Countdown To 'Mad Men:' Four Fearless Predictions About Season 4! Plus: The Don-Betty-'Moonlighting' Connection!
For the past several months, the following question has come my way on an almost daily basis: “What are you going to do now that Lost is over?” Usually, this inquiry is accompanied by a look of grave concern in the eyes of the inquirer, as if they’re beholding a man who has lost his reason for living and should be kept far away from razor blades. Please! Don’t be fooled by my frazzled hair and emaciated frame and the fact that I burst into tears anytime anyone even mentions the word Lost. I’m fine! Really! I AM GOING TO BE OKAY! Okay? Just don’t come near me with your YouTube videos of Jack Shephard’s death march across The Island…
Don’t you DARE–
Great. Now I’m a blubbery mess. Sigh. Vincent. They had to play the dog card, didn’t they?
Seriously, even though I have spent the past six years writing pretty extensively about Lost, I have been watching other television shows, as well. In fact, my post-Lost angst has been greatly assuaged by the arrival of my other favorite drama: Mad Men. Since discovering the series prior to the start of its second season in 2008, I’ve been pretty obsessed with Matthew Weiner’s acclaimed period drama about Madison Avenue advertising professionals in the 1960s. The fascinating knit of character, culture, and history even gets my theory-making brain going in the same way that Lost did. And so, as I continue to search for a shiny new cult pop bauble to get all Gollum and preciousssss about (Rubicon? The Event? The Walking Dead?), I’ll be geeking out on Mad Men. We begin with four fearless predictions about the fourth season, inspired by the events of last week’s season premiere. (Actually, I originally came up with five predictions, but one of them—Don will rehire Sal, and soon—morphed into a 3000 word essay about something else altogether; I’ll share that with you next week.)
Before we begin, please know: I do not expose myself to Mad Men spoilers, and I don’t watch episodes in advance. None of what follows is based on any kind of foreknowledge of upcoming events. So if I’m right, it’s pure dumb luck. And if I’m wrong? Pure dumb.
1. Henry Francis Will Dump Betty, Not Vise Versa.
Last year, Mad Men suggested that there was something more to Betty’s attraction to Henry Francis than merely receiving adoration from a man more reliable than dicking-around Don. Betty was devastated by the death of her father, Eugene, who apparently had never really approved of Don. You got the sense that with Henry, warm and strong and paternalistic, Betty found a way to go back in time and correct the mistake—or at least be daddy’s little girl again. Because of all of this, I found myself wondering: What’s going to happen when Betty’s rebound marriage loses its spring? What’s going to happen when Betty finally “grows up” emotionally or at least grows out of her Dead Dad funk? (Cut to: Don at his Greenwich Village apartment and hearing a knock on his door, and instead of getting the punchy little whore he was waiting for, finds his Betty-Madonna instead. I know: So complex!)
But after last week’s episode, I think Henry Francis is going to beat Betty in bailing on the marriage. Because as it turns out, the dude, like Betty, is under the sway of some seriously unresolved childhood drama. In “Public Relations,” we learned that Betty’s sugary-sweet father figure has a peculiar rapport with his hard, domineering, scary mother, who seems to be none too keen on her son’s choice in women. Or at least this one. Which makes you wonder if that’s why he fell for Betty in the first place. Betty: Cold, aloof, judgmental, huggably challenged. I think Henry chased after her because possessing her fulfills whatever it was Little Boy Henry didn’t get from his Big Bad Wolfy Momma.
Here’s where Henry’s Freudian pipe dream springs a leak and leaves him all wet. Betty is one fantastically craptastic mother. That moment where she tried to shove Thanksgiving dinner into Sally’s mouth just to save face with Henry’s mother? Shudder. And it’s clear that every time Betty exhibits her maternal failings, Henry’s love for her dies a little bit. Mad Men hit this idea squarely on the nose last week in the scene where Henry lost any interest in Betty’s sexual advances when she briefly got out of bed to squabble with Sally. When Betty returned to resume their randyness, Henry, deflated, asked for a rain check. He gave Betty a fatherly peck good night, and rolled away toward a troubled sleep.
It’s only a matter of time before this whole thing blows up. Betty will make one motherly mistake too many in Henry’s eyes—look for it to happen with the boy, Bobby, or worse, the symbolically loaded Baby Eugene, and not with Sally, as we’re all assuming—and he’s going to do to Betty what he can’t do with his mother: Cut the strings; let her go. Which makes me wonder if that’s the real reason why Henry married his Metaphorical Mommy in the first place—to set himself up for exactly that kind of delicious catharsis.
Okay, maybe I’m over-thinking this. Still: Betty dumping looms. Count on it.
