took a daring turn at the end of the third season by rebooting itself (the principals at Sterling Cooper left to form their own upstart agency in the face of a corporate takeover), and it pays off big time in season four. Set a year after that season finale, the brand-new agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is struggling to make a name for itself and sign on new clients; Roger (John Slattery) finds himself at the beck and call of the firm's largest account, Lucky Strike; Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) faces impending fatherhood; Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) asserts herself in a position of power among her sexist fellow copywriters; Joan (Christina Hendricks) sees her husband off to Vietnam and finds herself in a compromising predicament. Then there's Don (Jon Hamm, doing his finest acting yet), who brazenly gambles the firm's success on his impulses, lives alone except for a string of one-night stands, and exchanges curt phone calls with his ex-wife, Betty (January Jones), over parenting the kids. Don's rock bottom midway through the season (which hits somewhere around his career high) collides with the shattering loss of a loved one, and his attempts to improve himself include forging a new romance with a confident, intelligent marketing researcher (Cara Buono). But the woman with whom he's most deeply linked--platonically--is Peggy, and the two of them have a terrific episode all to themselves entitled "The Suitcase."
The season's 13 episodes are a perfect suite of politics (Joan vs. the male establishment, the rivalry between Ken and Pete); humor (the firm competes for a Honda account and trips over itself trying to read their Japanese clients); hope (Don and Betty's daughter Sally's cry for help finally falls on receptive ears); and growth (Pete, so weaselly in season one, has become the show's most matured cast member). Each one comes with full commentary by creator Matthew Weiner and various cast and crew members. Also included are documentaries on the historical landscape of the period Mad Men covers: divorce, the Ford Mustang, and the 1964 presidential campaign. All are informative enough, but for a show that's very serious and buttoned up, one can't help but feel a little disappointed there aren't more lighthearted behind-the-scenes extras that could have been included. But perhaps Weiner & Co. feel it's better to keep it all behind the curtain. --Ellen A. Kim