'Mad Men': The Beginning of the End for Don Draper?

Our panel of insiders from television, advertising, and fashion weighs in on the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce holiday drama



The fourth season of Mad Men premiered last week, 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 Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce celebrated the holidays and dealt with an unexpected visitor.

Richard Drew (TV producer and creator of the blog Remote Patrolled): Last week's Mad Men was all about change—from Peggy's confident new look to shifting trends in the advertising industry (exemplified by Pete's PR stunt and Don's risqué swimsuit campaign). This week, though, seemed to focus on the generation gap as the young staff at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce suddenly seemed even more at odds with their older colleagues.

We had Peggy, slightly more "proper" than last week, clashing with the returning Freddy Rumsen, now sober but still old-school in his views regarding marriage and women. Fact is Peggy is smarter, sharper, and a better ad exec than Freddy ever was—but has to work twice as hard to get half as far. Now you can see her merely tolerating Freddy to get the job done.

Then there was Don himself, still the lothario, but rapidly becoming a figure of pity. For me the most telling moment of the episode was when Don's secretary Allison had to retrieve his keys and come to the rescue of her drunken boss. "He's pathetic," sneered new assistant Joey. What a turnaround for the man who had it all.

Of course Don and Allison ended up having a drunken one-night stand—an awkward fumble on the couch that made neither party look good. And earlier Don made moves on his student nurse neighbor—a flirtation that felt both creepy and desperate. At times like this, you can sense Mad Men is not going to end well for Don Draper. Is this the beginning of the end?

Danielle Robinson (account director at New York advertising company Footsteps Group): This episode put a spotlight on the complexities of client-agency relationships, especially for an agency leaning on one or two accounts for the majority of their revenue. From welcoming the return of Freddie Rumson—who arrived with the $2 million Pond's cold cream account in hand that he stole from J. Walter Thompson—to throwing an over-budget holiday party all because Lee Garner, Jr (the head of their biggest client, Lucky Strike) invited himself to the festivities, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is seemingly unable to turn down client demands even when integrity and reputation are at stake.

At the holiday party, Garner forced Roger to don a Santa suit and he even got flirty with his wife. When Roger Claus presented Mr. Garner with a Polaroid camera, Mr. Garner quipped, "You didn't need to do that." That's when Lane mumbled a reply that summed up the agency's position perfectly: "Yes, we did."

Meanwhile, we learned that while Peggy is anything but traditional in her professional life, she has chosen a very different approach to her dating life. She led her boyfriend, Mark, to believe that she is a virgin—perhaps to get him to marry her, perhaps to try to finally live up to what her family expects of her. Whatever the reason, by the end of the episode she sleeps with him (shocker!). It will be interesting watching this storyline unfold and finding out if Peggy gets what she wants.

Catie Cambria (fashion publicist at Donna Karan New York): When Roger Sterling is chided into a Santa suit, while Joan glides by leading the cha-cha-cha, I thought about power, gender, and the '60s. Joan rules the party in a red bow dress, while Roger is haplessly stuck in St. Nick velvet, forced to watch the one "present" (as he alluded to Joan earlier) he can't have. The office Christmas party was everything I hoped it would be, but the "Roman orgy" had none of the trimmings of business as usual.

Clearly, the power dynamics are changing on this show; women rule in this episode. The beautiful blonde Dr. Faye Miller presents a new methodology at SCDP; Peggy scolds Freddie for being "old fashioned"; Don's new neighbor, Phoebe, tucks an inevitably drunk Don into bed without so much as a look at him.

But what makes this show great is that things are never quite that obvious or that simple. For example, Don's secretary may brush off their brief tryst to meet her friends, but the morning after it is clear that he has the upper hand. Highlighted by her girlish blouse and plaid dress, she looks child-like and fragile even as she opens the bonus that makes her feel like a whore. And even Peggy ends up asking the old-school Freddie for sex advice, and looks more defeated than content when she finally gives in to her boyfriend's advances.

Why is it that the women on this show are the least powerful when they lose their clothes? Their sexual freedom ends up looking more like weakness than liberation, and we're left to wonder whether these new roles are merely costumes that are as easily shed as they are put on.

Leigh Davenport (digital content producer at Footsteps Group): "This is the greatest job in the world, minus the clients." - Roger Sterling

It seems that truer words have never been spoken from the slick-tongued Roger Sterling who ended up with grown men sitting his lap as he played Santa Claus at the company's first Christmas party at the behest Lee Gardner Jr., the client for the agency's breadwinning account Lucky Strike.

This can't be client-services can it? Maybe it can. If Lucky Strike accounts for 69 percent of the agency's billings they can't really say "no". But is a Christmas party full of alcohol, girls and agency heads playing Santa Claus a reasonable client request? If the livelihood of the agency depends on it, who's to say it's not.

But it wasn't only Roger who suffered humiliation in this episode. Peggy attacks Freddy for being "old-fashioned" but comes up looking a bit outdated herself when we find that she's lying to her boyfriend about being a virgin. And after a drunken one-night stand with Don, poor Allison looks like someone has stolen her favorite teddy-bear as she is totally crushed and defeated when he thanks her with a card containing a hundred bucks. Don calls it a bonus, but its pretty evident Allison feels like a hooker. But that's exactly what we love about Mad Men. The tense relationships and conversations full of unspoken desires are what make us hang on to every second of this show. And I cannot wait to who in the company will join Don in his misery next week.

Last week's Mad Men panel:

'Mad Men': 4 Takes on the Season Premiere