Monday, July 26, 2010

Mad Men “Public Relations” Recap & Review

All photos from AMC

It seems like forever since the Mad Men season finale. When we last left the show in November in the season finale “Shut the Door, Have a Seat", Betty and Don’s marriage was on the rocks, with Betty Draper (January Jones) winging her way to Las Vegas with Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) for a quickie divorce. Don Draper (Jon Hamm had left Sterling-Cooper, which was going to be sold by their British owners. Don and Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Bert Cooper (Robert Morse), and Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) all left the company to start their own ad agency, taking Joan (Christine Hendricks), Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), Harry Crane (Rich Sommer), and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) with them. Things certainly were shaken up.

The season premiere, “Public Relations” cuts to the chase, opening about one year later from the time of the finale. That was a good thing, because we missed a lot of the initial mundane matters that go along with a marriage breakup and the start up of a new company. Moving the story ahead a year later gives Don’s company time to either be flirting with success – or failure. At this point, it seems they may be closer to failure.

The episode opens with Don being interviewed by Advertising Age, with Don seemingly caught off guard with the reporter’s unintended loaded question – who is Don Draper? Don gives and evasive answer, and, as a result, the ensuing article makes Don seem too mysterious. Bert Cooper is incensed that the article made the company look bad. It later costs them the Jai Alai when they also are incensed that Don didn’t mention them in the article. But Don could care less, thinking that Jai Alai had already run its course. Harry Crane, however, is most upset of all of them, having recently put a lot of work into the account, and storms out of the meeting room, wishing he could jump out of the second floor of the office - that they don’t have.

Roger, meanwhile, seems to take everything in his usual cynical, sarcastic stride, becoming the “Lennie Briscoe” of the show, with his frequent sharp one-liners. Peggy and Pete are working on a stunt to help improve the sales – and their standing – with Sugarberry ham and Peggy comes up with an idea to have two women fight over the hams. They pay two actresses to pull off the stunt, but things go bad when they really do begin to fight. Things get worse later when one of them presses charges against the other, Peggy must ask Don for $280 for bail AND to pay both women to keep them quiet. Don is not happy with Peggy and berates her for the stunt – he doesn’t resort to stunts.

Don has also moved into his own apartment at Waverly and 6th, which is dark and dreary, even with the blinds open. He also has a housekeeper, Celia. One quick glimpse of happiness is evident on Don’s face as he watches the “Glo-Coat” floor wax commercial that he had conceived. He goes on a date with Bethany (Anna Camp), arranged by Roger, and seems to think he’ll score, but his date isn’t making things easy for him, wise to all the tricks that men use to get what they want. On Thanksgiving, Don spends the time with a hooker who wants to cut to the chase as she has plans for the day. She and Don have sex and it seems Don wants her to slap him – hard – in the process.

Betty, however, still lives in the comfort of the Draper home with husband Henry and with her and Don’s kids, Sally (Kiernan Shipka) and Bobby (Jared Gilmore). Don’s attorney has been encouraging Don to get Henry and Betty out of the place and sell it – they were supposed to be out in October but Betty apparently has done nothing to find another place. It’s Thanksgiving, and besides Henry, Betty, Sally and Bobby, we have Henry’s grown children and his mother Pauline (Pamela Dunlap) also in attendance. It’s clear that Sally is not taking well to the whole matter, refusing to eat and then spitting out her food when Betty coldly forces Sally to eat it. When Betty takes Sally out of the room, we can hear Sally tell her mother to "stop pinching me." But Bobby, somewhat oblivious and apparently not as upset at his parents’ divorce, eats his dinner happily, saying he loves sweet potatoes. Later, when Sally tries to call her father, Betty puts a halt to it. Henry suggests that when Don takes the kids for the weekend that they leave the baby with Carla and that they go off to spend some time alone. The always selfish Betty of course goes for it.

When Don and the kids come back after their time together, the house is dark and Sally has to let them in. Don stays there until Betty and Henry return – and it’s obvious that Betty told Don one time to return the kids, and another time to Henry. Don basically tells her hurry up and get out of the place as their divorce agreement stipulated, and after Don leaves, Henry says that he thinks Don is right. Betty, the spoiled brat that she is, doesn’t appear to be in any mood to make an effort to get out, using her kids and their needs as an excuse. Later, when Henry is helping his mother clean up after Thanksgiving she says the children are clearly terrified of Betty (she scares me too), and she knows what he sees in her but wonders why he just didn't get it for free. She refers to Betty as a silly woman and asks Henry how he can stand living in another man's dirt. (Ouch.)

The next day, when Peggy brings Don a ham as a thank you from Sugarberry for the increase in their sales, he gets on her case again because of the stunt, and doesn’t want her included in the Jantzen campaign presentation. She thinks he’s being punitive but he just doesn’t want a woman in the room when he makes the presentation. And it’s clear why – his ad shows a woman clad in a Janzen 2 piece bathing suit – Jantzen doesn’t want it to be known as a bikini – and the top of her body has been redacted to obscure the bathing suit top, with the slogan "so well built we can't show the second floor" (Don must have been thinking about the company’s lack of the second floor and Harry’s urge to jump out of it). The clients are appalled. When their prudishness and lack of desire to take the risk to bring their company to compete with the bikini companies, Don leave the room and then quickly returns to throw the clients out. This seems to light a fire under Don, who tells his secretary to call Bert Cooper's contact at the Wall Street Journal.

At the end of the episode we see Don sitting down with the WSJ reporter and Don seems to be very happy in his own skin. He tells them the story of the creation of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce, saying that "within a year we had taken over 2 floors of the Time Life building." Don seems to have finally come to the conclusion that he has to sell himself (maybe embellishing a little as well) to make him and the company look impressive in order to make clients desire his work. It also seems that Don now has a better idea of just who he really is.

This was an excellent season opener which makes viewers not really care about the one year period that the show glossed over. It brings everyone to a sort of jumping point – while Harry in his anger comments he wanted to jump out of a window when things went bad, Don instead seemed to use the adversity as a jumping point to reveal who he wants Don Draper to be. Henry’s mother Pauline may have put a thought into Henry’s head when she asks how he can stand living in another man’s dirt – and this may cause Henry to make the jump out of Don’s shadow when it comes to Betty and he kids. Sally, on the other hand, seems to be jumping into a funk of her own, clearly rocked by her parents’ divorce, showing outward discomfort with her new family and even showing some discomfort with her father’s affections. Betty seems to be jumping headlong into a disaster as she seems to hate Don more than she loves Henry, and loves herself more than everyone combined. Her lack of affection for her children is somewhat disturbing and it will only be a matter of time before Henry finds out that he married a spoiled brat and self absorbed Ice Princess.

At the end of the episode it was wonderful to see the very confident Don Draper speak about his company and his career, instead of seeing the Don Draper who figuratively - and literally – has beat himself up over his past life and his past failures. It makes me anticipate each episode of this season even more – and in my opinion cements Mad Men as the best drama on television today.

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