MAD MEN: “Public Relations”
Read on for my detailed recap & commentary of the Mad Men season 4 premiere, “Public Relations,” aired July 25th, 2010:
“Who is Don Draper?” Fittingly, season four opens on that question—a question that has been at the center of the show since season one. It is a complex question, with complex answers, asked by a reporter as if it is the simplest question imaginable. Please. Don is probably the person least qualified to answer it, and all the people in his life would certainly answer differently. Don responds, incredulously, “Excuse me.” The reporter repeats the question and Don asks, “What do men say when you ask that?” Such a Mad Men-esque retort. This show’s dialogue is always calling attention to the way that people behave, which I love. Don is not impressed by the possible ways to answer and points out: “Well, as I said before, I’m from the Midwest. We were taught that it’s not polite to talk about yourself.” Hee. We then learn that the journalist interviewing Don is named Jack Hammond, and is from Advertising Age. Not sure if that is a magazine or a newspaper, but regardless, it is a form of press, hence the title of this episode: “Public Relations.” It is a very appropriate title, as the episode centers on Don’s image, and how that is irrevocably linked to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s image. As Don and the reporter finish up, Pete and Roger arrive, and introductions are made. The reporter stumbles as he arises, and it is revealed that he lost his leg in Korea. After he leaves, Roger sits down to have a drink (of course), and quips: “A wooden leg? So cheap they can’t even afford a whole reporter.” Oh, Roger, you have truly been missed.
Cut to the new offices, where more introductions are made. Pete and Roger introduce Don to two bigwigs from Jantzen, a swimsuit company. When one of the men alludes to being tired of explaining his company’s needs, Don advises: “Next time, just have one meeting.” Ha! Don refers to their bikini sales, and the Jantzen guy protests: “It’s not a bikini. A bikini is underwear that you wear to the beach. We sell a two piece.” Ha! He adds, “Now, our competitors get bigger the smaller they make that swimsuit.” Cut to the end of the meeting, where Don refers to the absent men as prudes, and Roger makes a quip about one of them involving VD. Hee. The camera pans through the office quickly, as Don and Roger meet up with Bert (he of the no-shoes-in-my-office). We catch a brief glimpse of Joan!!! Jooooooaaaaaaan is baaaaaaaack! And she has her own office! (What? I have a bit of a girl crush. Who among you does not? Hmmm? I thought so.) But the Joan moment is over too soon, as Don’s secretary asks, “How was your interview?” Don tells her, “Count to a hundred then buzz me,” and then enters Bert’s office. Seems he doesn’t want to get stuck talking to Cooper too long. The old man is a bit crazy. Bert is being funny, however, and mentions some guy named Atherton. Atherton Wing? Sadly, no. Don is upset. Pete doesn’t’ understand: “They loved you. What exactly is the problem?” Don: “Get me in a room where I have a chance.” He explains that they don’t have the staff and resources of the bigger firms. Pete: “We don’t have to. We’re the scrappy uppster.” Ha! Don asks, “You don’t say that to the clients do you?” Ha! You know that Pete soooo does.
Cut to a hilarious exchange between Peggy and her adorable new assistant/ colleague, Joey Baird, played by Matt Long: “Johhhhhn.” ”Marrrrrrrrrsha.” ”Johhhhhhhn.” ”Marrrrrrrrsha.” It’s all in the delivery. This little rapport is a running gag throughout the episode, and I found it hilarious without even knowing the background. Since then, however, I have scoured the web for the reference. Apparently, it comes from a 1950s commercial by Stan Freberg for Snowdrift, the Wesson Oil shortening. It is amazing. I have embedded the video below, for your enjoyment, courtesy of HansPerk’s YouTube channel:
Joooooohn. Maaaaaaarsha. Okay, now back to the episode. Pete interrupts the fun, as he is wont to do. As he enters Peggy’s office, I notice that Peggy looks great, as does her hair, so don’t believe that weird sneak peek photo. There’s some more John and Marsha-ing and then Peggy scolds her new buddy for making a quip about Don eating Thanksgiving dinner alone. Poor Don. Not really. He made his bed. Too harsh? The three discuss the agency’s ham account, and Peggy proposes hiring some actresses to stage a fight over ham. Pete: “A P.R. stunt? I don’t do that.” Oh, excuuuuuse me. However, all three get on board and Peggy asks, “Should I run it by Don?” Adorable Joey asks, “Really?” with quite the tone. What is his deal with Don? Hmmmm. Also, I’d like to note that I got through two Pete scenes without yelling at my television. Either I’m growing as a person, or he is. You decide.
