TV review: "Mad Men"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The fourth season of "Mad Men" begins with the question: "Who is Don Draper?" A wholly appropriate query given that the enigma of Mr. Draper (Jon Hamm) is the driving force in the series.

Is he an amoral archetype or a representation of the male psyche? Is he a talented ad man or a gifted grifter? Is he a loving father or a lonely man on the brink, clinging to his last thread of happiness?

The man posing this question is a reporter writing a story on Draper as the face of the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce ad firm. Responding as coyly as ever, Draper forces the reporter to classify him as a "cipher."

It's a brilliant bit of foreshadowing - and irony, because the reporter is a genuine war hero - as this season's direction surely revolves around our smooth-talking anti-hero's moral ambiguity and affliction from a troubled past.

But enough about Don Draper, because there's a lot of other wonderful things going on in 1964 - yes, they've jumped ahead a whole year.

We get a look at the new digs at the agency, where Roger Sterling (John Slattery) has taken a more hands-on role in the new company. He's fantastic, batting witty barbs all around the office.

Elisabeth Moss' Peggy Olson is as compelling as ever, and her scenes with Hamm are tremendous. Best of all, Joan (Christina Hendricks) is back running the office like a well-oiled machine.

Betty (an icy January Jones) has married her politician beau, and they're living in the old Draper house - and it's not going to end nicely.

What makes "Mad Men" so great isn't the terrific ensemble cast, the pristine sets or the artful single-camera direction. It's the magnificently crafted, character-driven drama.

Television is a medium that allows writers to shine, and the "Mad Men" staff - led by creator Matthew Weiner - does just that.

"Mad Men" season premiere

10 p.m. Sunday on AMC

4 stars out of 4