Season 4, Episode 1: 'Public Relations' -- The Floors, The Whores And The Ham(m)

OK, just let me holster up my guns here for a minute and we'll get underway.

Yes, siree, we got lots of questions answered last night, rat-a-tat-tat, and some new ones raised.

To be honest, I found the opening painful and slow, and some of the dialogue seemed way too transparent as exposition. For example, Don yells at the newly steady Pete, "Y&R has the fire power to throw six floors worth of talent on it!" This seemed unworthy of "Mad Men" banter.

But maybe that was Weiner's intent: to make the opening verbally awkward and visually claustrophobic, so that we could sense the tension in the new, too-small office, and see just how out-of-sorts Don is, now that he's achieved a professional dream. People who live in glass houses, etc. -- and now Don's office seems completely made of glass.

Mad Men Season 4/Episode 1 But by the end, all that depressing discomfort made the contrast of the newly slick and dashing Don all the more dramatic. He came out with guns blazing for his interview with The Wall Street Journal guy. The metamorphosis, signaled by a dynamic combination of sound interspersed with each line of his new verbal self-promotion, was kick-ass, and a delight to watch. It will be fascinating to see how Don's newfound brazenness comes back to bite him in the, well, rear quarters.

And speaking of body parts, we certainly got a weighty edition of Matthew Weiner's "Continuing Obsession with Missing Limbs Theater." You recall last season's episode with Lois the ankle pulverizer mowing down the poor Brit. The joke then was that the guy lost a foot, "just as he was getting it in the door," as Roger put it. And then Roger told Don some bizarre story about his father losing a hand in a car accident, and then lying in a coffin with the other one perfectly manicured.

Roger's back with ever more sexual innuendo, and another story about an uncle with a phantom leg wanting himSeason 4/Episode 1 to scratch his toes. This time, he also scores several rim shots at the expense of the Ad Age reporter who had the temerity to ask Don who he was, and write him up as a cipher. The joke, I guess, was that an empty suit was meeting an empty leg. But (and here I'm getting as bad as Roger), the Ad Age guy did have a leg to stand on. He was right in calling Don out on his Great Garbo act -- he had agreed to an interview with a journalist, after all.

More important, Don was able to run away from his time in Korea unscathed, at least physically, while the reporter has to walk the walk of the disabled every day.

In addition to the phantom limb, there's the issue of the phantom floor - to be exact, the second floor of the newly formed Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce that everyone lies about. I like the new office, but the surprise for me was how much like the old office it is. In 1964, the newly constructed Time-Life building was a happeningly modernist addition to Rockefeller Center.

Mad Men Season 4/Episode 1 So now there are two real estate deals that evoke Betty's new husband: Don's office landlord, and the fact that Henry has moved in, rent-free, to the Draper house in Ossining.

As with every episode of "Mad Men," this one was all about duality: the old Don and new Don as bookends in the opening and closing scenes; the two Mrs. Francises (Betty and Henry's mother.) And Henry's mother doesn't muffle her need to rub it in about the divorce: the roads are so busy because "everyone has two Thanksgivings to go to," and Henry turns it around with "twice as much to be thankful for." Don has two residences, of course: the house he's still paying the mortgage and taxes on, where he is not welcome, and a new dark home, where he feels the need to get slapped.

I kind of like the fact that Don was not given a new gleaming bachelor pad in a city high-rise, like all the movies of the time. That's what we would expect. Instead, he went back to Greenwich Village, the arty neighborhood of his original mistress, and picked out a glum warren of dark rooms that evoke some Whitmanesque-era pain.

The contrast of light and dark was part of the greatness of his much-gushed-about new commercial for Glo-Coat. It opens with the shadows and symbolism of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, but it turns out that the person in jail is a little boy because his mom won't let him touch the floor while she's mopping. "Foot prints on a wet floor are no longer a hanging offense," says the announcer.

But obviously, the motherless Don feels the need to be penitent: he hires a prostitute on Thanksgiving Day and wants her to hit him. It's interesting that while the civil rights movement is at fever pitch, with Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner getting killed in the South, there also seems to be a subtler, but still audible change in the women around Don. They all speak their minds and yell at him or hit him.

Certainly, Peggy has come a long way, baby. She's the very embodiment of a cool New York copywriter, with her Mad Men Season 4/Episode 1 sophisticated new 'do and confident physicality. I guess Sal, he who stood at a drawing board in another part of the office, is not coming back: Peggy and her new art boy are a team, joined at the hip, or at least in repeating Stan Freberg's "John and Marsha" routine. The joke there was that soap operas need no words -- just those two names, said so breathily that the context was understood. And the joke here is that some people misunderstand "Mad Men" and call it a soap opera.