Cut to Roger, entering Don’s office. Don looks tired and hung over. Roger quips, “Oh good, I’ve got you when you’re vulnerable.” Ha! Before Roger even explains, Don says he has plans. Roger doesn’t believe it. They have clearly had this conversation before, and it seems to involve an invitation to Don for Thanksgiving dinner. Roger is worried that Don will be lonely. Don defends himself: “I’ve hardly been a monk.” Roger wants to set Don up with one of Jane’s friends, but Don resists. Roger: “Forget that she knows Jane. The girl’s terrific.” Ha! Best quote so far. Where would this show be without Roger. Poor Jane. (Not really. Or maybe really. I can’t decide.) Finally Don bows to the inevitable. He is no match for Roger’s persistence.
Sometime later, Don arrives home, to an apartment. A maid is there, named Celia. Don, being the fabulous boss that he is, yells at her: “You need to put things back where you found them.” Celia’s response is priceless: “I didn’t want to leave it in the middle of the floor.” Ha! She leaves and tells him to have a good weekend and to eat something. Once she’s gone, Don watches television. It is a Glo-Coat commercial, which I believe is one of Don’s clients, so it seems that he is admiring his own work. The commercial features a little boy wearing a cowboy hat, hiding under a wooden chair in a darkened kitchen. The chair has bars, so that it looks like the kid’s in jail. Eventually a woman, presumably the child’s mother comes in, smiling, holding a bottle of Glo-Coat. The slogan is something to the gist of “[children stepping on a freshly washed floor is] no longer a hanging offense.” Weren’t the 60s progressive? And children across America cheer! Oh wait, kids don’t care about such things. They will step on those clean floors without a second thought. Sigh.
The next day, Don looks over a portfolio before getting dressed. He takes a long hard look in the mirror. Is he wondering who he is? Presumably. Maybe he’s a shape-shifter? I think that’s my new theory. His extra attention to his appearance could also be partially explained by the fact that he is getting ready for a date—the date with Jane’s friend.
Cut to the restaurant, where the two are a bit awkward. Don’s date, Bethany, is played by the lovely Anna Camp, the preacher’s wife in True Blood last season, as @thetelevixen pointed out to me via Twitter. He asks her how she knows Jane, and she explains that it was in college. In fact, she hasn’t gone on a blind date since those days, and she borrowed a dress and everything. This gives Don the opening he needs: “You sat down so fast, I didn’t get a good look.” Ha! She offers to give him a better look, of course. Even better, after she performs a little turn for him, he charms: “It’s hard to believe there are two girls who can wear that.” Oh Don. Masterful, you are. Bethany is clearly charmed, but a bit hesitant. She explains, “I’m breaking all of my rules, seeing a divorced man. But Jane has made you her personal cause.” Is this in an effort to get Don to like her? Or does she not even know that Don despises her? Don’s attitude towards Jane and her efforts is clear in his reply: “And there are so many real problems in the world.” Ha! This inspires Bethany to talk about some of these real world problems, including the violence in Mississipi. She talks about the need for change, which prompts stick-in-the-mud Don to change the subject. He asks what she does, and she explains that she’s an actress, but right now is working as a “super” in the opera. A supernumerary actor, that is, one who fills the stage. She gets paid with tickets to the opera. Well, at least that’s better than being paid in gum.
Cut to the end of the date, as the two say goodnight in the cab. Bethany asks if she’ll see him at Roger and Jane’s. Don says that he has plans. Riiiiight. He leans in to kiss her, but she keeps her head and doesn’t invite him to stay the night. She advises: “Let’s see where we are New Year’s Eve. If it’s meant to be, it’ll keep.” He tries to talk his way up, but to no avail, and as she exits, he is left alone in the cab. In an interview with Alan Sepinwall, Matthew Weiner offers a good explanation for this scene. It is not that Don is “off his game,” but now that he is no longer married, the rules have changed. He can offer more to women than an affair now, and they know that. He now must do some “courting,” something which we’ve never really seen him do before. Read the rest of the interview for further insight.
