At the end of season three, Matt Weiner's world of Madison Avenue Mad Men unraveled.
The principal players of Sterling Cooper had branched out on their own, beating the shop's British parent company to the punch on its impending sale to McCann Erickson. The exodus left the crew operating out of a hotel room at the St. Regis.
Meanwhile, creative director Don Draper's (Jon Hamm) secrets and infidelities were discovered by wife Betty (January Jones), who was depicted flying to Reno to get a divorce.
Flash forward to the premiere of season four and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is set up in a one-floor office. A walk of the corridors reveals that Joan Harris (Christine Hendricks) and Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) are back, the latter with a new copywriting partner with whom she has an easy rapport. Other familiar faces from the first three seasons are absent, though. The lack of a conference room is a regretful running joke.
Business ain't booming as the firm tries to retain its dwindling client base, and is involved en masse pitches for long shot new business. Olson and unctuously loathsome account exec Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) stage a stunt aimed at turning a small account into something much larger.
For his part Draper, misguided and duplicitous in so many ways in his personal life, takes a rare one on the chin professionally in the aptly titled episode, "Who is Don Draper?" The slick one doesn't come off well in a trade article of all things and is properly chided by partners Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and Bert Cooper (Robert Morse).
Away from the office, Draper's making do in a Greenwich Village apartment, where his maid demands that he eat something and he's left shining his shoes after a day of toil and trouble. Although Don informs Roger he hasn't been a monk -- a point underlined by a pro who sates the creative genius' penchant for playing rough -- Draper agrees to go out with a 25-year-old actress friend of his partner's young wife. The encounter, at least in the first episode, doesn't have a happy ending. It seems that creator Matt Weiner may be taking Draper down another notch or two in a place he's also always excelled.
Still, most of the action occurs in the office, the place where the show has always been most interesting. Let's hope most of the plots continue to unspool in SCDP space in the Time-Life Building.
Indeed, Draper's ex-wife Betty doesn't appear with new hubby and Nelson Rockefeller aide Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) until almost halfway through the episode. The newlywed's life appears complicated with improper behavior from daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka) and a less-than-receptive mother-in-law. Then, there's the bit about a still immature and brooding Betty's attachment to the Draper's Ossining abode.
Add it all up and Weiner's characters have different layers and worlds to explore amidst their new situations and the backdrop of the exploding Sixties. In these fresh settings they have province to adapt or reinvent themselves to some degree -- or not.
But as Peggy, now more independent and a player in her own write, so to speak, notes to Draper, "We're all trying to please you."
That's why many Mad Men fans have been interested all along.
AMC will premiere the fourth season of Mad Men at 10 p.m. on Sunday July 25.