Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Mad Men Season 4, Episode 1: Public Relations

When last we left Don Draper, it was December 23, 1963.  Don was ending one relationship while starting another.  His wife was on a plane heading to Reno with her new paramour in order to obtain a divorce from the father of her three young children.  Don had just left a hotel room where he and a select few of the best and brightest were embarking on an exciting, risky new business venture.  The last shot of Don was walking, suitcase in hand, alone, into a bleak, uncertain future as a single man.

So it was a shocking revelation that Season 4 opened on a dapper Don being asked the question that we thought had finally been answered.  Who is Don Draper?  That question has been asked and answered many times. In the pilot, we're told "he's the best creative director in New York."  In Ep. 1.3, Harry Crane jokingly speculates, "He could be Batman for all we know."  Don's refusal to answer questions about his past is practically legendary.  He told Roger Sterling, in Ep. 1.2,  I can't tell you about my childhood, it'll ruin the first half of my novel. ... It's not that interesting a story, just think of me as Moses. I was a baby in a basket."  And in some ways, Don was being honest.  According to his own flashback to his birth, in Ep. 3.1, he was a baby in a basket, newly orphaned and delivered to the house of the man who fathered him and his unhappy wife.

But here, in 1964, Don is as tight-lipped as ever about who he is.  False modesty, old-fashioned mid-west values, or habit?  Whatever motivates his reticence to talk about himself, it's a poor public relations decision.  Don was the face of the new Sterling, Cooper, Draper & Pryce and it was incumbent upon him to sell himself as well as the company.  An adman who can't even sell himself, let alone his agency, is not much of an adman.  The interview with the one-legged reporter from Advertising Age does not go well (he reports Don is still married, and has two children, not three, and more importantly does not mention any of the clients).

After the interview, Don, Pete and Roger are meeting with Jantzen swimwear to discuss advertising their two-piece swimwear (not a bikini, they insist) to their modest clients in this increasingly racy market.  It is a sign of the times, which are a-changin', despite what these conservative executives want to accept.  They stress how they are a family company and don't want to lower themselves to the tawdry level of their bikini-selling competitors.  This despite the fact that they recognize that their sales are being hurt by the new, racier cuts.  Don doesn't like what he's hearing as his job would be much easier if he could go with the times and sell what people want to buy.  

Later in the episode, Don comes up with a campaign that he thinks addresses their concerns about being too risque with a subtle nod to what sells (i.e., sex), while not be too overtly provocative.  But his approach does not work.  The infallible Don Draper has failed and this client does not like what he's selling them.  Of course, we know now that it's Jantzen who is behind the times and they will have to adapt to the loosening mores of this new generation if they want to survive. But Don's failure to satisfy them has bigger ramifications, as we'll see later.

It is a full five minutes into the episode before we realize that SCDP is not still working out of the Pierre Hotel but actually set up in an bustling new office, smack dab in the heart of Manhattan in the new Time Life Building.   The brighter office, with its wide halls and white walls, is shiny new and modern.  We eventually learn that they took over two floors, but are so far just operating out of the lower of the two, to project a dynamic and successful image (while shouldering a high rent).  The music playing as the partners walk through the doors is straight out of Goldfinger or The Killers or any other of the popular movies of the times (late '64), and gives the "fab" feeling of the groovy '60s as we move further away from the buttoned-down '50s.

Almost a year after starting the new firm, SCDP is still having growing pains.  Bert Cooper is still complaining that his suggestion that they get a bigger office downtown was passed over for a smaller office in a more prestigious locale.  He complains that Don missed his meeting with their new research head.  Don complains to Pete that meeting with the prudish execs at Jantzen was a waste of his valuable time and complains that Pete isn't getting him enough meetings.  But Pete, ever the account man, merely flatters Don and goes off assuring him that everything will work out.

We meet new copywriter Joey Baird as he and Peggy are having fun brainstorming ideas while acting out a scene from a comedy soap opera spoof by Stan Freberg.  Pete, who was so upbeat with Don, is now back to his own miserable self.  He tosses the can of ham from their client onto the table, along with the news that the client, Sugarberry, is not happy.  When Peggy tells Joey that Don didn't like the work, he fires back that she should give the ham to Don since he'll be spending Thanksgiving alone.  Peggy tells him that's not nice.

