The answer is a twofold yes and no. For anyone who has wondered why there is such a frenzied excitement about Mad Men‘s return to AMC for its fourth season, the furor cannot be explained if you have not seen it from the beginning. Unlike other acclaimed shows, such as 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, and The Office, Mad Men cannot be fully appreciated unless you start from episode one. In the season premiere that aired last night, we see that the show’s creator Matthew Weiner is relying on a lot of the same plot devices. And while that may be a minus in the column for novelty, it is definitely a plus in the column for consistently delivering what we expect of lead character Don Draper (Jon Hamm).
After being freshly (well, somewhat freshly. The episode begins in November 1964, almost a year from the time of season three’s finale) divorced from his wife Betty (January Jones), Don wastes little time in reverting to the life of a bachelor, not that he wasn’t already behaving that way before. Except now, Don seems less enticed by the prospect of sleeping with as many women as he can, mainly because there is no element of danger to it any longer. The danger must now be artificially added (i.e. Don hires a prosty to slap him in the face while they get it on). Even so, Betty isn’t around anymore to catch him or condemn him for his affairs. Quite contrarily, Betty is totally invested in her new marriage to government aide Henry Francis. But if the season premiere is any indication, Betty’s current wedded bliss is about to come to an abrupt halt due to opposition from Henry’s mother and Betty’s daughter Sally.
Where the new ad agency (the oh so easy to roll off the tongue Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce) is concerned, the executives are still relying heavily on Lucky Strike as their sole big billing client. This is where an extremely lame plot line comes in involving Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) and Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) paying two oldish ladies to pretend to get in a fight over some ham that comes in tin packaging (could 1960s culinary delights be any fouler?). Other than that brief subplot, everything centers around Don. Even the show’s opening has a magazine reporter asking lithely, “Who is Don Draper?” Don can’t really answer that question. And the truth is, neither can we. That’s probably why so many people are still addicted to the show. There has never been a TV character this unreadable. In one respect, Draper seems calculated and, as the reporter called him, like a “cipher.” But then there are times when all of those preconceptions have to be thrown out the Cadillac window.
The one notable area where the season premiere is lacking is in its sudden nonchalance about describing pivotal details about the year (in this case, 1964). One such example of this former nuanced knowledge of 1960s living was present in the premiere of season two, when the office is bowled over by the introduction of a copy machine the size of a small silo. But you would never know it was 1964 from the sex and the swearing and the absence of sexual harassment in the workplace. Fuck, they could have at least shown Don absently flipping through the radio and happening upon The Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” playing (that was the single they had just released on November 23rd). Or maybe Joan. That’s definitely a song she would listen to.
The only thing that seems certain about season four of Mad Men is that Sally Draper is going to turn fucking crazy (maybe even start having sex. Sure, she’s ten, but it’s about to be the Swinging Sixties), Don is going to start having even more bizarre sexual encounters, Peggy and Pete are probably going to admit they’re still into each other, and Betty is going to be tossed out like day old bread. Here’s hoping that Mad Men lives up to its seasons past and that all of my predictions are right.