Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mad Men - Season 4

Last season ended with a bold move forward by Don and his coworkers, bidding farewell to their British masters as they started fresh with a new company. It signaled a big change in the series' formula, and basically everyone thought it was great. This year ends with a similarly huge and unexpected event in the plot, but this time half the viewership liked it and the other half seemed to think it totally killed the show. I understand being completely thrown off by the scene in question, and get the multiple references to it even being dreamlike in how unbelievable it is. But doesn't it speak to the show's quality that we can be this shocked at the seeming stupidity of a character's decision? If they hadn't spent so much time these last four years and in this season in particular trying to show us who Don is without ever letting us really know, we wouldn't care nearly this much. And the fact is, it was all justified by what came before, with even some seemingly throwaway lines pointing towards this conclusion. And while some people might not think all publicity is good publicity, what do people remember more, the end of The Sopranos or The Wire? Just thinking about where season five is going to kick off is probably even more interesting a discussion point than the same question we had for season four.

Before the finale though, this season was simply outstanding. I might have mentioned that the season three finale was easily one of my favorites in the series, and practically this entire run of thirteen episodes seemed to be at or at least near that level of quality. I don't think it's just me continuing to become more invested in the characters. The dialogue was consistently snappy and it was the funniest season by far. Pete didn't get as much screen time, but the diminished role helped sympathize the character. Peggy and Roger were both consistently great this year. While some of the better episodes used historic events to frame their stories, they didn't need to rely on it this time, just letting the show exist in its time. Betty was also better in a slightly limited capacity, still kind of crazy, but that's put in context a bit, and she was helped by some really good stuff from Francis and especially Sally, who's really coming into her own. And they really explored Don in a fascinating way. After three years in an ugly marriage, seeing him on his own was intriguing, if only for how miserable he usually seemed. He sort of breaks down before building himself back up, and I'd call it a redemption arc if he actually seemed redeemed by the end. We'll see where season five finds him, but I doubt it's living in a dream world.

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