Tonight's premiere of Mad Men certainly didn't disappoint, as we're introduced to the new reality of the show; Don as a divorcee and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce just scraping by. But the central question still remains: Who is Don Draper?
Matthew Weiner, et al, open Season 4 with what is both the series' essential question and also a signal to the audience. Don talks about an ad he wanted to be "indistinguishable from the movies," as Mad Men itself is, and to ask "what's happening in the story? Oh, not that." And that's exactly where we are right now, dropped into a whole new world.
Everything is new in this season of the show - Don is living as a divorced bachelor in the West Village, Betty and Henry are married, and the new firm is struggling. Where Sterling Cooper needed no introduction and was rarely concerned with any one client, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is a different animal, the office is small and the non-existence of a conference table hangs over the whole place. A far cry from when Bert Cooper's new Rothko sent Kenny Cosgrove and company into a tizzy last season.
But the biggest change is what we see in Don. Being away from his kids has seemingly made him miss them - he hangs an extra second at the door to their bedroom in his place and asks to see baby Eugene, who was mostly repulsive to him when born in Season 3. He's become a little domesticated even, shining his own shoes and promising to sew a button onto Bobby's pajamas.
Clearly life wasn't going to be just as it was for him, minus the responsibility of being a husband. And, we get the first good glimpse of life changing around him, as his usual charms don't quite seal the deal with a friend of Jane's.
Even at work, he's out of sync. Don's greatest triumphs - and indeed, the series' best scenes - have been pitches, blowing clients like Lucky Strike and Eastman Kodak out of the water with his ideas. Even in failure, he's never cracked. Yet, when pitching an overly racy campaign to a modest client, Don loses it.
There's another nice cue to the viewers of the show here: Mad Men doesn't want to be "comfortable and dead," it wants to be risky, but instead of "possibly rich," definitely great. The idea is that things are changing and it makes no use to hold onto the old. Mad Men and its characters are moving forward and we should all just get on board.
In usual Mad Men style, however, we've been set up for something darker. When Don engages the services of his (clearly) regular prostitute, few viewers probably anticipated where Don's proclivities truly lay.
All of this creates a pretty dark world for the new season and it's quite clear that a lot of the series' kitschy fun is boiling down to something quite a bit less cheery. We know that major changes are coming for America, and for these characters - the sexual revolution, hippies, the Vietnam war.
It's pretty clear that we're all about to be punished.