Speaking of opera, there's Don's classy new date, Bethany. (BTW, I don't believe that Mount Holyoke had a gymnastics team in the 1950s or '60s.) She's literally a "supernumerary" --she's a fill-in person in the background, mock-drinking or "playing a wench or a courtesan."

Are all the women in Don's romantic life supernumeraries? Bethany is playing by "The Rules" (which came out in the early '90s) to have a real relationship, with real courting rituals, something Don is not used to. I hope we do see her back at New Year's Eve.

Then there's Betty. Yikes. I love the way she looks now -- with the bigger hair and Chanel-type suit, she really wants to be a governor's wife. And she likes that Henry has a status-y political job and rich family.

Those poor kids. As new second wife, Betty felt the need to stuff a marshmallow down Sally's throat to appease her mother-in-law, and the result was disastrous, something like a Norman Rockwell scene with vomiting.

Apparently, Sally's brother is having a problem with bed-wetting -- that's what Don alluded to when he said he was leaving the light on in the bathroom. And what about those grim bunk beds, behind those swinging doors? Are the beds in the eat-in kitchen? It actually links into the Glo-Coat commercial brilliantly -- the spot had an old West theme, and Don's real kids are now in their own prison, in his kitchen.

I didn't even get around to the PR stunt with the ham. (An inside joke on Jon Hamm?) It establishes the question of who is more of a prostitute -- the ones thinking up a fake stunt, or the guy living a fake life?

The ultimate duality, of course, ties in to what he told the Jantzen people (and I didn't think his second-floor allusion was all that great for a bikini. He should have called it the balcony.) Do you want to be comfortable and dead? Or take a risk and be rich? We'll see, now that Don has learned to gloat.

Tags: mad men, tv
Recommend (111)
15 comments about "Season 4, Episode 1: 'Public Relations' -- The Floors, The Whores And The Ham(m)".
  1. Tommy Hollis from GAM.TV , July 27, 2010 at 8:59 a.m.

    1) EVERYBODY IS RUNNING around worried at the agency, but
    they have the Lucky Strike account in the mid-60s. It alone can support a floor and several privileged families. As for the other floor, if it is in Time-Life and they have a long lease, they can peddle it like Delehanty Kurnit and Geller did in the 70s for a lot of money.
    2) IF IT IS 1964, Rockefeller will be running for President and his divorce will be an issue, if not the issue since there weren't many issues being argued about except nukes in Vietnam (tactical ones, whatever they were) and abolishing Social Security and LBJ's Chief of Staff picking up a kid at the YMCA men's room.
    3) ISN'T DON'S sexual tastes a sudden revelation? Has he just been repressed all these years by seductions of beautiful, interesting women?
    4) WAS the Jantzen ad worth fighting about? No, but tossing those hooples out of the agency will, in the long run, spur trade. (Speaking of Jantzen, their real life ads from the period seemed to be with men and athletes.)
    5) DOROTHY, how many times did you watch this episode? I only watched once and now realize I have to go back. Your commentaries here are like a libretto for me.

  2. Marilyn Casey from MC Public Relations , July 27, 2010 at 10:20 a.m.

    Yikes! Dorothy, loved your commentary. But this episode was ripe with PR bloopers. The "PR Stunt" for the hams? Too localized to really move the needle. No research to prove that the target audience will respond. Don's interview with Ad Age? Duh, did no one train him for talking with the media prior to, uh, talking with the media? And to lose a client because they weren't mentioned in the interview? Perhaps next time, Don et. al. will advise clients of the interview and ask if it's ok to mention they're a client. (Remember when most agencies did not even post the names of most clients in the then-revered Red Book?) I'd say the new agency should hire a PR specialist (in the 1960s, either called a publicist or PR flak) to ensure the dirty deeds' done well.

  3. Tom Guarriello from TrueTalk Consulting, Inc. , July 27, 2010 at 10:22 a.m.

    Weiner was interviewed by Terry Gross and discussed his grandfather's missing leg/phantom limb, which goes a long way toward explaining this fascination and symbolic use. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128770109

  4. Allan Maurer from Techjournal South , July 27, 2010 at 10:28 a.m.

    There are a number of minor errors in your commentary, such as "leg in the door" for foot in the door, fingers for toes, and did anyone notice that the prostitute Don has slap him looks a lot like Joan?

  5. Ellen Lebowitz from Ellen Lebowitz Press , July 27, 2010 at 10:59 a.m.

    Dear Miss Parker,

    ...something like a Norman Rockwell scene with vomiting."

    Thank you for your wit.

