Mad Men - Season 4

(2010) Matthew Weiner.

"I can no longer add up the fragments or interpret them. I must be content now to sit and wait until this part of me - my relation to myself - splinters into fragments and I become a dice box shaking with mysterious and invisible combinations."
- Ben Hecht,
Fantazius Mallare (1922)

In his interview with Ad Age, a trade journal, Don Draper is mumbly and standoffish, and like Roger Sterling says, "sounds like a prick." No more is there a seamy glamor or dramatic intrigue about Dick Whitman. The deception has resulted in both the suicide of Don's brother, a janitor at the Empire State Building, and the re-marriage of Betty to an Upstate WASP Republican whose big mother sagely disapproves of the elopement. Don is now left with a vague and vacant self-loathing that begins to manifest itself when he demands his escort to sock him like a man-bitch. But Draper's star is waxing, and as his name is bandied about in the industry like a Zen buzzword, Don pays to have his memory slapped out of him during sex.

Don offers the Ad Age interviewer some insight into his ideas, that for 30 seconds you get a movie just before you get the product. Don's highly-acclaimed Glo-Coat floor cleaner ad is like a scene from John Huston's Freud, with a small child locked behind bars, crying out. By bluntly dramatizing this image, Don might have healthily liberated a chunk of his identity for good.

"Public Relations" (a profession as odious to the subjective truth of things as is advertising) is bookended by a second interview, this time with the high-profile and widely-read Wall Street Journal. Don's eyes and cig light up, and one remembers that Draper is a great storyteller. There is a fine line between Don's modesty, and his thievery of honesty. The first interview is as open and meek as Draper's foray with S&M.

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is located in the newly-added International Style buildings of Rockefeller Center - no longer on Madison Avenue, and closer to Times Square, which is plastered with the King-Kong sized fruits of SCDP's output.

Peggy turns out to be as old-fashioned as Freddy Rumsen and Mark Kerney, her "fiancee," take her to be. Mark uses exploitative factoids gleaned from a "Swedish magazine," the type sold in Bob's Bargain Books on Forty Deuce, which had the reputation of being the "most depraved porn stores in Times Square," to quote Tales of Times Square, by Josh Alan Friedman (1986). He coerces Peggy into bed, and she eventually acquiesces. Mark's naivete is further revealed by his belief in her virginity - presumably nothing in his Swedish magazine explained the maidenhead. Peggy doesn't necessarily want to be taken as virginal and pure, but is old-fashioned enough to succumb to the boyfriend's urges, and obfuscate her sexual past.

Freddy Rumsen might be somewhat doltish, charmingly, even as he smokes and eats a ham sandwich at once (behavioral replacements for a lunchtime cocktail), but he is not old-fashioned, neither by wanting to make older women feel more attractive, in a pre-cougar geist, or in joining Alcoholics Anonymous.

Lane Pryce claims he is the "incorruptible exception" to Joan's hold over men, but in fact she incites his latent frustration over his repressive marriage and estrangement from female warmth. In future episodes he will be shagging a bunny at the Playboy Club who is black. Don offers him an escort, who Lane gives the meat and two veg (earlier at the restaurant he briefly wore his beef as a Texan codpiece), and Lane insists on paying the $25 rather than letting Don foot the hooker bill.

Don is chain-smoking. He is futzy when dealing with Allison's emotional trauma, and loses his cool when he chases her into the hallway. Looking like Philip Marlowe over his typewriter coming home late to his Village apartment, Don can't express himself. Across the hallway are an old couple that had probably lived in the building as contemporaries of e.e. cummings and John Reed.

Harry Crane must be feeling the heat of the Civil Rights movement. He makes a tasteless and tactless and altogether asshole remark about a Puerto Rican girl on the subway, and the week previous a snide and snobby bigoted remark about blacks creating traffic on the Triborough Bridge. This is the same squeamish half-man who referred to the gay Swedish graphic designer as a "pervert."

In any other circumstance, Don's fling with Allison, the secretary, would not have addled him. But he is now a divorced man and the stakes of his sexual intentions seem ratcheted up in consequence. He has made many advances to women, and has continually struck out, and the secretary is incensed emotionally by the symbolism by which she invests their post-hookup interaction at work: Don's cash bonus, her letter of recommendation, over which she breaks down when Don won't be her writer. Don lets morals seep into his withdrawn actionability. Joan solves any problem Don might have in screwing his secretary by hiring the char-broiled voiced, coffeepot waitress, Ms. Blankenship.
Matthew Weiner is adept at the underpinnings of the psychology profession, having written some of the best Tony and Dr. Melfi episodes in The Sopranos, where sessions with the analyst become the only mode of communication between people. In Mad Men, psychoanalysis is dramatized as an alternative to direct communication. "Call me Dr. Edna," says Sally's shrink to Betty. "All the children do." And Don, feeling lambasted by the supercollider of human contact, barks, "Why does everyone have to talk so much?" Roger Sterling has no problem talking as he dictates his memoirs, though he talks too much about Cooper's gelding surgery, and Don finds the tape and has a good laugh over the revelation of another's secret.

There is something disarming about seeing Don so smiley and eager, in deference to an authority that is not his own. That authority is the Clio Awards, which Don wins, making it his own, and then goes on a three-day downtown jag. The flashbacks in this episode were not flashbacks, but natural interstices which propelled the story. They were not gimmicks to contrive emotional reaction. Sterling is shown in a beneficent light, for the last time this season.

