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Here Comes Season 4 of Mad Men -- What Will Don Draper Do Without His Wedding Ring?

AMC's 'Mad Men' starts this weekend. Will Don Draper finally pursue the kind of relationship that makes him happy, and what about Betty Draper's remarriage?
 
 
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At the end of season three of the AMC TV series "Mad Men," most of the main characters were closing out 1963 by starting a new phase of their lives as the nation watched the dream of Camelot die. Most of the characters, unwilling to go along with the sale of Sterling Cooper to McCann Erickson, decamped to a hotel room to start a new agency named Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. The tumultuous Draper marriage came to its end with Betty Draper, baby in arms and new man by her side, flying to Reno for a quickie divorce. The first three seasons can be viewed, in retrospect, as a meditative farewell to the 1950s, an era that dragged on and badly needed to end, much like the Draper marriage.

The finale of season three signaled a shift in the world of "Mad Men." Viewers have no doubt that when the curtain comes up, the advertising industry players will find themselves living in the nascent days of the Swinging Sixties of our collective imagination: miniskirts, the British Invasion, the birth control pill, desegregation, and of course, the creative explosion in advertising. But trust in the writers that as the hopefulness of the 1960s ground into despair by the end of the decade, so will our beloved characters find darkness on their personal horizons.

What can we expect in season four?

Sexy Don Draper without a wedding ring and with a Manhattan apartment. Draper's charming attraction to clever, ambitious women has always been offset by the ugly realities of his infidelities and casual cruelties to his wife Betty. Without his marriage holding him back, will Don finally pursue the kind of relationship that makes him happy? 

Not likely. For Don, clever women have always been a fantasy of escape, not a realistic option for commitment. He may have changed agencies, but Don won't be able to break out of his personal habits so easily. Knowing he had Betty at home always gave Don more confidence as a ladies man; we saw a glimpse of his slightly insecure self when cast in the role of seducing his own wife on their trip to Rome. The slightly mysterious air to Don evaporated with his marriage, and the Don who's left will almost surely drift about, unsure of what to do next.

Remarried Betty Draper. Slate published a lovely article and slide show documenting the real life examples of the journey that Betty was last seen heading toward on a plane. Like many Reno divorcees, Betty will get her six-minute divorce and walk across the courthouse to marry husband number two. As the rest of the characters rush toward the new sexual landscape of the 1960s, Betty will find herself on the hamster wheel of marriage, trading one husband for another but stuck in the same kind of marriage. It wouldn't be surprising to see her character eased out of the show. If not, the writers would be wise to show Betty grow increasingly bitter and hardened, and react with jealous anger at the burgeoning movement of liberated women, representing the kind of housewife anger that was later harnessed by Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority to halt feminist progress.

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Will they succeed? If they do, it will be because Don begged his youthful colleagues Peggy and Pete to come along with him. As I wrote last year, the 1960s was an era where advertising not only borrowed from the youth culture, but also worked to create it, turning the "counterculture" from a genuinely subversive threat to a corporate cash cow. Season four will show Peggy and Pete tapping into the zeitgeist, creating ad campaigns that embody feelings of liberation, rebellion and ironic humor, all to sell the public on the same old cars and cigarettes.

 
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