Don is meeting with his accountant, going over his finances.  We learn that as of October 1, 2014, Betty and Henry should have vacated Casa de Draper, but that they're still living there and Don is still paying for it.  But Don rather deal with the cost than get into a fight with Betty.

Back at the brainstorm session about Sugarberry ham, we learn just how dimwitted the client is.  They tested their product in Jewish neighborhoods.  Regardless, you take the clients as you get them, (like the prudish bathing suit purveyors) and you have to deal with those limitations.  Be creative, that's why they hire you.  So Peggy keeps thinking, how they can build what we would now call buzz.  Peggy thinks of a PR stunt, which Pete hates on principal, as a way to get some excitement about the product.  She envisions two women fighting tooth and nail over the last ham in the super market.

Roger: Oh good, I got you when you're vulnerable.
Roger invites Don over for Thanksgiving as it is the worst kept secret in Manhattan that Don has nowhere to go this holiday season.  Don is Roger's personal project and he want to get him to meet a nice girl.  Jane has a friend they've been trying to set Don up with and he's not interested (not that he's been a monk, he tells Roger), but Roger is persistent and he makes plans for Don to take Jane's friend Bethany on a date.

Don goes back home to him dingy, small apartment (which we later learn is at Waverly and Sixth Avenue).  He has a housekeeper who leaves him dinner which she claims he doesn't eat.  He gets snippy with her about moving his stuff (he'd rather have his shoeshine kit in the middle of the room, than have it neatly put away).  He sits on the couch, buffing his shoe, when his last big success comes on - the Glo-Coat commercial.   He smiles, wistfully.  Later we see him plopped down in front of the same TV, this time a game is on and he's dressed casually.  He's thumbing through the file for the Jantzen account.

Later, we see Don having made his bed, and he's back to being suited up.  He stops in front of the mirror, and seems to nervously check how he looks.  Seems Don's heading for his first date with the lovely Virginia Mayo-ish Bethany Van Nuys.  Bethany is beautiful and smart and sweet.  She' s nervous, it's her first blind date since college and she knows that Don is recently divorced.  She doesn't usually date divorced men, but Jane has made Don her personal cause.  Despite her youth and beauty, and the fact that this is a first date, the conversation turns very serious, very early, with reference to the June killing of Andrew Goodman and other civil rights activists.

The date goes quite well, and Don takes Bethany back to her apartment at the Barbizon, a hotel for young professional women located in the Upper East Side. He kisses her goodnight, but that's all he gets.  She lets him know she's interested, but she's not that kind of girl.  She asks if he'll be at Roger's for Thanksgiving, but he claims he has plans.  Don tries one more time to continue the date back at her place, but ultimately takes no for an answer and reluctantly goes back home.

Pete and Peggy meet with the two women hired to stage the fight over the last Sugarberry ham in their local supermarket.  They took their instructions a little too literally and continue to fight even after getting paid for what was supposed to be an acting job, not a real life brawl.  Pete expects the story to appear in the paper and along with it some free publicity for the client that will certainly put them in good stead.

At the office, Roger has the Advertising Age article for which Don was interviewed and he's not happy.  This was a golden opportunity and Don blew it.  He should have been selling himself and the agency, not being distant and mysterious.  Instead of a puff piece that they can use to bring in new clients and impress existing ones, it's a dud.  The aloof, mysterious Don, who makes his bread and butter painting pictures with words,  transporting people, gave the reporter nothing to work with.

Pete gets news that Sugarberry is over the moon with the news that two women were fighting over their product and that the small news story has been picked up by other outlets (or, as we'd say today, went viral).  The excitement from having this idea work so well causes Peggy to be inspired to come up with a great slogan and all is great at SCDP...

