'Mad Men' Recap: Who Is Don Draper?

Amy Keyishian

Don Draper
Who is Don Draper?
Mad Men is back! The Season 4 premiere opens in a swanky restaurant with Don Draper looking hot, sexy -- and miserable. Like a cat on a hot tin roof. A reporter from Ad Age is interviewing him with a crappy open-ended question: Who is Don Draper? He doesn’t know what to say; he gives an empty answer -- “I’m from the Midwest; we were taught not to talk about yourself.”

Roger Sterling and Pete Campbell come in to say hi, and accidentally kick the reporter’s wooden leg. (Ooh, remember that guy who got his foot cut off last season? Me too.) Sterling complains, “They’re too cheap to send us a whole reporter?” and they’re off to a cattle-call meeting with a bikini two-piece swimsuit company, Jantzen.

Despite their sexy product, Jantzen’s owners hate that their teeny-weenier, sluttier competition is eating their lunch. They want a bigger market share -- but not in a dirty way. Don asks them something Don-y about how they see their customers, and they just look at him with an open-mouthed "buh." This doesn’t look good.

Wow! Lookit the new office! Suddenly we’re in the modern era: plastic lamps, pop art, and a swankier soundtrack. Everyone keeps referencing the mythical second floor of the office -- there isn’t one, but it’s part of their scrappy-upstart plan to look bigger than they are. Oh, and Joan Harris has her own office. Yeah, baby.

Don’s really resistant to the new world he created. Sure, the new place is doing great, thanks to campaigns like the Glo-Coat ad that Ad Age was asking about -- it’s cinematic and attention-grabbing. But there’s more to being a scrappy upstart than making good ads, as he’s about to find out.

Trouble in Pete Campbell-land: The Sugarberry Ham account looks like it’s about to go pork belly-up (get it?). Peggy Olsen and her new office mate, Joey, cook up a plan to stage a supermarket cat-fight over that nasty canned ham. Very viral, kids! If only you had YouTube!

Meanwhile, Don’s divorce lawyer is pressuring him to get Betty Draper and Gramps out of the house he’s paying the mortgage on. He’s all “No, no, it’s fine.” The lawyer casts aspersions on his testicles.

In comes Sterling with an offer Don can’t refuse: An invite to Thanksgiving dinner. Well, he can refuse that, but he can’t talk his way out of a blind date with a pal of Roger’s dopey little wife. Selling point: The Mount Holyoke Gymnastics Team. But hang on. What’s he doing on Thanksgiving if he only gets the kids the next day?

Now we get a look at Don’s new home life. He’s traded a claustrophobic, stuffy Westchester house for the only more depressing place he could find: A dark, claustrophobic West Village apartment. Instead of snapping at Betty, now he snaps at a housekeeper. He spends his weekend in front of the TV, working, until it’s time for his date.

Is it just me, or do we just have a new Betty? Bethany’s cute, she wears a furry dress, and she’s an actress (Betty was a model) -- but she’s an insufferable good girl. She’s patronizing about his divorce, she’s ersatz-horrified by the state of the world, and she gives him the gloved-hand brushoff after a brief cab smooch, insisting they wait till New Year’s to go any further. A far cry from the Boho artiste from Season 1, am I right? Yawn.

Back at the agency, Peggy and Pete are happy with the stunt, though the two actresses seem to not quite have understood that it was all for show. Meanwhile, Harry Crane returns from LA with the exciting news that he sold a Jai-Alai show.

But all is not happy hams and jai-alai: Don’s interview has hit the stands, and as Sterling says, "turned all the sizzle from Glo-Coat into a wet fart." Don’s mad that his work doesn’t speak for itself. But Cooper has the Coop de grace: "Turning creative success into business is your work, and you’ve failed." Jeebers!

And it’s Thanksgiving: Gramps, who has now married Betty, is at the head of the table with Betty by his side, but his battleaxe mom is giving Betty the fish-eye. Sally won’t eat anything and gags/barfs when Betty shoves sweet potatoes into her mouth, then whines "stop pinching me!" when Betty hauls her out of the room. Nice!

Speaking of pinching me, here are Don’s big Thanksgiving plans: a hooker who gets slappy with him on demand. Nice! He's awakened from a post-coital snooze by Peggy, who has bad news about the publicity stunt: One of the actresses is pressing assault charges against the other, and she needs bail money. Oh, he’s pissed. He’s so pissed he pretty much calls her an idiot when she shows up at his door for the money, and her new boyfriend comes to her defense, calling himself her fiance. Hum!

Back at Betty’s, Grampa won’t smooch back because he’s too full from dinner. Yawn. Meanwhile Betty storms out into the hallway to stop Sally from calling Don, pretty much coming off like a peevish babysitter rather than a mom. (I really don’t like Betty.) Anyway, the minute the kids are picked up by Don the next day, Gramps is all fired up. Don is sort of heartbreaking with the kids; he puts them to bed in their little bunks and offers to mend their jammies, then works all weekend while Sally hoards the bowl of cheesy poofs. Oh dear. Somebody’s developing an eating disorder.

After waiting an hour for Betty and Gramps to stumble in, Don lays down the law: They have to get out. Gramps secretly agrees, but Betty digs her heels in. She doesn’t want to uproot the kids. Or so she says. Mainly, I think we all know this is her little power play. (Oof, no, I really don’t like Betty.)

Back at the office, Peggy brings Don a ham, and this episode becomes even more fast-paced and did-you-catch-it confusing. They kept the ham account, isn’t that great? No, because Don doesn’t like shenanigans, and Peggy should keep their image in mind. Peggy counters: Hey, dude, you’re the one who is messing with our image. Score one for Peggy. But Don fires back: Don’t come to the bikini meeting -- we don’t want girls in here. But Peggy is no Betty. Cool as a cucumber, she tells him they’re all there to try to please him. (Subtext: So stop being such a cranky bitch, Don.)

One more scene between the endlessly henpecked Gramps: His mom doesn’t like Betty. She may be an old battleaxe, but she’s right: Betty’s kids are terrified of her, and he didn’t have to marry her to get what he’s clearly after. Daaamn!

The big meeting with the Jantzen prudes: A winking, slightly-suggestive ad. They hate it. It’s too suggestive! Don’s sickened by their attitude and throws the hissy fit we’ve been waiting for. He’s been pissy, pissier, and angry; now he’s busting his nut. Has he gone crazy? He throws the Jantzen guys out of the office, and tells his secretary to go ahead and call the Wall Street Journal on his way back to the office.

Because Don’s not crazy. Au contraire. This whole episode has been answering the question posed at the outset -- the same question Don’s been asking himself. Who is Don Draper? The answer comes in the same swanky restaurant we saw at the beginning: He’s a cocky, strutty, self-assured creative director, and now, he’s not afraid to say so. Referencing the mythical second floor, he jumps -- with two feet -- into his firm’s new era and his new life. Cue the Nashville Teens singing "Tobacco Road," an anthem to self-reinvention and monetary success.

Welcome back, Don!

What did you think of last night's episode?

Image via AMC.com

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