Don't get me wrong I have a great job. But sometimes it can be rough.
Sure, I get to watch the highly anticipated season premiere of "Mad Men" a couple of weeks ahead of almost everybody else, but then I have to hold my tongue. Not only have I been prohibited from talking about Sunday, July 25's fourth season opener at the office — my co-workers are so anti-spoiler they stick their fingers in their ears as soon as I open my mouth (I hope that's because of spoilers, anyway) — I have to keep my yapper shut while chatting at the virtual watercoolers of Twitter and Facebook, too.
It would be easier if the episode weren't sooooo good.
It's a pitch-perfect and fast-paced follow-up to last season's simultaneously heartbreaking and exhilarating finale. You'll recall that the Draper family finally collapsed with Don kicked out and Betty headed off to Reno, Nev., with Henry Francis for a quickie divorce. Meanwhile, the partners at Sterling Cooper learned that the firm was going to be sold — again — and that at least one of them wouldn't survive the transition. Don, Roger Sterling and Bert Cooper persuaded figurehead Lane Pryce to fire them, and the four headed off to start a new agency, ransacking the SC offices of accounts, supplies and talent, including Peggy, Pete, Harry and Joan. Joan!
It's always a guessing game as to just how far in time these characters are going to lurch ahead in any given season opener, but I was looking forward to watching the newly formed Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce working out of that makeshift hotel suite office for a while. The prospect of these characters setting up shop just seemed too good to pass up. It turns out that it wasn't. I won't reveal the exact length of the jump but, after a few viewings, I must admit I don't miss the minutiae of getting the new agency up and running as much as I thought I would. I'm just going to imagine that Joan took care of all of that. Joan!
I've been trying to think of how to write about tonight's opener without revealing too many details, and I've come up with an idea. While it's not quite a Don Draper-level idea, I think it will turn out better than Pete and Peggy's Sugarbear Ham stunt (oops — forget I said that). Here are a few mostly spoiler-free predictions for the new season based on the first episode. I'll follow up with a full-blown review at www.austin360.com/tvblog.1. Matthew Weiner will perfect the tightrope walk. Even faithful viewers got a little tired of the endless introspection and melodrama Season 3 brought to the series. Too much emphasis, they complained, was placed on the homefront and not enough on the office. I agree. While there were inspired moments of office brilliance — nothing runs (over one's foot) like a Deere, for example — there were too many ponderous, depressing scenes of domestic unrest and ennui. Don't even get me started on those bizarre childbirth dream sequences (oh, Matthew Weiner ... didn't your time at "The Sopranos" teach you to avoid those?) and the boring house parties for political candidates. Enough already. If future episodes follow tonight's perfect mix of business and domesticity, I'll be a happy viewer.2. Betty's mothering skills will get even worse. If the first episode is any indication, the former Mrs. Draper's change in marital status has not made her a much happier camper, at least in regard to her children. And with Kiernan Shipka (as Don and Betty's daughter Sally) promoted to full-time cast member, it's not a stretch to imagine that the Draper family's strife won't end with Don's departure.3. We'll find out who Don Draper is. Or, more precisely, Don Draper will find out who Don Draper is. He has struggled with his identity, been ashamed of it and gotten into deep trouble because of it but, by the end of Sunday's episode, our anti-hero seems reluctantly ready to put the past behind him and fully embrace his Don Draper-ness. That should make for a pretty wild and rough ride, right? Without giving too much away, it turns out that Draper likes it rough.4. Season 4 is a dynamics do-over. Make no mistake — his colleagues and underlings still fear Don Draper and live to please him, but the dynamics have changed. Pete and Peggy, in particular, have no problem telling their superiors exactly what's on their minds. Everyone now seems too invested in the new firm's success to mince words. And, for the most part, they seem to have stopped taking things personally, except for Draper himself, who still takes everything that way.5. Say goodbye to Tobacco Road. Last season's opener, in which we learned the horribly humorous genesis of Don Draper alter ego Dick Whitman's name, began a series of languid and often violent childhood flashbacks that continued throughout the season, up to and including the closing episode. Although the song "Tobacco Road" plays over the closing credits of Sunday's entry, we're spared the sepia-toned, violin-backed memories. I could be wrong, but I think that's going to stick. Weiner intentionally and effectively destroyed the "Mad Men" world last season, I think, so that he could leave the past behind and move forward. I expect that progressive momentum (and, hopefully, the accompanying brisk pace) to continue, as these characters get pulled further into the tumultuous and swinging '60s.
'Mad Men': 9 p.m. Sunday, July 25, on AMC