Until Pete gets a call from his deep pocketed client, Horace Cook, the jai alai enthusiast.  Turns out that Don failed to mention him or his association in the article and he's very upset.  Upset enough to fire them.  All it took was a little needling from Ted over at Cutler, Gleason and Chaough to notify "Ho Ho" of how he was being overlooked by Don Draper and how much more he'd be appreciated over at CGC.  And just a day after Harry Crane locked them up for a special on ABC.  Don really stepped in it and everyone is understandably irate.  Don has a mini hissy fit, kicking a chair.  Yet, he only has himself to blame for this.

Thanksgiving dinner with the Francis clan is our first introduction to Henry's mother, Betty's new monster-in-law.  Being married to an orphan's looking like a better option, now, I bet.  Henry's mother gets a dig in about how her son is divorced and remarried - right in front of his new family.  Lovely.  Sally is no happier about the Thanksgiving arrangement than she is, and Sally refuses to eat anything, insults the food and then makes a show of spitting out the sweet potato and marshmallow bake that Betty tries to feed her.  Meanwhile, Bobby is happily wolfing down his meal.

Don has made plans for Thanksgiving as well.  No, not turkey, cranberry sauce and some football.  Instead, he has hired a prostitute to come over and slap him around a little.  So Don is handling the divorce and separation from his kids just swell.   Rather than take a pity invitation from Roger, he's home alone paying someone to feed his masochistic need.

 His visitor answers the phone while he's dead asleep in bed.  It's Peggy.  She needs bail money.  Turns out one of the women they hired to fake the fight over the ham decided to press charges against the other.  $280 will make it all go away.  Peggy's not happy she has to ask Don for the help, and she regrets it even more after he barks at her and treats her like dirt in front of her boyfriend, Mark.  Mark is so upset at how Peggy is being treated that he stands up for her - and announces that he's her fiance.  What started as a creative idea that was starting to payoff has turned into a mess, with Don yelling at Peggy the way Bert yelled at him earlier about the failed interview.

Back at the Draper Francis house, Betty and Henry are in bed (she has switched sides from when she shared the bed with Don) when she hears a noise in the hall.  It's Sally and she wants to call her Dad and wish him a happy thanksgiving.  Betty thinks Sally's just trying to get in good before she tells him what Sally did at dinner and tells her she'll see him tomorrow and go to bed.  Back in bed with Henry, he suggests they take a day off tomorrow, just the two of them.

The next morning is such an awkward, cringe-worthy scene.  Don, having to ring the doorbell of his own house, where he still pays the mortgage.  Bobby lets him in and they have a nice greeting, Sally, probably worried about what Don will hear about her, is less exuberant, even fretting slightly when he kisses the top of her head.  Don is already miserable, that's been established.  Then he gets there, finds out he can't even see baby Gene (who's already been taken for the day by Carla) and then he has to see Henry walk up. It's just too much.

Of course, Henry  is so excited to have Betty all to himself for the day, that he can't keep his hands off of her.  While they're having fun, Don is tucking in the kids and looking sadly at the little bunkbed set up that substitutes for what they used to have.  This is all he gets now, these little visits, while someone else is living his life.

The next day, he's working while the kids are watching TV.  At the end of the day, he brings them home.  Betty and Henry aren't back yet and puts the kids to bed, then waits.  He's pretty pissed by the time they get home and he decides it's time they talk about them moving out.  Betty is upset at Don, somehow he's the bad guy here.  Henry stands up for Betty, but once Don leaves he admits that Don is right.  It's time to move out. 

It's really cliche, and a bit cheap, to mention this, but just this one time can I say what a complete "Dick" Don is being.  Peggy comes in, bearing a gift ham and some contrition, and he just wants to throw in her face that he doesn't like the stunt, he would never have approved it, it was a horrible idea, and she's making the firm look bad.  He could not be any more demeaning unless he was slapping her in the face.  Probably not even then.  Don is supposedly the hero, and we put up with his cheating and drinking, but his attack on his most loyal and hardworking employee is really hard to watch.  He only saving grace is that Peggy gives as good as she gets and she will not be cowed by Don any more.  This is a new, confident Peggy and she is not his doormat.

