It’s kind of a funny opener for the fourth season of Mad Men. ”Who is Don Draper?” a disembodied deep voice intoned, as the camera came to life, zeroing in on the growing furrow of Don’s brow. The question has always left him either cold or mystified. Don has long erased or dodged or run from the essence of his identity, so he doesn’t understand what details some frustrated journalist might dare scribble into his notepad. ”What do men say when you ask them that?” he asked the reporter from Ad Age with almost desperate curiosity. ”Usually they think for a second and then say something cute,” the man responded, not bothering to hide his disdain for the tired dance of writer and subject. Well now it’s Don’s turn to act cute. Instead, he ducked and disappointed: ”As I said before, I’m from the Midwest. We were taught it’s not polite to talk about ourselves.”
Since we all last saw Don, standing alone in the West Village, hopeful the promise of a new beginning, a year has passed. It’s almost Thanksgiving. 1964. We have a new President (Johnson), new landmark legislation (a Civil Rights act that Johnson helped push through the Senate), a new favorite band (the Beatles), and a new man sleeping under Don’s icy blue bedroom sheets (old Henry, dryly kissing Betty’s hand good night). The rogue crew that jumped ship from the British-invaded Sterling Cooper graduated from their hotel room to a spare midtown office on one floor (two if you’re talking to a reporter or a client) with paper-thin walls and no conference table. SCDP needed to gin up some business and fast. This little gimme interview with Ad Age, coupled with Don’s coup of a cinematic campaign for some floor wax, was a chance to plant the new firm’s flag. When Roger and Pete strode upon the scene, Pete simpered as only he can in the royal we about the reporter’s service in Korea and the foot it cost him. Roger, a man born to dish up a good quote, couldn’t quite mask his envy at not being the interviewee. ”A wooden leg? They’re so cheap they couldn’t even afford a whole reporter,” he groused afterwards.
For all Don’s youthful vigor in that zingy last hour of Season 3, a year later he was still ever the man adrift. His apartment was dingy, the windows fogged with smoke and cramped masculinity. He was not eating much. His accountant, grumbly about the fact that Don continued to pay the mortgage on a house another man now uncomfortably calls home, waited for him on one of the agency’s primary-colored sofas in the lobby while a couple of prudes panted for a campaign that removed any hint of sex from their bikini. ”I love how they sit there like a couple choirboys,” Roger said, after too late realizing that his leering over their catalogue models was most decidedly the wrong opener. ”You know one of them is leaving New York with VD.” (Is it just me or is there a new coarseness in the air? The accountant’s inquiry into the state of Don’s balls, Roger’s suggestion that Don could ”stuff” Jane’s friend at Thanksgiving, Don’s somewhat startling request of his hooker — now, now. Patience, Karen. But seriously, this world was usually vulgar in action rather than language, no? Is this simply a sign of bluer times?)
NEXT: Someone knows one of Don’s tricks