Just as Mad Men’s third season is great for blowing up the show’s narrative, its fourth season is excellent for taking the new normal and running with it.
Sterling Cooper becomes Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce; Don and Betty are divorced — she’s remarried to Henry Francis, and he’s living in the city and relying on escorts and alcohol for company; Peggy is still rocking a shorter ‘do and is coming into her own at work and socially; and even if Joan isn’t getting the full respect she deserves, at least she’s got an office. In between Don’s many drinks, the fabulous Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono) swings by to sum up the series in one line by describing advertising: It’s the struggle between what you want versus what’s expected of you.
Even as the characters grapple with their and society’s expectations of happiness and success, the series doesn’t lose its momentum in the midst of such heaviness. Indeed, there’s still a caper-like spirit to the office plots, from Peggy’s Sugarberry Ham faux supermarket fight to Don’s risky Honda motorcycle ad gamble. Mad Men, for all its drama, never loses its sense of fun.
Season Four has many a delight, including great Joanisms:
More parenting tips from Betty:
Peggy keeping an eye on Don:
And making new friends, like Joyce (Zosia Mamet):
The return of Creepy Glen:
The return of Anna, and yes, that’s the sound of your heart breaking:
Peggy calling Stan’s nudist bluff:
No really — she won that round 100 times over.
And of course, the famous conga line:
Join us — myself, Mallory Andrews, a writer for Movie Mezzanine and Sound on Sight, and Corey Atad — as we discuss the first six episodes of Season Four in the latest Not Great, Pod!, our unofficial Mad Men podcast.
And join us for the rewatch, won’t you? It continues at the end of December with the second half of Season Four, which includes “The Suitcase,” one of the greatest Mad Men episodes of all.
Sarah Carlson is Television Editor for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.