Friday, May 13, 2011

Film Yap: Mad Men Season Four

The season opens with someone asking the question “Who is Don Draper?” The line is a bit tongue in check since that is the core question of the series and here it is asked to the man himself. This season more than any other needs Don to recognize that question. At the end of Season Three, Don abandoned Sterling Cooper to create a new agency. When the season opens Sterling Cooper Draper Price has been active for a year and the change is evident.

Don Draper is more of a creation than anything else. He was Dick Whitman many years ago and he adopted this new identity. From that he constructed the man he wants to be: the one with the successful job, prestige, and Norman Rockwell-esque family. Now that is all starting to shift. The world is constantly evolving and that means Don must evolve.

This season is more difficult for him, because he’s not as confident. The firm isn’t an instant success, he is not as successful with women, and most importantly the only person in the world who knows the true him is now sick.

Mad Men is a show that has always maintained a high level of quality. Every character is perfectly realized and its themes are so fascinating. With Season Four it feels like a new show but still the same. The new environment and struggles revitalized something that wasn’t close to being stale. There is such a brilliant focus on the characters where it is always evident there is more to learn.

The best episode of the season (and the series) (and maybe all of television) was called “The Suitcase.” The episode takes place all during one night where Don makes Peggy stay after work to brainstorm an ad. It’s her birthday and Don is putting off doing something as well. It was entirely written by Matthew Weiner and it encapsulated all the best parts of the show. Ingenious dialog mixed in with a story that has the characters being to realize who they really are juxtaposed with a world suggesting otherwise.

From that point, the series continues on the best emotional arc for Don Draper all leading up to a shocking point of the finale. That moment is well earned, jarring, and the step in the right direction for the show. The series is not afraid to put its characters in new environments to progress the show and its arcs. It’s unclear where they are all going to end up, but after four years this show still has a level of confidence and payoff where that’s not something to worry about.

It’s hard to pick a season, but this one might just be the best of the series so far. What an incredible journey so far.

The show has always been great about creating bonus features. Weiner and company are so dedicated about capturing the time period and the DVD sets usually show that process. This one has a long documentary on how divorce was handled during this time. There is also a fun one where businesses are using Don Draper’s tactics to sell their own products. There is also a look at the rise of the Ford Mustang and 1964 presidential campaign. There are also a bunch of commentaries. There is a great collection of footage to give you a richer appreciation of the time and the story.

Season: 5 Yaps

Extras: 4.5 Yaps

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