By Paula Hendrickson
Fresh off the heels of receiving 17 Emmy nominations—the most of any drama series this year—AMC’s acclaimed Mad Men returns Sunday, July 25, for its fourth season.
Without really giving anything away, the season premiere finds Don Draper starting over, in many ways. Everything he’s worked for since assuming the real Don Draper’s identity—the perfect wife, perfect house, perfect career—is gone, so it’s time for Don to retrench, and perhaps even re-invent himself yet again.
On the personal front, Don’s newly single, he’s got new digs and is adjusting to living alone (with the help of a housekeeper). He seems to be a more nurturing father now than when he and his kids lived under the same roof. And perhaps for the first time since the show began, Don experiences what it’s like when a beautiful woman rebuffs his advances.
Don’s also being challenged at work. As you probably recall, season three ended with Don, Roger, Bert Cooper and Lane Pryce setting up their own ad agency—Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce—and bringing Pete, Peggy, Joan and Harry along for the ride. While a year has passed, the fledgling firm is struggling to regain a fraction of the level of success they took for granted at the old Sterling Cooper agency. Now, they’re the small fish competing against larger firms, with Don’s reputation as their main asset. Yet, the usually unflappable Don makes a few mis-steps. Is it the pressure, or could some of them be intentional? Is Don’s well-crafted façade beginning to crack? Could the real Dick Whitman slowly be re-emerging?
Creator and executive producer Matthew Weiner has already stated that the theme of this season is “Who am I?” In other words, this should be a promising season. This is one television series where characters never remain stagnant. Don’s not the only character adjusting to change. How are Betty and the kids adjusting to the divorce? Can Roger survive a job that involves actual work? Will Joan realize she needs more in her life than her controlling husband is willing to allow?
Pete seems poised for the challenge, and Harry is set to expand the scope of TV advertising. It seems the new agency will offer both men more chances to prove their worth.
Peggy is the one character who seems to be ahead of the curve. She spent the first couple of seasons forging her own identity, working her way up from secretary to copywriter, defying her mother’s expectations of what it means to be a good girl, moving to Manhattan and letting her sister raise the illegitimate son she had with Pete.
One thing is true about Mad Men: No matter where the season starts, it never ends exactly how you initially thought it would—aside from ending too soon. If the season premiere is any indication, we’re all in for another spellbinding season and plenty of surprises.
Mad Men airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC, followed immediately by a repeat broadcast of the same episode.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the July 21-27, 2010 issue