Cut to Peggy and Pete at a diner or café, talking to the two ladies that they have hired for the ham stunt. Oh, this is sure to end badly.
Then it is Joan time, finally. Harry comes into her office, back from L.A. He’s proud that he sold a Jai alai television spot, but he makes it clear, “And Joan, that is my news.” Goodness, the men in this office are such children! Joan handles the little boy masterfully, and is the soul of discretion, as usual.
Cut to Don arriving in the office, to bad news. His interview with the reporter did not turn out as hoped. Apparently Don’s humility was neither believed nor well-received. Roger: “Plus you sound like a prick.” Don: “Well, I learned a valuable lesson. Stay away from one-legged reporters.” Yeah, because his lack of a limb was the source of all his disdain for Don. There is no other explanation. Sigh.
Peggy and adorable Joey enter Pete’s office. Peggy asks, “Why can’t you ever come to our office?” Ha! Such a Peggy thing to say. While the boys joke around, Peggy is, of course, always working and thinking, and is inspired with a good slogan for the ham. In response to Pete’s admiration, she explains, “A slogan’s nothing when you have a good idea.”
Cut to more discussion of Don’s interview. Roger: “I have to say it’s a very flattering picture.” All the partners sit in a circle, around no conference table. It’s kind of hilarious. Apparently Don didn’t mention any clients in the interview, which is a faux pas. Don explains, “I didn’t mention anyone. That’s the reporter’s job.” Ha! There are “uh oh” looks all around. Also, they lost Jai alai, because what’s-his-name’s feelings are hurt. Now Lucky Strike is about 70% of their business, which Pryce explains is “an untenably insecure position.” Indeed. Harry is going to try to repair their relationship with Jai alai, and as he exits he mutters, “I wish we really had a second floor to jump off it.” Ha! Have I mentioned lately how much I love this show? Because, seriously. Don kicks a chair. He always knows how to handle things constructively. It was all the chair’s fault, I tell you! Bert offers the only solution: “We’re going to have to get you another interview.” Don is cranky about this, and argues that he doesn’t know what he could have done anything differently. Well, NOT refusing to talk about yourself to your interviewer would probably be a first step. Just saying. Everyone leaves Don alone in the conference-table-less conference room, except Joan, who says: “It’ll pass.” Goodness, these drama queens are lucky to have Joan there. They would fall apart without her.
Cut to Thanksgiving at Henry’s mother’s house. It is clearly awkward, and made even more so when Henry’s daughter arrives, late, after already eating at her mother’s, presumably. She says that traffic was bad, to which her grandmother makes a comment about all the people having to go to two Thanksgivings now, in these dreaded modern times. Well, at least it’s not four Thanksgivings. Darling Sally doesn’t like the food, and actually spits it out, prompting Betty to drags her off, dying of embarrassment. Bobby relieves some of the tension for those still at the table by innocently saying how much he loves sweet potatoes. Team Sally! I recently found one of my childhood diaries, and sweet potatoes were #1 on my “Things I Dislike” list.
Meanwhile, at Don’s apartment, our anti-hero is celebrating the holiday in a very different way. A woman comes in, in a hurry, as she has supper with her family. Don bosses her around a bit, and she replies, “Stop telling me what to do. I know what you want.” I like her already. Don says, “So do it,” prompting her to slap him a few times, in bed, of course. Don’s issues run deeeeeep, people. No surprise.
Cut to Don asleep, when the phone rings. The escort (I’m assuming she is paid) answers, and wakes Don. It’s Peggy. She says Happy Thanksgiving, and then says that she needs $280 for bail. Hee. It’s not for her, thank goodness. Peggy: “You’re going to laugh. Pete and I hired some actresses …” Don is NOT amused. Peggy then actually comes by his apartment, accompanied by a man who introduces himself as her fiancée. She apologizes repeatedly, and Don is a jerk, repeatedly. As Peggy and her companion leave, she asks disbelievingly, “Fiancée?” Guy: “It just came out.” Hmmmm.