Don goes into the follow up meeting with Jantzen with a suggestive photo of a pretty young girl and a mildly sexual tag line. The prudish clients hate it and feel as if Don hadn't heard a word they'd said and came up with a pitch possibly even more salacious than they had feared. But Don doesn't care. He has a vision - he's the Glo-Coat genius for heaven's sake - and they can take it or leave it. 

When you think Don can't be any more of a jerk, after his pitch to the Amish folk at Jantzen swimwear is a bust (no pun intended), not only does he walk out of the meeting, but he decides to go back in and insult them further, ordering them out of the office.  Don is so convinced of his brilliance, of his unique specialness, that he cannot abide anyone who doesn't see it.  If they don't want what Don is selling, to hell with them.  There are plenty more forward-thinking clients out there and Don's convinced he can get them.

Too bad SCDP doesn't have a second floor. Don's ego could fill it on its own.

Don leaves the meeting and sets up a call with Bert Cooper's contact at the Wall Street Journal.  Don is ready to sell himself.  He spins the tale, with him as the hero.  "Last year, our agency was being swallowed whole.  I realized I had two choices.  I could die of boredom or holster up my guns. So I walked into Lane Pryce's office and I said, 'Fire us.' Two days later, we were operating out of the Pierre Hotel.  Within a year, we had taken over two floors of the Time-Life Building."  He's embraced this new narrative and another new identity - Don Draper isn't Batman (as Harry once famously quipped).  He's Superman. 


The question "Who is Don Draper" that opens this episode is, of course, the question that has a literal answer that we the viewers, and very few other people know.  Donald Francis Draper was a married army engineer who died during an accidental explosion in Korea.  But since that fateful day, a new Don Draper was created and by 1964 that Don he is that dashing, charming ad man who paints beautiful pictures with his words.  As Bert Cooper said in Ep. 1.12 to Pete Campbell, a man is whatever room he is in, and right now Donald Draper is in this room.  But we also know, from Don's trip to California to visit Anna, that there Donald Draper fades away and is replaced by Dick Whitman.

Don has been prickly in the past and dismissive at times.  But he's never been so completely awful to Peggy.  Or maybe he had but this time it felt like he had gone too far.  What is happening to Don? In an episode called "Public Relations" we are seeing someone with no idea how to deal with any of his relationships - public or private.  He is reticent and mysterious when asked to share, and bombastic and insulting when self-control would have been a better choice. 

Don has been built up as the savior of Sterling Cooper. He is the Creative Director that other firms want to poach (see McCann Erickson's attempts, for example) and one whose work is getting much attention.  While his marriage fell apart and the truth about his past was discovered by his wife, while he's kicked out of his own house and kept mostly apart from his children, all he has is work. The only place where he is respected, feared even, is at the office. That becomes the only environment where he feels he has any control. Unfortunately, it seems to have resulted in him becoming even more unhinged, lashing out at Peggy as well as any client that doesn't embrace his ideas. 

With the new office comes a new office staff.  Don brought his secretary, Allison, from the old firm and she's now sitting outside his corner office. Peggy is joined by a new copywriter, Joey Baird.

In the meeting with the accountant, when Don points out that it looks like he's already a wealthy man, the accountant points out that Uncle Sam may have something so say about that.  The top income tax rate that year went from 91% to 70%, still a sizable chunk.  The accountant wants to engage in "guy chat" about Don sowing his wild oats, but Don does not kiss and tell.

We've seen Don as sadist, but never masochist before.  Psychologists think they are two sides to the same coin.  While there is no definitive cause for such behavior, often it is linked childhood sexual trauma, or being witness to inappropriate sexual behaviors as a child, which behaviors are being imitated and reinforced.  

Henry's mother may be a witch, but she's sure right about Betty.  She sees that Sally is scared of her own mother and what a childish shrew Betty is.  "She's a silly woman."  But Henry doesn't see it, he just sees the beautiful woman he first saw waiting outside the bathroom at the Derby Day party.  

