Review: "Mad Men" Season 4
"Who is Don Draper?" That’s the opening line—and the crux—of Mad Men’s Season 4 arc, something that show creator Matthew Weiner confirms multiple times over the course his welcome appearance this three-disc Lionsgate Blu-ray set’s commentary tracks. (In fact, 12 out of the 13 episodes here boast two commentaries apiece — almost unheard of this far into any show’s run on disc, and particularly appreciated for one so rich in context, depth, and tapestry.)
But I like to think that the major, further-reaching theme for Don (the always top-drawer Jon Hamm) and the bulk of Mad Men’s always-game-for-the-challenges cast is something Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono) states in Episode 2. While describing her consultational role to a conference room full of the principals of the recently minted Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce ad agency, Miller says she helps people solve the conflict of "What I want versus what’s expected of me." (Hmmm, I think we can ALL relate to that.)
What we want AND what we expect from the three-time Best Drama Emmy-winning show is what we continue to get in this set — and in spades. Season 4 spans late 1964 to the cusp of fall 1965, and the set design, costuming, mannerisms, and color palette continue to fit the period down to the last wallpaper shade and desktop tchotchke. Among this season’s most interesting settings: the SCDP firm’s starker, sparser, tighter-quartered, whiter office space in the Time-Life Building, which is quite the opposite of the expansive, inviting, intimidating Sterling Cooper locale of Seasons 1-3; Draper’s drab, dingy, muted Greenwich Village apartment, the opposite of the bright, open, John Cheeveresque home he used to share in upscale Ossining, New York with ex-wife Betty (January Jones) and their three kids (whom all continue to live there with her new hubby Henry Francis [Christopher Stanley]); and a not-exactly-salacious dinnertime visit to the Playboy Club in Episode 10 (classy brown-hued décor, bright and revealing shimmery pink and Kelly green bunny costumes, and logo-laden tabletop candleholders with red, blue, yellow, and white smoked-glass panels). But sorry, though there are no bloody-stumps-at-drunken-office-party moments per se this season, we do see a vintage Zenith record player and a stack of 45s in action at the firm’s Christmas festivities in Episode 2.