To answer your question: Yes, the fourth season premiere of Mad Men (this Sunday!) is outstanding. All of the energy and momentum that Matthew Weiner created during the criminally good season three finale is not only maintained, but built upon with the determination of upwardly mobile couple adding a floor to their starter house. If you’re a fan of the show, “Public Relations” feels like an episode that is simply impossible to dislike.
At the risk of spoiling anything — since even the most mundane facts about Mad Men are met with faces commensurate with telling someone their favorite pet died — the season premiere takes place after the events of the season three finale…and let’s just say that most of what was set-up has been followed through on. To go further (avert your eyes if you want to be pure as snow heading into Sunday night): Don Draper is struggling with being the face of the fledgling Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce; Betty Draper is dealing with the ramifications of becoming Mrs. Henry Francis; and everyone else is at their scheming (Pete, Peggy) and boozy (Roger) best.
OK, spoilers over. Of course it’s not so much the what that counts when discussing Mad Men, but the how. And in typical fashion, Mad Men is a delightful convergence of expert writing, finely detailed production values and exemplary acting. On that front, things are status quo: Jon Hamm carries the premiere on the shoulders of his perfectly tailored suit, making Don at once impenetrable, empathetic, confounding and utterly charming. As for January Jones, free from the victimhood that came with the prior three seasons, she’s able to embrace her role as Mad Men‘s chief villain. At least in the short term. Betty has become so unlikeable and arc — those Mother of the Year trophies must have got lost in the mail — that it’s hard to imagine anyone having much sympathy for her. If there’s one problem with Mad Men, it’s that Weiner and his writers are going to have to try very hard not to push Betty past the point of audience no return.
However that’s the only problem. This season of Mad Men is poised to be truly remarkable because of the way it seems to want to reinvent itself. As David Simon did with The Wire, Weiner has let Mad Men evolve into a show many probably didn’t expect when things started three summers ago. The kick-off to season four is become bouncy, engaging, funny, brisk and loose and yet hasn’t lost one ounce of the gravitas that drew you to the series in the first place. Last fall’s finale closed out with Roy Orbison’s “Shahdaroba.” Sample lyric: “The future is much better than the past.” Turns out he might be right. Hop on and enjoy the ride.