Tube Time: Mad Men Primer

It’s the eve of the Mad Men Season 4 premiere and fans of the show are definitely curious to find out what has happened to Don Draper and crew since last we saw them. If you’ve never seen the show (and are one of those people who starts watching a few season in, shame on you!) or are fan and just want to geek out with me, here’s a concise guide to everything you need to know about Mad Men.

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) – Don is the core character of the series. A charismatic, suave, yet incredibly cold figure. Draper is a mystery to his co-workers and even his family. He’s a man without friends, he makes acquaintances. His place of business in season one is Sterling-Cooper, a successful advertising agency in the heart of Manhattan. It’s here that Draper is the creative director, wrangling a group of frat boys into producing print ad campaigns for clients like Phillip-Morris, Kodak, and Goodyear, among others. At home, Draper does the minimal duties of a husband and doesn’t seem to have any sort of connection with his children. He often sneaks away to visit which ever mistress he has at the time, women who all seem to be the kind of female he prevents his wife from becoming. In season one, we learn that Draper’s real name is Dick Whitman, and that he served along the real Don Draper in the Korean War. Draper is killed as a result of Whitman’s error, and seeing a chance to shake off the life he hated, Draper takes the dead man’s dog tags. In season two, Draper goes to California for a business trip and ends up MIA, lost in a malaise of empty sex and booze with a young girl and her bohemian family, eventually reconciling with the real Draper’s widow. Season three was a major turning point, with all of his secrets coming out and his wife beginning an affair with another man as a result. By the end of that most recent season, Draper is on his way to a divorce and has broken off from Sterling Cooper to form a new upstart agency.

Betty Draper (January Jones) – Don’s wife, Betty, is an incredibly polarizing figure. You either love her, hate her, or see saw violently back and forth between the two. Betty was born into a fairly well to do family in Philadelphia. She ended up working as a model in Italy as a teen which is where she met Don. They moved to Long Island, had two kids and Betty did what every wife was expected to do at the time; be a stay at home mom. Shortly before the start of Season One, Betty’s mother dies and, much to her chagrin, her father begins dating another woman. Betty also seems to have a real issue with the mundanity of suburban life, and convinces to Don to let her see a psychiatrist. She is unaware that Don makes calls in the evenings after every one of her sessions, where the psych reads off his notes from the session. She is also unaware, but suspicious of, the philandering her husband is up to. In season two, Betty begins to transform, becoming fully aware that Don has slept with at least on other woman. They end up growing distant, until Betty’s father suffers a stroke. They both travel to Pennsylvania to see him and his growing senility frightens Betty. At the end of the second season, Betty learns she is pregnant and has sex with a stranger in the backroom of a bar. In the third season, the marriage is strained even further starting with Betty meeting Henry Francis, an advisor to Governor Rockefeller. She gives birth and also has to deal with her father coming to live with them. The family’s housekeeper ends up saddled with the responsibilities as Betty seems to reject all of it. She and Henry meet in secret, and she breaks into Don’s locked desk where she learns about his life as Dick Whitman. Using fraud as grounds, she files for divorce, and season three ends up with Betty on her way to marry Henry.

Peggy Olsen (Elizabeth Moss) – The opening of season one was Peggy’s first day in the typing pool of Sterling Cooper. She ends up as Don Draper’s secretary and she seems to be the first woman he doesn’t want to bed, not out of a lack of attraction, but from an unspoken respect they have between each other. Peggy grew up Brooklyn, raised in a strict Catholic family. She visits her mother frequently, but is straying away from the traditional upbringing. In her first year at Sterling Cooper, Betty ends up sleeping with sleazy accounts man Pete Campbell, is impregnated by him, and secretly gives the child up for adoption. We learn in season two, that Don was the only person at work she let know about this, and much like his own secrets, he guards it with the utmost privacy. Betty also gets promoted to writing copy after giving some surprising feedback during a focus testing of lipstick. In season two, Peggy continues her move towards independence when she begins spending time with a her mother’s parish priest. The priest urges Peggy to go to confession to relieve any guilts she might have but Peggy realizes she doesn’t need him to do that. In confrontation with Pete, Peggy reveals the existence of her child, something that hits him hard as his newlywed wife Trudy has just learned she is infertile. In season three, Peggy leaves Brooklyn for an apartment in Manhattan and realizes her ideas in Don’s daily meetings are being ignored by the boys’ club. She takes a certain satisfaction when one idea for Pepsi’s new diet soda, which she felt was dumb, gets shot down during the presentation. Peggy also begins an affair with a much older former employee of Sterling Cooper and she is brought in Don’s new ad agency when he leaves the company.

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce – This is the new agency founded by Don and company. In season two Sterling Cooper is taken over by a British corporation, and over the course of season three the employees find themselves increasingly on the chopping block. As a final revolt, Don organizes a raid of the office accounts films in the middle of the night and steals away some of the top money making contracts. He also brings some of his fellow employees he respects the most. These include: Roger Sterling and Bert Cooper (his former bosses, now partners), Lane Pryce (a British executive who is tired of being a whipping boy), Peggy Olsen, Harry Crane (Sterling Cooper’s former television creative director), Pete Campbell (often a nemesis for Don), and Joan Holloway (the head secretary and the one who made the machine run at Sterling Cooper). Together they appear to be set up to unleash new dynamic advertising campaigns and provide a great antagonist for their former company.

The Boys at Sterling Cooper – Left behind are two figures: Ken Cosgrove and Paul Kinsey. Cosgrove started out as a dopey accounts man who would forever frustrate Kinsey. Kinsey was an aspiring writer, inspired by the Beats, who grew irate when Cosgrove got a story printed in The Atlantic Monthly. What made it even worse was that the story was good. In season three, Cosgrove began to shine was promoted to Senior Vice President of Accounts, over Pete Campbell who became another enemy of Cosgrove’s. When Draper’s revolt took place, they grabbed Campbell over Cosgrove. Paul Kinsey worked closely with Peggy, writing copy in season three. He ends up despising her, but the two get wasted together during a late night session. It’s still remains to be seen how Kinsey will react when he learns he was left behind.

So get yourselves ready as we find out what they’ve all been up since last season. As per usual a few months to a year will have passed, so I think that puts us at the start of 1965. Tune in tomorrow night, AMC at 10/9c.

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