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Monday, August 16, 2010

"Mad Men" Season 4, Episode 4

Dont look at me like Im friggin Frankenstein! Come here and give your father a hug!
  • Michael Yarish/AMC
  • Don't look at me like I'm friggin' Frankenstein! Come here and give your father a hug!
Welcome, one and all, to the grand return of Pete Campbell, resplendent in all his villainous glory. Watch! As he whines to Sterling about being left out of the Lucky Strike call! Watch! As he sneers over Crane’s “friend” Kenny Cosgrove (“Why are you always looking for a job?”)! Watch! As he twists the arm of his exuberant father-in-law in order to one-up Freddie and win the love of his SCDP overlords!

Thank the Mads. After last week’s time-wasting West coast retread—call it the last stand of Honest Don (and does anyone really care about Honest Don?)—and the tumult of the holidays, we were due a proper business-as-usual episode. This one delivered—with plenty of inter- and intra-office politics, dramatic staffer gossip (Trudy’s pregnant! Don’s secretary walks out!), and even a good old-fashioned focus group—while managing to sneak in a great trip down the rabbit hole of 1965 counterculture, where our Peggy kept her cool without selling herself short.

The opening puts us back in the thick of it: Don is chain-smoking, out of booze, and trying to assuage an agitated client over the phone. Have we ever seen Don this clearly out of rope? Even swapping off with Sterling on the phone, he looks and sounds more desperate than ever: he only manages to get out of the call by faking a fire. A fire? Really?

And we’re not the only ones noticing—witness Peggy’s head, rising balloon-like over the wall of Don’s office after jilted secretary Allison hurls a paper-weight at him (finally!). Peggy, in fact, has her pretty little nose in just about everything this week: turning the head of hip Life magazine staffer Joyce (“You look swellegent!” “Okay!”), attempting to reassure Don’s distraught secretary Allison (though she winds up defending her own reputation instead), attending an illicit pop-art party, and loving her some nudes. Besides being straight-up hot, it’s a satisfying continuation of the role-reversal between Peggy and Don: while Peggy parties and sneaks a snog, Don drinks alone in the office, then tries (and fails) to type up an apology letter to Allison.

But Peggy also gets her own moments of desperation: watch her pump herself up before congratulating Pete on his wife’s pregnancy (Pete, of course, smugly assumes she’s referring to the new business he squeezed out of the grandpa-to-be) before retreating to her office to beat her head against the desk. And the look she shares with Pete just before heading out to lunch with her hip new friends from Life? Instant classic.

And speaking of classic: someone (besides Betty) finally goes on record with the word that Don’s a bad person. As much as I’ve griped about the series stalling in California, it was absolutely worth the wait to see Allison explode in humiliated fury over Don’s callous treatment. And it looks like, in the fallout, Don’s really feeling the hurt—not only is he guilt-smacked (he doesn’t even take the time to remove his coat and hat before sitting down to compose his aborted mea culpa), but he’s greeted the next morning by elderly Miss Blankenship, a secretary of Murphy Brown-level incompetence, ready to usher Don to the next ring of his own personal hell.

That’s right, everyone: welcome back!

More stuff from between the ads:

— Peggy: “I have a boyfriend.” Joyce: “He doesn’t own your vagina.” Peggy: “No, but he’s renting it.”

— Dig Pete’s villainous so-what shrug after his father-in-law calls him a son-of-a-bitch.

— Though with a sexist one-two like this, it’s hard to say Trudy’s pop doesn’t deserve it: “If it’s a boy, a thousand dollars. If it’s a girl, five hundred.” “Jeanie had her uterus removed. Some kind of a cyst or something.”

— Another Betty-free episode? I guess we're avoiding villainy overload.

— “Dr. Miller is here to see you. It’s a she.”

— Focus group scene was a bit long, but worth it for this heartbreaker from Allison: “It’s worse when they notice, sometimes.”

— OK, I’m just going to admit it: no matter how many times I rewind, there’s always one or two lines on this show I can’t understand. Help please: “I brush my hair a hundred times, just like I did when I was a little girl. But of course, only the night before I have a ??”

— Starting to believe that Don’s neighbors exist only in his mind.

— Would someone get poor Freddie a Danish?

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