Mad Men: Season 4 (SPOILERS!!) and a Li’l Husslin’

Before we dive into a season of Mad Men, where everybody ends up – well, frankly kind of happy basically – some cause pimpin from the real world.  A Canadian former classmate of mine is doing her annual thingy to fight Cystic Fibrosis.  Obviously this is a good cause – and if you are watching the resplendent NHL playoffs or have eaten poutine (and let’s face it playoff hockey AND poutine together would be a combination that makes American football look like paint drying), you realize how worthy any Canadian folks are of your support.  Hell, even if you just think Dave Foley makes a good looking chick.  Anyway, click and toss some virtual shekels here.  And if the sprit of giving has not dissipated after your encounter with CF, I find Global Giving a good outlet myself.

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So, four seasons into AMC’s remarkable Mad Men, the patience that was required to navigate the early episodes where it looked like nothing much was going on, has long since passed.  As Jon Hamm himself pointed out in his recent appearance on the Nerdist, weirdly everybody is in a relatively good place by the time the season is over.  Now, don’t get me wrong, by happy it does not mean that things aren’t wobbly – “happily ever after” would be too neat a cliche for a show with the richness of good fiction to fall into.  Sterling, Cooper, Draper and Price is not precisely doing well, but it seems like they are not going to go belly up.  Don has found if not happiness, something akin to a decent cut at it, and the others are similarly – tentatively positioned in places where they are looking for firm ground (even Lane, despite some horrible steps in the middle).  Even Betty, the wobbliest of the them all, has a husband she is happy enough with.  Sure her daughter is a pain in the ass – but such are daughters for mothers throughout history.

Some observations from Season 4 (Season One, Season Two, Season Three are all here … no spoiler alert needed now I guess):

  1. One of the interesting sly shifts of the four seasons has been how the mystery of Don Draper has evolved.  In Season One, I would have probably been flogged (rightly so) for revealing Don’s secret.  It was pretty shocking – but at this point, the Dick Whitman story has sort of faded into the background.  Sure, it haunts him – but so does his unhappy childhood – but is more fitting in the suite of “trauma from the past” than anything.  Indeed when he reveals the secret now to Dr. Miller, she is surprisingly understanding – and shockingly, well, unshocked.  The real focus of Don’s season is just on life after marriage – and how his life, which in some ways did not differ from what he had been doing while married – started to go off the rails.
  2. Of course when his life did bottom out, his reaction was – well, it seems to indicate a guy who still doesn’t really know what it going to bring him real fulfillment.  While we get a sense of his comfort in California, it is not like he checks in there regularly.  We’ve seen him with Beats, a really young girlfriend, a regular lady, a schoolmarm.  His fling with Dr. Miller the market researcher actually showed great promise.  She certainly was more of a “grown-up” (and by no means a step down for Don given the catches he has had).  But her awkwardness with kids seemed to paralyze him.  His decisions at the end of the season in this area were obviously rash – but if you look at part of Don coming up from rock bottom as him regaining control of all of this affairs – that being a “proper father” be high on the list is sensible.  Yeah his read of who is good for his children or whatever was gauche, but it made sense for the character.  As Dr. Miller noted, he does love “the beginning of things”.
  3. We know that it’s 1965 roughly, and the ground is shifting.  The “I Have a Dream” speech has happened, and the notion that women can be more than a womb with legs has started to take hold in force.  What is interesting is where the characters are in terms of just understanding change.  Joan is going to have a baby, but that does not imply domesticity by any indication while Peggy continues to work up the ladder.  Indeed, one of the fun parts of the season is seeing Peggy explore the world of trying to be a professional in the city – including encounters with counterculture, and being help up at work.  She and Joan’s exchange after a pretty darn harassing cartoon of Joan encapsulate the tension of being a woman in a workplace that is still relevant right now.
  4. The funny thing about the changing world is where the characters are with dealing with change.  We know Pete gets it – but his idea of seeing black people as customers does not click at all.  On the other hand, Sterling and Cooper themselves – it’s still dames and “his girl” and traditional old world chauvenism.  In particular, it is hard to see what Roger brings to the table anymore, especially losing the big account.  He is happy I suppose, but definitely searching for the next chapter (and not just his memoir).
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