2. Betty will slap Don. And then… ???
My wife tells me that this prediction “doesn’t sound very sexy.” But hear me out, because it’ll get there. Literally. After Don agreed to Betty’s demand for a divorce, and after he promised her to not put a fight about it, we were left with this sense that a peace accord has been reached in the cold war of their relationship. Nope. One year later, Betty still wants to make Don pay for his adulterous crimes. Emphasis on pay. As we saw last week, Betty isn’t adhering to the terms of divorce—specifically, she refuses to sell the house that Don is still paying for—thus putting Don in a most ironic position. Once, Don made a fool of Betty by sexing it up in the city while she remained home alone in the suburbs. Now, Don lives an exile’s life in Greenwich Village, while Betty rolls around in their old bed with Henry, under a roof he’s still paying for. One wonders: Does Bets really love this mama-scarred Henry fella? Does she really want to make a life with him? Or is she more in love with sticking it to Don and making him do pricy penance?
Not that Don needs any help getting punished for his sins. He’s doing just fine on his own, wham-bam thank you ma’am, as he’s taken to paying a hooker to slap him around. Now there’s a trunk of honked up psychology for you. Here we have Dick Whitman—born to a prostitute; whose father was cruelly if justifiably emasculated by his bitchy Bible-thumping wife for his own whoring around—beating himself up quite literally for his marital and manly failings via prossy proxy. For Don, sex, guilt, anger, pain, judgment and now violence have become dangerously gummed up, and it just makes you wonder what’s going to happen when Don and Betty finally find themselves alone, away from bodyguard Henry, and both lose their cool, and they both verbally tear into each other and get in each other’s faces, and Betty snaps and slaps him. Because that’s going to happen, kids. The guy who gets off on getting slapped is going to get whacked by the woman who gets off on making him suffer, and what in the world do you think is going to happen next? For some insight, I refer you to another infamously combustible TV couple. The punchline—literally—begins at the 8:50 mark.
(My wife just changed her mind. She says, “I was wrong to say that your prediction isn’t very sexy. It’s actually really creepy, and I kinda don’t want to know you right now.”)
3. Advertising Age Will Expose Don Draper’s Dick Whitman Past.
Last week began with Don Draper—Madison Avenue’s creative hotshot of 1964 thanks to that artsy-fartsy cinematic Glo-Coat Floor Wax commercial–giving an interview to Advertising Age. Actually, it was more like Don was subverting an interview than granting one, as he balked at answering the reporter’s high-concept question: “Who is Don Draper?” A tricky thought experiment, for sure, as we know that Don has unspeakable Big Secrets—namely, that he was born Dick Whitman, and that he is an identity thief, having faked his death during the Korean War and forged a new life using a dead soldier’s dog tags.
That said, I detected a shift in Don’s policy regarding self-disclosure in the season premiere. He told the reporter that he didn’t like talking about himself because he would rather be known by his work. Don was being evasive, but he wasn’t being untruthful, either. His source of self-esteem is now located in his work. Don is deluded in many ways, but he’s in touch with himself enough to know that he’s lost the most important thing in the world: his family. He has deemed himself unfit for a real relationship with a woman—and Betty has deemed him unfit to be a father. I hurt for Don last week when Betty denied him access to Baby Eugene, and more, did so with a cold, cavalier shrug. (Go ahead, have your legally-allowed time with Sally and Bobby. They’re damaged goods, anyway. But I’m not going to allow you to taint Little Eugene with your corruption. My mini-daddy/mini-me is mine, all mine!)
Work has become Don’s new love, though last week showed him that work can only do so much for him. Don’s ads have always been presented to us as telling expressions of his life experience. (An example, ironic and apropos to this season: Last year’s season premiere, when Don concocted that slogan for London Fog—“Limit You Exposure”—after he caught Sal smooching that hotel bell boy, and Sal caught him literally pants-down with that airline attendant.) But his recent work is more personal than ever. Maybe too personal. His visually arresting work for Glo-Coat—with that little boy trapped under a table, the slats of a chair resembling prison bars—was a success, but only because the client was looking for something unusual. As a piece of marketing communication based on the cardinal rule of showcasing a product’s “unique selling proposition,” its virtues were debatable. Even Don noted—with prideful relish—that the ad didn’t become an ad until its final moments. He likened it to a movie. (To be fair, the criteria for effective advertising was in serious flux during this period of Madison Avenue history. More on that next week.) Don was setting himself up for a stumble, and we saw him fall down and go boom last week. His edgy-clever pitch for Jantzen’s bikini business—which featured a female model whose top had been blacked out like some redacted secret document—was a total bust. (I decoded the tagline “So well built, we can’t show you the second floor” to be another articulation of Don’s complex relationship to work and disclosure, and more ironically, why Don can’t afford to reveal the hidden levels of himself.) Little wonder Don flipped out when the Jantzen men didn’t like his idea. As he saw it, they weren’t rejecting his work—they were rejecting him.
