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