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Reviewed by Will Harris
lthough “Mad Men” has kept viewers chewing their nails in anticipation of each new season since the show’s inception, tensions were particularly high as the series prepared to return for its fourth season.
As Season Three wrapped, the advertising firm known as Sterling Cooper was no more, having been gutted by the departure not only of both Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and Bertram Cooper (Robert Morse) but, indeed, virtually everyone of worth on the staff, including Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), Harry Crane (Rich Sommer), and, of course, the main mad man himself, Don Draper (Jon Hamm). Also tagging along for the ride: Lane Pryce (Jared Harris), who’d proven his devotion to his new co-workers after his employers at Putnam, Powell and Lowe showed absolutely no dedication to him whatsoever.
That there would be talent in the group’s new organization was not in question. The matter at hand was how quickly they’d be able to get on their feet as a new corporate entity in the world of advertising.
During the course of Season Four, “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner once again managed to avoid any semblance of cliché, keeping viewers guessing as to whether or not this new firm, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, would indeed succeed. It seemed as though success should’ve been inevitable, and were “Mad Men” a network show, it may well have been. In the world of cable drama, however, characters are in no way guaranteed a happy ending… and if this is the case for business affairs, you’d damned well better believe it’s the same for personal matters.
Season Three may have left Don and Betty Draper’s marriage in ruins, but with Betty (January Jones) moving onto greener pastures with her new beau, Henry Francis, the world should’ve been Don’s oyster. Instead, we witnessed Don in a surprise struggle with the single life, finding a vacuum in his life where Betty used to be that he was unable to fill with flings and one-night stands. Attempts to develop a meaningful relationship with market research consultant Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono) worked for a time, then fell apart in favor of Don deciding that his new secretary, Megan (Jessica Paré), might be a better fit for a future spouse. In the midst of all this emotional turmoil, Don also had to deal with the death of the real Don Draper’s wife – an event which ultimately resulted in the strengthening of the bond between Don and Peggy. (It took place in an episode entitled “The Suitcase,” an installment which will likely go down as one of the defining hours of the series.)
While Don was mired in confusion over his love life, Peggy was busy expanding her social circles as well as coming into her own as a copywriter. Roger spent much of Season Four either trying to dictate his memoirs or trying to get back into the saddle with Joan (Christina Hendricks), while Joan struggled with her marriage, specifically her husband’s departure to Vietnam. We learned bits and pieces about Lane’s life, watched Pete rise up through the ranks and build his reputation as an ad man even as Don’s descent into alcoholism threatened to send him into a career spiral.
Throughout Season Four, the center of the “Mad Men” universe continued to be Don, as we watched him variously win, temporarily alienate, and sometimes lose clients. After spending the first three seasons of the show as an enigma not only to others but to himself as well, Season Four was a voyage of exploration for Don, both in his personal life and in his career, and it was one which ended with his steadfast belief that he had finally found his future. But anyone who’s been watching this show since the beginning knows damned well that Don’s going to screw things up somehow. The excitement is in finding out how.
Special Features: If the temporary delay for Season Five of “Mad Men” has given us nothing else, it has apparently freed up Matthew Weiner and his cast and crew to offer at least one audio commentary (and sometimes two) for each of the 13 episodes of Season Four. In addition, this set follows suit from the previous volumes of the show and offers fascinating featurettes which help to provide insight into the era in which “Mad Men” is set, blending talking heads with clips from the show as well as footage from some of the actual goings-on during the 1960s. Spread over the course of the four-disc set, you’ll find “Divorce: Circa 1960s,” “How to Succeed in Business Draper Style,” “Marketing the Mustang: An American Icon,” and “1964 Presidential Campaign.” If you lived through the ‘60s, then you may have lived this stuff, but for those of us who weren’t so fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on your point of view), the information within these featurettes is invaluable.