It was on the heels of his Jantzen failure that Mr. “Limit Your Exposure” did a very atypical thing: He decided to talk about himself. Roger had been pressuring him to make amends for the Ad Age fiasco by giving an interview with The Wall Street Journal. Initially, Don didn’t want to do it. At episode’s end, he changed his mind. And I think the reason why was because of what Peggy had told him: “We’re all here because of you.” That, I think, was the most important line of the episode. “Public Relations” was really the story of Don shaking off the tsuris of the past year, pulling his head out of his ass and realizing that his work—the ads he makes; the agency he is building—isn’t all about him. He has a whole bunch of people counting on him for their livelihoods. He is their hero, he is their boss—he is, in many ways, their father. And whether he likes it or not (and for now, given the family-void in his life, I’m thinking he likes it), he has to play the part.
Which is why he gave the interview to The Wall Street Journal. If talking about his life—or at least, just the Don Draper part of his life—and marketing his celebrity helps the agency and keep them in business, so be it. But in doing so, Don has also put a big old target on his back. Because you know what famous people say about us journalists: we love to build them up—and we love to tear them down. Publicity invites scrutiny. Somebody is going to come after him. And I think it’s going to be that Ad Age guy with the wooden leg. His editors are going to read that Wall Street Journal story and flip out on him. We sent you to get the skinny on Draper! How come you didn’t get him to talk the way the Wall Street Journal got him to talk! You suck! Motivated by professional embarrassment, Scoopy McPeg-Leg is going to start digging into Don’s life, and he’s going to get the dirt. Maybe he’ll get some help from an anonymous tipster who’ll point him in the right direction. (Betty? Henry? Duck?) If Ad Age doesn’t do this, then I suspect Don will be targeted by those evil tabloid dirtbags at the world’s most disreputable muckraking newspaper: The New York Times. You can’t trust those bastards at The Gray Lady. After all: They hated Lost.
Anyway, look for that Times expose to put the agency in crisis, which means that you should look for this development around the time of the season finale. But it won’t be the only development to imperil Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. There will also be this:
4. Lucky Strike is going to put its account in review.
My phrasing isn’t very dramatic, but if you work in the ad agency business, “account review” are two words you never want to hear from your client. And if you’re Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, you definitely don’t want to hear those words coming from Lucky Strike. As we were told last week, the cigarette company represents 71% of the young agency’s billings. Bottom line: SCDP is dangerously dependent on Lucky Strike, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that Mad Men made a point of impressing that fact upon us. By episode’s end, we were able to puzzle out that the year was 1964, a game-changing year for tobacco, because that was when the Surgeon General officially declared that cigarette smoking could cause cancer. The following year, Congress passed the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act requiring tobacco companies to put warning labels on their packaging. As a result, the industry was to forced to reconsider how they marketed their products.
Of course, none of this came as a huge shock to Big Tobacco. Cigarette makers had known for years that the government was itching to regulate their business. In fact, the very first episode of Mad Men saw the management of Lucky Strike ask Sterling Cooper to address the industry’s intensifying public relations crisis :
But that was then, and this is 1964. Soon it will be 1965, and the new era of warning labels, and I have to think that Lucky Strike will be reacting to the profound changes to its business by reconsidering how it should be marketing cigarettes. That reassessment will include mulling this question: Is Don Draper’s small and scrappy boutique truly up to the task of solving the biggest challenge in the company’s history? Moreover, if the challenge facing Lucky Strike is to assure the public that its product can be trusted, and if I’m correct that Don Draper is about to be exposed as deception incarnate, then you have to wonder if Lucky Strike may suddenly view the Madison Avenue creative whiz as a liability—a living embodiment of the very PR problem it needs to correct. Hence: Account review—and season finale cliffhanger.
Of course, I could be completely wrong about my predictions. If you read my Lost ramblings over the years, you know that my crystal ball is usually cracked and cloudy. But for me, theorizing or prognostication isn’t about being right or wrong—it’s just the nutty way I express my exuberant fandom for a show. Other ways that I like to get my Mad Men on? Reading Ken Tucker’s instant-reaction to new episodes on Sunday as well as Karen Valby’s in-depth recaps on Monday. (I would also like to recommend another longtime Mad Men blogger that I am ashamed to say to have only recently discovered: Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s “Mad Men Unbuttoned,” formerly know as “The Footnotes of Mad Men,” which does a great job of examining the advertising, cultural references and historical context of each episode. Her book Mad Men Unbuttoned: A Romp Through 1960s America reaches stores this week, and I can’t wait to rip into it.)
Anyway: PLEASE take my mad Mad Men ramblings with a massive dash of salt… but PLEASE come back next week for more. I won’t always be this crazy. Most weeks, I’ll be content to merely set the stage for the new episode. But there will be other weeks that you’ll get some 3000 word pseudo-scholarly predictive essay from me. In fact, I got one in the works for next week—a theory about the final fate of Don Draper. Looking forward to the journey. In the meantime, if you have Mad Men theories, I’d love to hear them. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @ewdocjensen