Monday, August 9, 2010
Don's skill is in crafting messages that others want to hear. Don's brief stay in California is full of moments where he says who he is by saying the things that he wants to hear. He brands himself. We can disqualify the preening he displays for Stephanie, who has won his lust with no qualms on Don's part that he remembers her from before her permanent teeth grew in. But when he talks to Patty about Anna's cancer, he lets fly with a moment that channels his rage and incipient grief with a moment of self-celebration. He notes Patty's helplessness because of her "limited means. But I'm here now." Patty and the circumstance quickly remind him that he can't throw money at Anna's problem. He loves Anna; it was noble that he wished to try. But the choice of words he used showed more than mere anger at Patty. It showed how central his material attainment is to his self-image.
And the weakness that the show of bravado is covering up: Don tells Anna that he'd never told Betty about his past because he believed that she would leave him when she found out; Don saw in his divorce confirmation of that. In his worldview, it was not his lying but his background that turned her away. To the point: Don attributes his divorce not on the truths about him that were within his control, that indicate character flaws; he atttibutes it to the station in life into which he was born.
Whether or not Betty was the kind of woman who saw her husband as a man diminished, Joan certainly is. When she cuts her hand, she repeatedly tries to get him to take her to a hospital instead of treating her himself.
Back in New York, Don and Lane find companionship with one another. Lane is soon to pour out the contents of his suddenly emptier life to Don. But it was Don who shouted cross-office, summoning Lane back to his side so that their drinking and shared flight from misery could resume. And how empty is Don's life? When he mentions that he expected to "meet a ladyfriend" on that night, New Year's Eve, it matched Bethany's proposed second date with Don. But Bethany, who would see Don, perhaps, for free, has apparently been cast aside or at least rescheduled so that Don could see the same call girl, Candace, who had slapped him before. Lane joins Don, and repays him later for the services of the prostitute arranged impromptu for him.
During their besotted night of misbehavior (Lane, especially, for squawking in false Japanese in the showing of Godzilla and pressing beef to his abdomen during dinner), Don is retreating into solipsism. When Lane notes that Don is spilling liquor onto the carpet, Don borrows Anna's line from earlier in the episode about smoking her dress. Lane cannot, of course, get the reference; Don is again speaking for his own benefit only.
There seems to be some foreshadowing that Don's existential tragedy may sooner rather than later lead us to his mortality. (Not before the last episode of the series, of course.) Anna's fatal cancer is placed before Don so we can see his reaction to it. It's all the more ominous for being unknown to her. He proposes their next meet-up on Easter, a day of resurrection. Later, Lane compares Don to a chap who died young in a motorcycle crash.
The episode ends with Don enigmatically distressed by Joan welcoming the company to 1965. His look of discomfort may reflect that seeing what the future brings has not recently worked well for Don Draper.