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Counterculture: Mad Men, Season 4, Episode 4

Mad Men, Season 4, Episode 4, introduces us to the Counter-culture with its underground movies, marijuana and blurred sexuality. Don continues his descent while Peggy just goes higher (even if it means climbing up on her desk to spy on a drinking Don).

Mad Men,Season 4, Episode 4 did not disappoint last night. Not only did 4/4 ("The Rejection") feature some of the best one-liners I've heard recently anywhere ( Peter: "I turned chicken sh*t into chicken salad", and others I dare not repeat here), but Don continued his guilt-ridden trip downwards, and Peggy revealed she's not as stiff as a swizzle stick, after all.

I think you'd have to watch the previous 3 Seasons to catch the meaning behind the meaningful glances exchanged by Peggy and Peter, as well as Don's connection to Anna in California and the fall-out from his recent drunken tryst with his young secretary, Allison. He seems more loyal to a phantom wife than a real one, and almost remorseful about Allison, (but not enough to finish typing an apology letter) ; that's a big clue to his personality, as if this show hadn't already dropped a basket full of Vicks' cough drop-hints about his yin/yang character. True to the story-line, Don is starting to look as seedy as he seems to feel, while Peggy just gets perkier and more confident by the episode. Don, Peggy and Peter (with his big, somehow chilling, news about impending fatherhood) were the main characters this week, with Joan pretty much wallpaper and Lane, as curt and uptight, as ever, but seen only sparingly.

This is what we learned about the history of Advertising (101) last night: In the mid 1960s, ad agencies began to turn to focus groups to see what it was women really wanted. Also, account execs at the big New York ad agencies hopped and skipped from firm to firm in pursuit of advertising The American Dream. Mad Men's name-dropping of real Mid-Century agencies is quite entrancing. Aside from its own made-up name (Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce), BBDO and McCann were both mentioned last night, as competitors, as were YR and others a few episodes back. You can see how the account execs (and new partners, like Peter) used whatever they could to turn a simple account, like Clearasil into a giant client, like the Vicks group (Mountain Dew/Pepsi, another example mentioned).

The main on-story client was Ponds, as the copywriters worked to create some sort of psychological imperative to use the skin cream, in part, via a secretarial focus group. Off-story, I was delighted to see Suave, the old-school hair care product, make a sweeping Loretta Young-type entrance in last night's best segue from story-line to real-time commercial. I wasn't aware Suave even existed any more, but thanks to the creative genius behind Mad Men, now I know.

What appealed most to me about 4/4 was the introduction to the Counterculture (Andy Warhol as the King of Pop and Leader of the Band), with all the loud music, joint-passing, underground movies so present in those times. Peggy's visit to a loft, with a Life Magazine photo editor-"friend" , placed her squarely in the center of the exciting creativity so rampant in the underground and also so rebellious against the mainstream. As one of the most creative minds at SCDP, it's no wonder Peggy would be entranced by the smoke and mirrors of the growing-in-influence Counterculture - especially apparent in the final scene, when she goes to lunch with the artsy group, while her firm's grey suits congregate behind the glass wall in the conference room.

The few references to current-then events, like Malcolm X's murder, and the FTC's crack-down on cigarette advertising seem foreshadows of what's to come in future episodes, as Don heads for the bottom and Peggy shoots for the top.

Reviewed 8.16.10

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