This was another one of those series that I have the utmost appreciation for, even if I didn’t always enjoy it as much as a lot of other shows. The first season, I thought it was terrific. It just soaked you in the decadence of a New York advertising agency in the early 60s. The characters were complicated and presented without judgement. Almost no one on this show fits into any kind of archetype, they’re seem like real people (although heightened people, given their line of work), and it was up to you to decide which of their qualities were worthy of admiration or pity, respect or scorn.
I have to admit, I remember feeling like the second and third season kept playing the same notes as the first season, with less impact. More sexism! Don Draper is committing adultery! Everyone smokes at work! The fourth season, through a combination of different factors, evolved the series in several, very welcome ways for me.
The major characters had opted to strike out on their own in the surprisingly inspirational third season finale and form a new advertising firm. It was a great new color for the show and for the characters, seeing them as scrappy upstarts. It was always fun anytime Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce had to band together and use their ingenuity to keep their company afloat. And in a season about the characters being really driven professionally, it was a great choice to counterbalance that by making Don Draper rudderless in his personal life. There’d definitely been huge moments of weakness for him in the first three seasons, but it was great TV to see Draper try to stop himself from crashing in Season 4.
Meanwhile, Peggy Olson became one of my favourite characters on TV this year. She had quite the evolution over the first four years, and again, I don’t know if was for the better or the worse. But god help me I love that little Scientologist. The production values are as amazing as ever, there’s still that distinct 1960s color aesthetic that I can’t quite describe (but I know it when I see it). The dialogue is full of wit, without ever feeling overly scripted. And the whole season takes advantage of a particularly turbulent time in the ’60s in a really great way, setting the story against the backdrop of the civil right’s movement and the beginning of the Vietnam War.
If I Had to Nitpick…: Holy crap, Betty this year. In the first three seasons, if she wasn’t sympathetic, then she’s at least pitiable. Good thing she didn’t have much screentime this year, because she was impossible to like. Apologies if she has any fans, again, Mad Men lets you make up your own mind about the people in it. And I choose to just HATE Betty this season.
Notable Episodes: You really can’t go wrong with any episode from 4.6 on. But “Waldorf Stories” effectively disorients you by putting you in Don’s shoes as he self destructs, “The Suitcase” is a Don/Peggy centric episode that’s one of my favourite episodes of ANYTHING, and “The Beautiful Girls” has some terrific dark comedy, while taking a look at the less explored (at least in S4) relationship Don has with his daughter.