spends the first chunk of this season stupefied, almost as though he doesn't think any of it is real. Pity surrounds him everywhere he turns at first but Don is a smart man, as you well know. He figures before long that he is truly on his own now. While that does mean he has to deal with his past more directly, it also means that Don Draper is single, ladies.

Everyone who jumped ship with Don is back for more this season as well and there is plenty more to be had. Prodigious copywriter, Peggy Olsen (Elizabeth Moss) continues to find herself, exploring both relationships and drugs (nobody is more funny stoned than Peggy.) Office manager, Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) deals with a husband going off to war and an old flame returned during his absence. Older partner, Roger Sterling (John Slattery) must face his past while he contemplates his memoirs and ignores his current clients. Meanwhile, new partner, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) celebrates new milestones in his personal life while trying desperately to juggle the egos in his professional life. And there is also a new addition to the cast - Montreal's own, Jessica Paré, catches the eye of a senior member of management, making her a permanent fixture in the far off fifth season.

MAD MEN Season 4 is a 13-episode exploration of uncertainty. Don Draper has forever been trying to run away from himself and he simply cannot do this any longer. The image he created of himself is collapsing and given that Don is such a giant force of nature, he seems to be dragging everyone else around him down with him. In his abandon though lies great catharsis so follow him down. You will feel lost and empty at first but you will soon be shocked into a state of presence and satisfaction that is synonymously associated with MAD MEN now. That said, the one drawback to the fourth season is how much it will have you longing for the fifth.

(Maple Pictures)

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