The song at the end was "Tobacco Road" by The Nashville Teens, who were, in fact, from England.  The song was written, and first released in 1960, by John Loudermilk, but it did not become a hit until it was covered in 1964. The song could be Don's (or Dick's) autobiography.  Mama died and Daddy got drunk, it starts.  It tells of growing up in poverty and moving out and getting rich.  The narrator of the song, unlike Don, wants to get rich enough to come back, blow up his old town, and start fresh.  He wants to go back, start all over, and create a better place than he left.  Don has run away from his past and doesn't admit to it, certainly shows no signs of ever wanting to go back.

Don: I'm from the Midwest.  We were taught that it's not polite to talk about yourself.

Roger:  A wooden leg. They're so cheap they can't even afford a whole reporter.

Don: Do you want women who want bikinis to buy your two-piece, or do you just want to make sure women who want a two-piece don't suddenly buy a bikini?
Jantzen Exec:  My Lord.   That question just tied a knot in my brain.

Roger:  I love how they sit there like a couple of choirboys.  You know one of them is leaving New York with VD.

Peggy:  A slogan's nothing when you have a good idea.

Roger: You know, no one who's ever been associated with an actual event has thought it's been portrayed honestly in the newspaper.

Roger: You turned all the sizzle from Glo-Coat into a wet fart.  Plus, you sound like a prick.

Don: And what do I do differently? I told him the truth. Who gives a crap what I say anyway? My work speaks for me.
Bert:  Turning creative success into business is your work. And you've failed.

Pauline:  That's because that's what's become of this country.  Everyone has two Thanksgivings to go to.

Henry: Maybe we have twice as much to be thankful for.

Peggy: Do you think you're my first call?

Don:  You run something like that by me first.  I would have kept you from looking like an idiot, or worse yet, making me look like one.

Henry: Don, it's temporary.
Don:  Believe me, Henry, everybody thinks this is temporary.

Don (to Peggy):  I try and stay away from these kinds of shenanigans. But I guess you knew that or you would have told me.

Don: You need to think a little bit more about the image of this agency.
Peggy: Well, nobody knows about the ham stunt, so our image remains pretty much where you left it.

Peggy (to Don):  You know something. We are all here because of you. All we want to do is please you.

Don:  You need to decide what kind of company you want to be.  Comfortable and dead, or risky and possibly rich.
Jantzen Exec: All I know is we don't want that.
Don:  Well, gentlemen, you were wondering what a creative agency looks like, there you have it.

Hope you enjoyed looking in the window.

Episode takes place just before and after Thanksgiving, 1964, post Beatles' invasion, post Johnson election.

Suicide watch: 
Roger: I'll paint you the picture that's in my mind, but if it's true, I might kill myself.

Roger:  Just so you don't kill yourself, there was some good news.  Jane's friend found you to be charming.

Harry:  I really wish we had a second floor so I could jump off it.

Whore watch:
Don lays out money for the woman who comes and gives him rough sex.

Spoilery observations (don't read if you're not caught up):

Bethany was an actress, though thus far she mostly played background characters on stage at the opera.  Don later this season gets involved with his secretary, Megan, who will become his wife and coworker and later ex-wife.  She also is an actress and had some success, getting a regular gig on a soap opera, before quitting that job and moving to Hollywood.  

This may have been the first time we see that Don has cost his company a client, but it only foreshadows his major meltdown to come in Season 6.  This was not entirely Don's fault, the reporter maybe didn't try hard enough to pull information out of him.  But for someone who was a salesman before he was an adman, Don should have known better.  Unlike his later mistakes, this one did not seem to come from any alcohol abuse or a mental breakdown, just short sighted thinking and a cocky attitude.   Notice how this time, Joan sympathized with Don. Later, when his mistakes cost her money, she's not so charitable.  

Don hasn't been proved right if his intention was to claim that Betty and Henry would get divorced.  They did not, despite some hiccups along the way.  But, technically, their marriage "did not last."

Don's secretary mentions that Geoff Atherton was there to see him.  We'll later learn that he is one of their researchers.  His cohort is Faye Miller who had a too-brief affair with Don. 

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