The fourth season of Mad Men premiered last month, 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.
They weigh in on this week's show, in which everyone behaves badly.
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We had World War II veteran Roger Sterling insulting the firm's potential Japanese clients, Betty slapping her daughter following her self-applied haircut, Don going on a date while supposedly looking after his kids, and Sally's growing sexual awakening (not "bad" per se but a major no-no for uptight Betty).
Of course all actions have consequences—Roger found himself verbally eviscerated by the go-getting Pete; Betty and Don confessed their respective miseries yet found no solace; and poor Sally was shipped off to see a shrink. Although for "poor" Sally that kindly shrink may be the only hope she has with a distant father and an ice-queen mother. Seriously, Betty Draper has to be the worst mom on TV.
One of the things I love about Mad Men is how you can see the characters' futures unfolding before you. Unlike many shows, you just know where these people are going to be 20 or 30 years down the line: Betty, bitter and angry with a daughter who hates her; Don, aged, unhealthy and alone; Peggy, a female pioneer of the advertising industry; and Pete, rich, successful but still desperate to prove himself.
Last night's show was another step on these inevitable journeys. And though their behavior may have been bad it'll be decades before the true consequences are felt...
Catie Cambria (fashion publicist at Donna Karan New York): In a surprising and fascinating turn, Sally has become one of the weirdest and most wonderful characters on the show this season. She teeters on a fine line between normal and deranged, as we watch her in her struggle in loneliness and longing for her father.
Sally is devastated when Don ditches her and Bobby for a date; she responds to Don's icy goodbye by chopping off her golden locks. Phoebe, babysitting for the evening, freaks out when she sees what Sally has done—which Sally merely explains by stating, "You have short hair and Daddy likes you." The scene is deeply Freudian, especially when Sally asks Phoebe, almost sizing her up as she does so, whether she is "doing it" with her father. True to the Electra complex, Sally's nemesis is her mother. Though Sally claimed that she "wanted to look pretty," the haircut seems to have had the opposite effect. To be unpretty is the cardinal sin in the church of Betty Draper—she slaps Sally when she sees what she has done.
Then Sally goes even a step further—she publicly humiliates Betty by "playing with herself" at a sleepover. What drives Sally to this act? She is watching a handsome man on television, but that seems to be an unlikely answer. Betty blames Don's profligate behavior, but maybe it's a desperate attempt at intimacy, or even more literally, a need to be touched.
It seems the only real intimate, safe space the show will offer is Dr. Edna's room. It is where we finally see glimpses of Betty's humanity again (unless she is just trying to play the part of the heroic divorced mother, poised and perfect in her powder blue Jackie O.-inspired dress). Intimacy and sex are not often mutually inclusive on this show; in fact, sex is often more isolating than intimate. Yet so often the characters are looking for some kind of connection or understanding—I am interested particularly in where Sally's journey will take her.
Danielle Robinson (account director at New York advertising company Footsteps Group): In a refreshing departure from the usual agency-centric, personal storylines, this episode tapped into the social currency of a 1960's post-war nation and its impact on Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Presented with an opportunity to pitch Japanese-based Honda Motors, Sterling is gripped with loyalty to the country he defended in World War II and defiantly dismisses any involvement with the pitch. In a rare show of strength Pete all but accuses Sterling of blocking his efforts to bring in new accounts—including Honda—to keep the spotlight on Lucky Strike.
I can't help but notice the show's seemingly measured attempt to tackle the civil rights movement with nothing more than one-liners thus far. Last week, Peggy asked her partner if he had heard about the assassination of Malcolm X. This week, Bert questions why "they" want civil rights to which Pete replied, "Lassie stays at the Waldorf and they can't." The writers are not completely ignoring the existence of the events but they have yet to explore gravity of the changing political and social climate on the agency, the characters, and Madison Avenue as a whole with anything more than a passing comment. But I will wait patiently to see what the remaining episodes reveal.
Past Mad Men panels:
'Mad Men': One-Liners, Sex Talk, and Nude Photography
'Mad Men': A Not-So-Happy New Year
'Mad Men': The Beginning of the End for Don Draper?
'Mad Men': 4 Takes on the Season Premiere
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