Mad Men

Season 4 Episode 1

Public Relations

Aired Sunday 10:00 PM Jul 25, 2010 on AMC

Episode Fan Reviews (10)

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  • Appearances and other conceits

    Reviewing "Mad Men" is, in some respects, an exercise in futility. The writers have become so practiced at layering historical social commentary, subtle character study, and dry wit that it's sometimes like staring down the rabbit hole. Every time you think you have a grasp on the entirety of the scope, Matthew Weiner manages to slip in something else.

    The fourth season is something of a minor reboot, picking up a year after the series-altering events of the third season finale. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is the maverick upstart of the Madison Avenue set, and there are the inevitable growing pains. The first three seasons made it very clear that Don was the star employee, the man with his finger on the pulse of the public consciousness. But what happens when the star of the show begins to struggle with his own sense of identity?

    It's a question with double meaning on "Mad Men", because longtime fans know that Don Draper is not who he seems to be. His sense of self was always firmly rooted in the image he had built around himself. The man so comfortable with artifice, deception, and guile in his professional world had constructed his own life out of the same whole cloth. Now that the person construct has fallen apart, Don struggles with the professional one.

    This episode starts the season off at a low point, and chronicles the moment when Don came to realize that he had lost his touch. By the end of the episode, by focusing on rebuilding the image of "who is Don Draper", we see the beginning of his effort to pull out of the spiral and re-establish his sense of self. Whether this is the beginning of a turnaround or a fool's rally is the key question.

    I make the assumption that the continued focus on Sally is quite calculated. It can go a few ways, and perhaps it will touch on both and much more before all is said and done. On one level, Don's interaction with Sally continues to reveal the weaknesses of his character; it breaks the illusion that he works so hard to project. But it may also represent the reward at the end of Don's long journey. As long as Sally is still in the picture, there's hope for a return to what was lost.

    Peggy, Pete, and the rest of the impressive cast continue to be a perfect reflection of the various aspects of the Don Draper myth. As they emulate Don and his success, they fall into familiar patterns. It is the eternal struggle of self-identity vs. societal expectation, the truth behind the façade.

    By the end of the episode, it's clear that Don is embarking on the task of redefining his own legend. His partners and his livelihood demand it. Who is Don Draper? Right now, whoever the clients need him to be.