The fourth season of Mad Men premiered last night, revealing the aftermath of the creation of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and the dissolution of the Draper marriage.
To help make sense of it all, we have a panel of insiders from the worlds of television, advertising, and fashion--Richard Drew, Danielle Robinson, Leigh Davenport, and Catie Cambria--to provide their takes on all the sex, the clothes, and of course, the drama.
Richard Drew (TV producer and creator of the blog Remote Patrolled): This was a confident and fresh episode that took the show in a whole new direction, and successfully built on the Season 3 finale (in my book the show's best moment to date).
Many shows peak in their first season and then struggle to recapture that early success, but Mad Men is getting steadily better as the show matures. Gone was the sometimes leaden pacing (although I did feel too much time was spent on Don's blind date). Unnecessary characters like Paul and Ken have been jettisoned, and the show suddenly feels unpredictable and new, freed from the shackles of Sterling Cooper and Don's doomed marriage to Betty.
For me though the highlight was seeing my favorite character, Peggy, front and center and holding her own. Peggy's transformation from mousy secretary to independent woman has been a joy to watch and seeing the now glamorous and confident Ms. Olson giving orders to her male subordinate ("chop, chop"), standing up to Don ("now you're just being spiteful") and drinking spirits with the guys (on work time of, course)--I just wanted to stand up and cheer her on.
It's one of the ironies of Mad Men that it actually has the best females characters on TV. Now let's just see more of Joan and watch permanently unhappy Betty's new marriage unravel--and we'll be all set for another great season...
Danielle Robinson (account director at New York advertising company Footsteps Group): At the end of last season, we witnessed the bold birth of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. And like thousands of other fans, I couldn't wait to get a peek inside the new agency.
"Who is Don Draper?": the opening query posed to Don by a reporter from Ad Age did nothing to quench my thirst for intel on the new agency. At this point in the series, we're all too familiar with Don's personal identity crisis. Show me the new agency! Then, five minutes into the episode, it happened. Set to a brassy Broadway-esque tune, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was revealed as Don, Roger, and Peter walked through the glass double doors and along with Bert waltzed down the hallway.
The theme of identity played out well throughout the episode. Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce was alive and thriving, but struggling to define its place on Madison Avenue amid giants like Y&R. Peter described the agency as a "scrappy upstart" capable of winning accounts that the big guys can't because while the big guys' creative department takes up six floors, they don't have Don. Every agency, big and small, thinks that they have the best talent and the burden of proof is always on the agency. This season will undoubtedly be an interesting coming-of-age story about Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
Meanwhile, Don's identity is now more complex than ever as he transitions from creative director to managing partner and he realizes that just as his clients need to decide what they want to be, so does the new agency. He also realizes his responsibility in shaping the agency's identity by attaching it to his own.
Catie Cambria (fashion publicist at Donna Karan New York): In the first few minutes of the premiere, Don meets with a swimsuit company that refuses to call "a two piece" anything but that, even as it loses business to those who keep making "bikinis" smaller and their ads racier.
The episode, for me, revolves around this idea of covered up versus revealed. It pivots at a Thanksgiving dinner, when we finally get to see the newly married Betty. I expected her outfit to be triumphant, but instead she looks older and remarkably worn, covered in a matronly, silk long-sleeved dress. Meanwhile, Don celebrates by making love to a call girl. Though he lets her hit him (once, twice, thrice), he insists that she does not remove her brasserie (it is in a deep red color that harkens back to Betty's dress.) Still stranger is that the call girl seems kinder than Betty that evening; Betty's angelic floral nightgown in sharp contrast to her rage as snatches the phone out of Sally's hand, quashing Sally's chance to wish Don a Happy Thanksgiving.
This episode puts Don's losses in high relief, yet he maintains an aura of charm and of romance, and he is still the hero of our story. That is, until he pitches to the swimsuit brand a photo of girl wearing bikini bottoms whose breasts are covered by copy that says, "So well built, we can't even show you the second floor." It's a great joke of course, because the offices of SCDP claim to have a second floor but don't. Covering up the girl's breasts in the ad is of course another type of cover-up; the swimsuit company rejects the ad, and Don loses his professional cool and throws them out of the office.
Leigh Davenport (digital content producer at Footsteps Group): Wow Don Draper, did you really just tell a client to get out of your office? Talk about defining the agency personality!
The season premiere of Mad Men picked up with the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce team in the midst of a PR crisis. Are they the fearless "scrappy startup" driven by creativity? Or are they afraid to move forward, making up imaginary second floors because they are ashamed of their new smaller accommodations? Either way, Don Draper has to figure out what this agency is going to stand for and own it. It's time for Draper to realize that he must put the same effort and creativity behind branding the agency as he does his clients. Draper's work may "speak for itself" but clients buy in to the personality of an agency as much as they buy in to the work.
Today, as smaller shops position themselves to win major business by selling themselves as progressive, easier to work with, and digital savvy, the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce agency dilemma couldn't ring more true. Defining your agency personality is of the utmost importance. After having his creative for the Jantzen swimwear account summarily dismissed, Don does something seriously unheard of. He tells the client to get out. Though it might be unprofessional and a bit strong, there will no longer be questions about what type of agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is. They are a badass, risky, creative agency who only works with clients who "get it". That type of agency is always attractive to clients--even in spite of an egomaniacal leader.
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