“Well, that’s me.”
The big question that has permeated AMC’s Mad Men since the very beginning and which served as the opening line of season four was, “Who is Don Draper?” In fact the past two seasons have aimed to tackle that question.
But what is it about Mad Men? Most people don’t seem to know, as many wondered how a show so boring could be touted as being so good. But over four seasons, Mad Men has evolved from being painfully slow to becoming perhaps the supreme example of brilliant American television since The Sopranos. There are still skeptics, but I would challenge anyone to argue otherwise after season four came to a close on Sunday evening.
Perhaps Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, envisioned this series in two parts. The first ended with season three, when the finale brought new beginnings for both Don Draper and the partners of the newly formed Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
The second began with season four when audiences found themselves surrounded by a distinctive, more liberal nineteen-sixties with vibrant colors illuminating the usually drab advertising offices so familiar in previous seasons of the show. Everything seemed more alive, fresher, and more pointed. The voices of characters once silenced by mores now piercing like a howl in the night.
The writing was also fresher this season, sharper, and more willing to be frank about ideas and feelings. In one mid-season episode Roger Sterling embarrasses the whole agency by insulting Honda executives over imagined past grievances from World War II.
Although the focus of this season superficially seemed to be about Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and the struggles of those involved with the company to survive, I think one could more genuinely describe this season as one about women. Rather about the women. The apex of this being episode nine, “The Beautiful Girls”, ending with one of the most gorgeous scenes of television I’ve seen in a while, not by being overspent or overdramatic, but by its effortless ability to pierce at the heart.
And of course who can forget episode 7, “The Suitcase”, when Peggy finally explodes after Don makes her stay late to work on a Samsonite Ad, missing her birthday dinner with her boyfriend and family.
Before the finale to season four aired on Sunday, I thought Mad Men might provide us with a comma, or even a dark period. There was speculation that someone, Roger or even young Sally Draper, might commit suicide. I definitely thought there would be gloom surrounding the end to this season. But instead Matthew Weiner and his team gave us optimism, both for the agency, and more importantly for Don Draper.
In a time when American television aims to bewilder us by sensational finales, Mad Men intrigued us to continue on this journey with modesty. “Tomorrowland” was a very dapper ending for a dapper show, and I think audiences can look forward to discovering more about these people in their time.