For Matthew Weiner, Samsonite luggage and a man's abuse of alcohol are relatable things. When Freddy Rumsen, in a previous season, took a woozer in his pants, he was in the middle of a Samsonite pitch. Now Peggy and Don stay after hours to hammer out a new campaign for the luggage company. Don is hitting the scotch hard. Peggy starts brainstorming, Samsonite is made of a special substance... Don wants to know, “Does that substance resemble anything like bullshit?” The night ends with Don and Duck, both blotto, fighting over Peggy's honor. Luggage is tough on the outside, but conceals things. Its purpose is travel. It protects the things you take with you to new places. This season Don may be going through the process of expunging Draper, becoming Whitman, and he is drinking from morning til past midnight. Sterling gets stuck watching the closed caption Sonny Liston/Cassius Clay fight with Freddy Rumsen and other nondrinkers, and despairs and crabs about it, touting the absolute savage need of booze to deal with the world. Don barely makes it up the Time-Life elevator, which “shoots up like a rocket,” and has an epic barf, as Peggy listens. Peggy abandoned her surprise birthday party for this evening after hours at work. Mark should think of himself as lucky to have been so vaingloriously dumped by Peggy, who with command and beauty can ride a Honda motorcycle in circles.

"The Suitcase" is littered with white, repressed, dorky, out of touch, chauvinistic male characters, like the office and copy guys, Sterling, Duck. The two toughest characters in the episode are Peggy and Muhammed Ali, a woman and a black man. 1965 will be John Lindsay's first year as Mayor, a new era for New York regarding liberal schisms, civil rights, counterculture, labor upheaval, as well as the establishment of the MAyor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting. Ms. Blankenship, with her nasty middle-class suburban outer-borough quip about boxing, is an extreme type who will vote against Lindsay, to no avail.

Don is not accustomed to either articulating his personal thoughts in writing, nor exercising, but in order to turn a new leaf - sort of - he tries both. He makes silent intimations to curb his drinking, and while sitting at his typewriter nurses a Bud can rather than a stiff one. Soon, after the Department of Defense begins investigating his identity, and Don Draper enters the void, he tells Faye about Dick Whitman.

Faye Miller and Peggy Olson are similar women. Peggy asserts that females are in a minority struggle akin to the Civil Rights Movement. Women aren't being hanged and killed by the KKK, but are oppressed politically and socially. On Peggy’s date at PJ Clarke's with the poet Abe, orchestrated by David Mamet’s daughter, Zozia, Abe and Peggy find mutual ground in Brooklyn roots, their age, and social grievances. But the poet boy is not ready to accept a civil rights march for women. Peggy asserts that with hard work and determination, blacks can indeed find jobs in corporate white America. Regardless of economic realities, Peggy and Abe have a hot day at the beach together. When Peggy returns to the office, she stills smells like saltwater.

Faye Miller is a single, professional woman who wears a wedding ring to detract the pursuit of men. She is childless by her own choosing. She runs focus groups for clients of SCDP, gathering young women in a small boardroom, and provoking them with the idea of beauty products as if trigger personal psychic issues. Freddy Rumsen is convinced he was right along as a result of the dynamic Faye induces in the secretaries of the office, who weep over self-worth and self-image. "I told ya - they just want to get married." They're old fashioned girls in a new ecosystem of sexual and emotional commitment. Faye knows how to manipulate these girls. She executes a deeper subversion of the male-dominant corporate system, as Peggy does by rising through the ranks. When Faye play-acts with the focus group, she talks down, as if their equal, and in Faye's giddy nonchalance is a level of contempt she has for these shallow standards, expected of females, shoved onto them, or into which women are supposed to shove themselves. The scenario becomes like the gamesmanship of CIA interrogation. Faye is educated and self-employed, unlike Peggy who is promoted from secretary to copywriter upon a good idea at the right time. Both women are from similar working class backgrounds. With Faye it is small-time mob, and Peggy it is Irish Catholics.

The Chinese Wall is up. Cigarettes were the sustenance of the company but when American Tobacco flees the air is toxic. The future in tobacco advertising is not as promising as it would be for North American Aviation. It is the age of Cold War aerodynamics. But Draper conspires with Pete to nix the NAA account as a result of Don' false self. Don is not paranoid about the company failing, but the punishment for deserting the army. It is the psychic bomb like the one he barely survived in Korea.

Betty wants to meet only with Dr. Edna Keener, who believes progress has been made with Sally. “I’m a child psychologist,” Dr. Edna reminds Betty, with whom she does not play Go Fish. Betty’s move to Rye, NY, is what Freddy Rumsen in the program would call a "geographic." Moving somewhere in order to not move. Don is making faulty and chaotic but productive moves to pull of the mask. With the face of Dick, he must relearn the same mistakes. His impulsive proposal to Megan Calvet is the action of a man of traditional paradigms. Faye is an advanced mind, but was not good with Don’s kids. Don is not good with Don’s kids. But he sees that Megan is, and his matrimonial pitch is a thinly poetic wonderment over the random events which caused them to get together. However the event was not random. If Betty had not, in coldest blood, fired Carla, Megan would not have been called upon to model her French-Canadian knack with youngsters. Don should have had Carla look after the kids in L.A. and damn Betty's bratty stab at an independent thought. Will we never see Carla or Sal again, but must endure the revisit of Duck Phillips and Midge?

Don admits only to Sally that "Dick" was a nickname. Sally had run away from home to get closer to her dad, and he ends up taking her to The Beatles concert at Shea Stadium. Don cops out emotionally by comparing Megan Calvet to Peggy, as an indirect sign of his own feelings about Peggy. As an ad man, he can only communicate truth by way of the plasm of an other thing. That he does this with his own selfhood, he is of the mad men.

Mad Men links:
New York Review of Books
Jim Cofer's Mad Men fact-check
Paste Magazine
Mad Men Unbuttoned

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