You need to decide what kind of company you want to be: Comfortable and dead, or risky, and possibly rich.
Don Draper, unbound.
What struck me most about "Mad Men's" season opener was the sense of liberation that now surrounds Draper. He's still figuring out how to handle his new-found freedom -- as evidenced by his very different interactions with reporters that bookend the episode -- but by Thanksgiving 1964 he is very definitely a changed man from where we left him last fall, in the winter of 1963.
He's no longer churning inside from the shame and self-loathing that came from hiding his identity from his family. He's no longer living in fear of being exposed in the Don Draper-Dick Whitman switch. He no longer has to sneak around with extramarital dalliances. His biggest challenges are in his professional life, but in this arena too he's taken the reins of his own destiny. He's working for himself, and the Madison Avenue establishment is paying attention -- to his delight, despite his protestations about the work speaking for itself. He even allows Don Draper's ultra-cool facade to crack a little bit by blowing up here and there -- kicking a chair, yelling at a client, etc. Jon Hamm -- hot damn, he's so good.
The title of this seg explains a lot: "Public Relations," written by Matthew Weiner (who else?) and helmed by Phil Abraham. There's great work in this episode from d.p. Christopher Manley. He and costume designer Janie Bryant work overtime to ensure that "Mad Men" remains the most stylish hour in primetime.
While Don is finding his footing in his new life, the same does not appear to be true for his ex. Betty seems to be in as much turmoil as ever -- just ask Sally Draper (as predicted, Kiernan Shipka has only gotten better in the role during the past year). Betty and her illicit love of last season, Henry, have married, but they're living in a strange kind of limbo by staying in the house that is haunted by the memory of Don and Betty's unhappy union, at Betty's insistence. Henry's mother is a battleax, for sure, as we discover in that painfully awkward Thanksgiving dinner scene, but she's right about one thing: Betty's children are terrified of their unstable mother, and that's a hell of a psycho-drama for Henry to enter.
The most telling moment in this episode regarding Betty was the scene in which Henry comes on to her in the car. Theirs was a passion stirred by the excitement of the forbidden. Now that they're married -- not so much. So fooling around in the car, in the garage no less, is an attempt to recapture some of that old sizzle -- just like going to the deli in Essex where their sparks first flew.
We didn't get much Peggy in this episode but what we got points to intriguing developments. She has been taking her self-confidence pills. You could see it in the scene in the office where she and Pete and the new guy Joey (her "John" "Marsha" partner) are assessing what to do about the Sugarberry ham account. (Is there anything worse than canned ham?) Peggy sits on her desk, her feet on a chair, drinking scotch, brainstorming. Unconventional but utterly self-assured. Even after she gets into a jam with the stunt of the actresses fighting over the ham and Don reprimands her, she just about gives it right back to him.
"You know something -- we're all here because of you. All we want to do is please you," she says, exasperated.
There is still heat between Peggy and Pete -- as evidenced by the lingering look she gives him at the end of the scene where they hatch the plot to stage the fight and plant the story in the New York Daily News.
We barely got any Pete in this episode, but his first scene set an interesting tone for his role in the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. He and Roger run into Don and the reporter from Ad Age at lunch. Roger wants to sit with Don for a drink after the reporter leaves. Pete instructs him without any deference that they don't have the time. (Roger at least has the time to get in a classic Roger barb after they see the reporter struggle briefly with his wooden leg: "A wooden leg. They're so cheap they can't even afford a whole reporter.")
An immediate change I noticed in Peggy and Pete -- they are both looking very contempo in their dress -- more 1965 than 1961. Pete's suit in the office scene with Peggy is definitely post-Beatles on Ed Sullivan -- just look at the lines and the cut around the waistline, etc. Don, Roger et al are definitely not. Joan, who we only glimpsed in this episode, is ever stylish because, well, she's Joan. But Betty for sure is still sporting a 1961-62 look -- stuck in time. Sally, I noticed, was wearing pants in one scene.
Don may not have updated his wardrobe but like a good ad man, he doesn't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. He senses the cultural and social shift that is under way, and that's why he's so lackadaisical about landing the Jantzen account. He sees the company as a hopeless case so long as it clings to prudish notions about bathing suits vs. "underwear you wear to the beach." Plus this plot thread gave him the chance to drop this Tao of Draper line:
"Do you want women who want a bikini to buy your two-piece, or do you want to make sure that women who want a two-piece bathing suit don't suddenly buy a bikini?"
Like the elder Mr. Jantzen said, that kind of a question can tie a knot in your brain.
Outside of the office, Don's big problem seems to be loneliness. That's why he leaves the TV on when he's out of his apartment, which is so dark and dreary. Roger picks up on Don's loneliness by insisting that he go out with Jane's college friend, Bethany -- a dead-ringer for Betty with a name that even sounds like Betty.
Don feels the loss of his family when he's alone on Thanksgiving day. That's underscored by the eye-popping scene with his slap-happy call girl, who announces just after arriving that she doesn't have much time because she's off to "supper with my family."
I'm thinking that Don's desire for a little rough stuff in bed is about being adventurous because he can -- and because the times they are a'changin'. I think he's a little surprised that he couldn't conquer Bethany on the first date.
That said, Don still obviously chafes at the sight of Betty with Henry, and he's perturbed about Betty's stubbornness in staying on in the house in Ossining. After suffering the indignity of having to wait for Betty and Henry in what used to be his den, Don gets in a great zinger when he confronts them on the house issue.
Henry: "Don, it's temporary."
Don: "Believe me Henry, everybody thinks this is temporary."
I'm convinced that Don's frustration over the Betty situation is what spurs him to throw the Jantzen people out of his office at Sterling Cooper. He can't quite do that with Betty yet but he sure doesn't have to put up with rubes in his office. Snapping his fingers and telling them to "come on, le'ts go" -- fantastic.
There was so much more whole grain goodness in this kickoff to season four:
** Roger's writing a memoir? He mentions "my book" to the Ad Age reporter.
** Don is large and in charge, but he does come in for some schooling and scolding about a missed opportunity from Bert and Roger in the wake of the disappointing Ad Age article. It's a subtle reminder that those two have had experience building a company up, where Don has not.
** Loved the sequence where Don, Roger and Pete are walking through the Sterling Cooper office after the Jantzen meeting. It was right out of a movie of the era -- the music was perfect, the editing was perfect. All that was missing was James Coburn or Jill St. John or a '60s movie staple of their ilk.
** There were two separate scenes where football games were playing on TV in the background. On this show something like that is never a coincidence.
** Wonder if Don's lover from last season, school teacher Suzanne, will come back?
** Don is trying to be a good dad, offering to sew a button back on for Bobby, to Bobby's surprise.
** Sally is so scarred she can't even take a kiss on the head from the father she's been longing to see. She brushes Don away when he comes to pick them up.
** Civil rights and Cold War themes will continue to be big this season, I bet. The didn't throw in all that patter about Chicken Kiev for nothing.
** A laugh-out-loud line from Harry Crane: "I had a lot of tsouras with Lucy and Desi."
** Has Betty met her match in Mama Francis?: "She's a silly woman...I don't know how you can stand living in that man's dirt."
** The use of the Nashville Teens' 1964 hit "Tobacco Road" over the end credits is not just a fit with the time frame, but I suspect a hint of the rags-to-riches storyline of the season.