Meanwhile, Betty and Henry are in bed together, kissing. Aw, they still like each other after a year! But it’s still kind of gross. Sorry, Betty, but he’s too old for you. They are interrupted in their PG activities, however, by a noise from the hallway. It’s Sally, who was trying to call her dad. Awww. Sally says she wanted to wish him a happy Thanksgiving, but Betty ascribes her daughter with more dastardly intentions. She tells Sally not to expect her dad to have sympathy for her woes, when he hears her side of the story. Sally is in tears at the thought of her mother bad-mouthing her to her father. Sadness. I mean, I’m Team Betty, but when it comes to her kids, she’s pretty awful. Exhibit A for “women who should never have become mothers.” When she gets back in bed, Henry is over the lovey-dovey stuff. He proposes leaving the baby with Carla, so that they can take the day together, alone, sans children. I guess her parenting skills, or lack thereof, turn him off?
The next day, Don comes by to pick up the kids. It seems that Betty and Henry are living in the Draper’s old house. When he sees only Sally and Bobby, Don asks about the baby. Betty says that she had Carla take him, acting like it was necessary for the baby’s own good. I guess grown men can’t be trusted with their own babies? Betty and Henry get in the car and he is all over her, now that those pesky kids are gone. Yeah, he’s a real winner.
At his apartment, Don kisses the kids goodnight. Despite his many failings, he does seem to love those kids. The next day, they all watch TV together, and later that night, he brings them home. No one answers the bell, so Don tells Sally to use her key. Sally whispers: “Maybe they’re asleep.” The kids go up to bed, and Don sits on the couch, waiting. Finally, Betty and Henry arrive home, laughing. They clearly had a good day. They freeze when they see Don in the living room. Awkward. Don wants to talk to Betty alone. Betty tells Henry that “it’s okay.” Henry then hilariously asks, “Does that mean I should stay or not stay?” Betty orders, “Stay.” She is completely in control in this relationship. Don points out that they are staying in his house, and things need to change or he will start charging rent. Betty says that she doesn’t want to uproot the kids. Right, she’s worried about the children. Riiiiiight. She tells Don that he no longer makes the decisions, and I think that is at the heart of her decision to stay. Once Don leaves, Henry makes his discomfort at this situation clear, and accuses Betty of not even looking for a new place. So, I guess Henry’s wife got his house too? Hmmmm.
At the office the next day, Peggy brings a tin of something, probably a ham, to Don, attempting to make amends. Don is not appeased: “I try to stay away from these sorts of shenanigans.” He lectures Peggy about how she needs to think things through, and then asks, “Since when do you have a fiancée?” She says she doesn’t, and accuses him of being spiteful. Before leaving the room, she hits the nail on the head: “You know something, we are all here because of you. All we want to do is please you.” Think about that, Don.
Meanwhile, Henry and his mom have a little heart to heart. Mama Henry says that the kids are “terrified of her,” clearly referring to Betty. She continues: “She’s a silly woman. Honestly, Henry, I don’t know how you can stand living in that man’s dirt.” Wow. Grandma doesn’t pull any punches, does she?
Cut to a pitch meeting with the guys from Jantzen. The ad features an adorable brunette in a swimsuit bottom, with a slogan covering where her bikini top would be. The slogan reads: “So well built, we can’t show you the second floor.” Ha! Love it. The Jantzen guy is not so sure: “I think that’s a little suggestive.” Don is all like, “Good, that’s what I’m going for.” He explains that it’s suggestive, without being crass. The Jantzen bosses don’t buy it though, so Don stalks off angrily, not willing to deal with prudes. Remember when Betty bought a two piece bathing suit? He was pretty damn prudish himself back then. Shut up, Don. Roger follow him, telling him to calm down, and that Pete will try to salvage things. Don does not like this idea. Saving accounts he sabotaged? Outrageous! Don then actually marches back in and kicks the clients out of the office. Seriously. Oh, Don.
Cut to Don at a restaurant, talking to another reporter. This time, however, he gives the whole drama-filled story of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce: “Last year, our agency was being swallowed hole. I realized I had two choices. I could die of boredom, or I could holster my guns.” As he says this, the music plays, and Don is like a rockstar cowboy or something. I had the biggest grin on my face during this scene. Oh, Don, I can’t quit you. Thanks to @ITveee and @nelly061 I can tell you that the final song, which worked so perfectly, was “Tobacco Road” by The Nashville Teens. I have posted it below, via 74sodapop, for your enjoyment:
So happy to have the bookends back. Mad Men, you complete me. What did you think? Please go crazy in the comments below, as this show is meant to be discussed.