Mad Men Season 3 was fantastic, but Season 4 absolutely blew it out of the water. After the game changing finale to Season 3, the big question was what was going to become of the new law firm that Don, Roger, Burt and Lane started. Season 4 began almost a year after the firm had started and found them located in a far more luxurious location than the hotel room they were forced into at season's end, but still far small than the old Sterling Cooper offices.
Donald Draper was in a bad place for most of Season 4. Drinking heavily and attempted womanising. Of course Don was a womaniser in the old days, even when married to Betty, the key difference here was that he was failing, spectacularly at it. Whilst it would be easy to get annoyed at watching our hero fail at something he used to be good, it still led to a fantastic character study. With an early trip to California to see Anna, we were once again brought back to the Dick Whitman character and which version of Don was the real Don.
Which leads us on the to the fantastic episode The Suitcase. It's hard to describe just how good this episode was. Focusing almost exclusively on Don and Peggy and their relationship, Mad Men created one of the best single hours of television this year. Don hit rock bottom, drinking to excess in front of Peggy, getting into a drunken brawl with Duck Phillips, which he lost. Then of course in the background to all this was the presence of the death of Anna, and Don's reason for self destruction. Anna was the only person that knew Dick Whitman, the only who knew what Don was really like. With Anna's death, the torch of this knowledge was passed onto Peggy and Don was able to make an upward climb to his old self.
This led to Don Draper courting for a lot of the season, many potential love interests were introduced with Faye being the most likely. Faye was Don's equal, someone who knew what made him tick, someone he actually revealed some of his past to (obviously not all of it). Someone who looked to be a far better match than Betty. A true intellectual equal. But Don didn't choose Faye, he chose his secretary Megan. We the audience know just how bad a decision this is going to be in the long run, but the fascinating thing about Mad Men is that it is willing to let it's characters make mistakes. This marriage almost certainly work out, or at least won't make Done happy. Season 5 will obviously spend a lot of time analysing this new relationship and it's ups and downs which just makes me all the more excited.
Of course Don's relationship and life woes weren't the only story in Season 4. Roger losing Lucky Strike at the end of Season 4 which sent Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce into a tailspin as they lost their main financial backing. Not only did it place Roger's position within the company in question but gave us another key moment for Don Draper to shine (alright it is almost impossible t0 discuss the show without talking Don). His letter to the tobacco business was just awesome. Peggy manages to get a new client towards the end of Season 4, which might solve some of SCDP's worries but probably not. Whenever we come back it seems more than likely that they'll be hanging on by the skin of their teeth.
Then we have Joan now being pregnant with Roger's baby. Of course this will pose huge problems for both their marriages, although we should be more scared for Joan. After her husband raped her in Don's office, we know just how evil her husband can be, even if she is love with him. Hopefully whatever he does to (if he ever finds out) won't be too heinous because Mad Men can't lose Joan, the sheer amount of chemistry that she shares with Roger is mind boggling. Whilst at this point it would be counter intuitive to have those two end up together, as long as we get one scene with them together an episode I'll be satiated.
One of the key elements that made fantastic was Kiernan Shipka as Sally Draper. Easily one of the best child actors I've ever seen. Whatever they have her do, from the oh so creepy masturbation scene, arguing with her mother, running away to her dads is fantastic. The show keeps asking her to do more and more complex things and it just amazes me how easily she handles it. I just hope that next season she keeps up having such a large role, although with her now being with mother further away this may be difficult.
My only down issue on Mad Men Season 4 was the lack of presence of Lane Pryce. Whenever he had a fair amount of screentime, be it when he and Don went out drinking and then slept with the prostitutes or his father coming over Britain and ordering to come back with him. Not only did we find out what made Lane tick, with his father smacking him around the head with a cane, but also that he is so much happier here in America than at home in the far more domineering world. Jared Harris is an absolutely superb actor and I desperately want to see more of him next season, of course that is difficult when there are 5 other actors who are far more pressing to the ongoing narrative of the show.
Overall, Mad Men Season 4 was the best seasons of television I've ever seen, much like all other seasons of Mad Men. It's hard to fault with it. The writing and acting continue to be exemplary and engrossing and the direction and art direction is pretty much faultless. The game changing end of Season 3 wasn't so much a kick in the rear for Mad Men, but more an interesting new narrative with so many potentials. Mad Men Season 5 can't come soon enough, and the fact that it will more than likely be airing alongside Breaking Bad Season 4 makes me more excited. Right now AMC have put out the two best shows of 2010 with Breaking Bad and Mad Men, the only hard part will trying to figure out which show was better this year....