  6. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting , July 27, 2010 at 11:05 a.m.

    I hooted with delight when Henry's mother referred to Betty as a "silly woman". At last, someone whose not bedazzled by her! But her best zinger was when she chastized Henry for living in Don's house, or as she put it, "living in his dirt" (or something like that). And speaking of the house, I found it peculiar that Henry (who told Betty not to accept alimony from Don because he could support her & the kids without it) would have agreed to live in the Ossining house. At least he realizes that Don has a good point about asking them to pay rent or move.

  7. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost , July 27, 2010 at 12:34 p.m.

    Actually thought it was brilliant that the bikini spot tied into the new office with the phantom second floor: "So well built we can't show you the second floor..." And isn't Draper throwing the family-oriented bikini people out a stunt a la Peggy's contrived ham fight? He refers to SCDP as a "creative agency" and then goes right to bat with a PR spin for the WSJ... There's always so much more to MM than initially meets the eye... Great write up as usual DP. Looking forward to next week (and all the weeks to come)...

  8. Thomas Siebert from WOLFGANG SOLO: Strategic Communications & Benevolent Propaganda , July 27, 2010 at 2:32 p.m.

    Thought it the best season premiere for the series since the first one. Hope the whole season spends as much time inside the agency as this one did, and less of the soap opera stuff. Loved the ending, with the rock guitar cranking up right along with Don, who has literally turned the table on the press -- anybody notice how he's back in the same restaurant, at the same table, but now he's in the other seat? I love stuff like that about this consistently excellent show.

  9. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting , July 27, 2010 at 4:05 p.m.

    By the way, did anyone else notice Harry Crane's forehead? It appeared covered with red bumps or an angry rash. Perhaps it was supposed to be sunburnt from his trip to LA?

    And, Dorothy, I was remiss in also giving you props for that wonderful Norman Rockwell comment!

  10. Ray George from HawkPartners , July 27, 2010 at 4:50 p.m.

    Thanks Dorothy - another great posting to start off another great season. My key takeaway from the episode was Don's realization that he was building his own brand, and the WSJ interview was his initial salvo to shape that brand, once again reinventing himself as the new, brash, honest man in town (Don Draper 2.0) - by far the most exhilirating scene in the episode.

    And just to further the limb observations, wasn't it strange that the Jantzen guy asked to put his leg up on the table during the pitch (his right leg, I might add, same as the AdAge reporter). Was not sure if he was calling attention to the small table, or his lame attempt to feel more casual in Don's presence. Either way, more accentution of limbs.

    My only regret - not enough Joan - what's going on with her Army hubby? And wonder if we will see Sal again...

  11. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , July 27, 2010 at 7:47 p.m.

    Prediction for Don for whenever the series ends: All around changes and he doesn't. Actually, the agency's demise will depend upon the lack of moving forward. As for Betty, by the time this season ends, her new hubby finds himself in debt and unattentive.

  12. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , July 28, 2010 at 1:24 a.m.

    Why was Jantzen depicted as such a prudish, bumpkin company? Well before the meeting with Don, Jantzen was co-promoting its women's swimwear with the Miss America pageant, U.S. women's Olympic swim team, celebrities like Esther Williams, and glamorous media partners like Vogue. I wouldn't be surprised if Betty Grable's famous pin-up suit wasn't a Jantzen. In Don's time, the brand advertised with frankly sexy models (including Marilyn Monroe and the mother of an old friend), told women they could own the beach and "every man in sight" in a Jantzen, and launched its "Just wear a smile and a Jantzen" campaign (according to Tripatlas, partners like Kodak, Ford and United Airlines sponsored an annual "Smile" contest in Hawaii, with top contestants getting to appear in Jantzen ads). Hardly seems the kind of work the Jantzen company depicted in Sunday's opener would produce.

  13. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , July 28, 2010 at 5:52 p.m.

    Did anybody else notice Betty's clothes were too big on her and very dowdy even for 1964 and overpowered her own self?

  14. Ann O'daniel from Experience Branding , July 28, 2010 at 6:38 p.m.

    One question: why do all TV shows on ad agencies have such lame creative?
    Would Bill Bernbach have approved that ad???
    Don's hissy fit in the meeting was embarrassing since the creative idea was so cringeworthy. Shows like this give advertising a bad name. Sorry, I do love the show but not Don's work.

  15. Lawrence Greenberg from Greenberg Media, Inc. , July 29, 2010 at 5:17 p.m.

    Always look forward to your weekly recaps, Dorothy.

    I wondered whether Roger's cruel joke about AdAge not sending over a whole reporter was also the writers' way of making a comparison with Don. Don too returned from the Korean war not a whole person.