Wither, Don Draper? For Season Four of the hit show Mad Men, Jon Hamm’s Draper and his new company Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is holding on with one big client: Lucky Strikes. But that deal is tentative, Draper is bottoming out as a drunk, and his family is suffering from its divorce, with little Sally Beth Draper (Kiernan Shipka) acting out in more and more inappropriate ways. With all this drama it’s sad to think we won’t see where these characters end up for another year or so. Our review of Mad Men Season 4 on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
It’s smart that they waited this long to really put their characters “in the shit” as it were. Though there have been dramas small and large over the last couple seasons, for 1964, the advertising group is suffering in new ways, and it neatly ties to modern concerns about employment. Here everyone is looking over their shoulder and doing their best to make Lucky Strikes happy, which means being perennially humiliated. But as the company is desperate for work, all sorts of hang-ups keep emerging that stymie their growth. Roger Sterling (John Slattery) doesn’t want to work with the Japanese. Don is worried that a government contract got by Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) will lead to his real identity being revealed, and even more stressful Don Draper is made the face of the company, which he initially rebuffs, only for him to become a target for up and comers. And – again – in this season his drinking hits a point where he has a lost weekend.
There are lights in the tunnel, though. Don has a foil in Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono), who sees through Don, but neither can deny the attraction. And Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) is always a light, as she dabbles in checking out New York’s bohemian scene, and how she approaches having lovers – even flirting with a possible lesbian relationship. But at the workplace she’s still learning how to deal with being surrounded by men, which leads her to butt heads with Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks). After being sidelined for much of Season three, Hendricks gets way more to do this season, and her character – whose husband is sent to Vietnam – is also trying to get pregnant, and may be having Roger Sterling’s baby.
But for all the drama, the film benefits most from the home life stuff, and what’s going on with Sally – her ride into town, or her attempt to masturbate, or a trip to see The Beatles creates one of the show’s best tensions. It’s fun to live in this world, and see these hard drinking, heavy smoking creatures of an older generation, but the show also suggests there are consequences, and how that comes out – how divorce and absentee parenting comes about is well played. Though January Jones and her character Betty is left with less and less to do this season, and could almost leave the show at a certain point. She’s in no way terrible on the show, but – like Joan in Season three – it feels like her heavy lifting is over. But all those questions pain as the show is on a hiatus to return in early 2012. Long wait.
Lionsgate’s Blu-rays presents the season in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround in a three disc set. Though it’s a TV show, so it’s going to be not that geared towards wooshing or more directional sound effects, these are excellent transfers, and the show looks perfect in this format.
Disc One features episodes 1-5 with commentaries on the first episode with creator Matthew Weiner and Hamm and composer David Carbonara and a second track with costume designer Jane Bryant. The second episode offers Weiner and director Michael Uppendahl and a second with stars Joel Murray and Alexa Alemanni. Three has Weiner and director Jennifer Getzinger, and a second with actors Melinda Page Hamilton and Jared Harris. Four offers Cara Buono, Vincent Kartheiser and John Slattery, and a second with Weiner and cinematographer Chris Manley. The fifth episode offers only one commentary, with Weiner and writer Erin Levy. The disc also offers “Marketing the Mustang: An American Icon” (27 min.), which is a documentary about advertising, not so much about the show.
Disc two offers episodes 6-9 with Six having two commentaries, the first with Weiner, writer Brett Johnson, and director Scott Hornbacher, the second with stars Jay Ferguson, Aaron Staton, and Danny Strong. Episode seven has two, one with Elisabeth Moss, the second with Weiner, cinematographer Chris Manley, and editor Tim Wilson. Eight has Weiner and editor Leo Trombetta, and a second track with stars Matt Long, Rich Sommer, and Christopher Stanley. The last episode on the disc has two commentaries as well, the first with Weiner and writer Dahvi Waller, the second with Buono, Christina Hendricks, and Kiernan Shipka. This disc also offers “Divorce: Circa 1960s” (80 min.), which looks at how one generation looked (and took to) divorce.
Disc three has the remaining four episodes with episode ten offering commentary by Weiner and composer David Carbonara, and a second track with Kartheiser and Hendricks. Episode ten has commentaries by Weiner and writer Erin Levy, and a second with Buono and Jessica Paré. Episode 12 only has one with Slattery and writers Andre & Maria Jacquemetton, while the final episode has two: one with Weiner with Paré and Shipka, the second with Weiner and writer Jonathan Igla. The disc finishes with two featurettes: “How to Succeed in Business Draper Style” (56 min.), “1964 Presidential Campaign” (31 minutes). The supplements mostly talk to the era of the show, and are only tangentially related to the show. Those looking for behind the scenes are out of luck, but the exhaustive commentaries relay anything you’d want to know about the episodes, and they are thoughtful and well put together. These discs are like fine wine. To be savored. And though the wait for Season five is long, this definitely helps.