Monday, October 18, 2010

Mad Men 413

"Tomorrowland" puts Don into meaningful one-on-one scenes with so many beautiful women that their names take a couple of minutes to scroll during the credits. Each of these interactions has shown flashes of unbearable asymmetry, with Don apologetically distancing himself now from Peggy, Faye, and Betty. In contrast, he proposes to Megan with a suddenness and neediness that recalls the drunken passes he was making earlier in the season. It is so rash that she hesitates for a few seconds before her nearly-as-rash acceptance.

Though the Draper-Calvet engagement is unexpectedly sudden, everyone can easily interpret it as the kind of thing they say they expect. Roger says, ambiguously, "See, Don, this is the way to behave." Roger, of course, is married to a much younger and very attractive woman whom he found through work. A woman whom, the last we saw, he was prepared to leave in order to get back to another much younger and very attractive woman whom he found through work. Joan and Peggy both effortlessly understand the dynamic of the wealthy man but that it is so easily explained doesn't temper their reactions of distaste. They see the treadmill of eternally young secretaries rising to prominence of one sort or another, and know that they will have to run very hard just to lose less ground. Joan's life is a tangle where promotions bring no raise and the risk of exposure as she incorporates her real pregnancy into a very high-stakes fiction. It's finally paying off for her that she married a poor doctor: He won't figure out that she's not showing as much as she should be because she lied about the dates to make him out to be the father.

The engagement is particularly wounding to Peggy, not necessarily because she wants to be with Don; it is enough that he told her that business is the reason why he never made a play for her. It is more than enough that he tells Peggy that Megan reminds him of her. This reduces the basis of attraction, the reason why Don is making this leap with Megan instead of Peggy, to nothing more tangible than looks. The consummate ad man stumbles badly there in debasing himself, Megan, and Peggy in just a couple of sentences.

Faye ought to get tired of being right. She said earlier that Don would marry again within the year and so, it seems, he will. She says now that Don only likes the beginning of things. This can be interpreted on the time scale of relationships (months) or youth and human lifespan (the several years of youth that Megan has over Faye). Of course, Don is also gaining a hybrid wife/servant, who is still answering his phones, and who caught Don's eye in this episode while excelling in caring for the Draper children.

Henry and Betty's relationship shows us, at the very same time, one of the ways that these May-December relationships can flame out. Neither party has gotten what they wanted out of that, and Betty is less likely striving for friendship than a rekindled romance when she confides in Don about how things are not going well. Don and Betty look disarmingly natural together until the news slips out.

Meanwhile, Don employs uncharacteristically sentimental language in his proposal, appealing to fate when he remarks on how many things needed to happen for them to get together. He doesn't specify that his sleeping with Allison, the death of Miss Blankenship, the firing of Carla, and his unexpected acquisition of a diamond ring are four of those things.

The episode makes such a perfect soap opera that it is easy to miss it doing what Mad Men does best, using the various subplots as mirrors for each other. Via Don, SCDP has come to pitch the American Cancer Society precisely because tobacco had fired SCDP; substitute Betty for tobacco and Megan for the ACS, and there's not much difference between Don's business and professional lives. Faye, meanwhile, sees herself as the tobacco in Don's personal life although the comparison is flawed: Tobacco let go of Don instead of vice versa.

The "rebound" is also paralleled in the business of Topaz, who was forced to make a decision on short notice. Peggy's business success comes thanks to insider information about a desperate party who had the urgent need not to be single -- not so very different from Megan's romantic success. The unsavory confusion of business and one's lovelife is also paralleled by Harry offering some combination of work and social interaction to "Carolyn Jones", who looks near enough like Megan.

In an important contrast, Ken declines to use his future in-laws to wrangle an account, saying that he will eventually lose every client he has, and implying a commitment, instead, to his bride-to-be. Don takes the opposite approach, seeing every client as a relationship that he hopes remains permanent, and he's fooling himself if he can say the same about his romantic life. He certainly understands why he moves on in his business life; he tells the ACS that he had an "impulse to move forward." And so he leaps into life's next chapter cannonball style, beginning the adventure of tomorrow in a place called Tomorrowland. Stephanie perhaps helped Don into it, noting that she and he each have their lives ahead of them. This is technically true, but Don has quite a bit less of his left ahead, and he is much more apt to live that part making the same mistakes that he has made before. Don may not know how much he's talking about himself when he tells the ACS that teenagers think first about themselves, and that they mourn for their childhood more than they anticipate their future. It's been quite a while since Don was engaged to a woman this age. He has a pretty beginning to look forward to.

- - - - -

My previous Mad Men Season Four breakdowns:

Ep 01 Public Relations
Ep 02 Christmas Comes But Once a Year
Ep 03 The Good News
Ep 04 The Rejected
Ep 05 The Chrysanthemum and The Sword
Ep 06 Waldorf Stories
Ep 07 The Suitcase
Ep 08 The Summer Man
Ep 09 The Beautiful Girls
Ep 10 Hands and Knees
Ep 11 Blowing Smoke
Ep 12 Tomorrowland


  1. Rik,

    Great analysis, as per usual. I was struck by the duality of Don's reaction to Anna's ring. One on hand (no pun intended), Don has the chance to essentially confront his past and move on with Dr. Faye (mostly at her urging) while on the other, he can essentially move past his history as Dick Whitman.

    So in a way, Anna's gift representated a choice for Don: either to embrace his past as Dick and integrate it into his life, or to reject Dick wholly and completely assume Don Draper's path.

    He clearly seems to choose the latter - for the moment. I am rather curious to see if Faye will let his past go as easy as he tries to. While I still do not know how I feel about his hasty engagement, more importantly, it's nearly as if there was no other Don Draper now.

    It'll be a long wait until Season 5!

  2. Craig, the ways in which Faye might get revenge have played lightly in my subconscious, but until I read your post, the fact that she is privy to his secret hadn't crossed my mind. And as we were reminded in the North American Aviation deal, it's not just a little embarrassing -- Dick is a deserter from the U.S. Army and could go to jail. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?

  3. Quite right, Rikdad. I finally went about analyzing as I watched and drew most of the same comparisons.

    I did think it was something to note, though, that Don actually opted for the truth (just not "the whole truth") when his kids asked "Who's Dick?" And it's also telling how good of a dad he actually is ... for all his faults and perceived unreliability ... he gets along better with the kids ... treats them like real people ... has fun with them.

    I'd even argue that in his recent shuffling of the rolodex of women, the reason he rashly proposed to Megan when she illustrated how well she got on with them, is almost purely for the benefit of his kids. (Betty will doubtless think it was to spite her, but I'm not sure Don even put a second of thought into what Betty would think.)

    Peggy calling "bullshit" on Joan was probably the highlight of the episode for me. I'm curious whether they'll gravitate or not. Joan could certainly use a confidant, and Peggy could use the inside look that Joan has (possibly more effectively). But I wouldn't want to take odds on how long that friendship lasts.

  4. Great analysis of the subplots, Rikdad! thank you! Wow - not at all what i thought tomorrowland would be. Interesting how Faye told Don before she left, that it's not all about work. And, as you stated, Stephanie telling him that they both have the rest of their lives ahead of them. The long shots of Don maybe thinking of these words and him seeing Megan caring for his children....led him to this impulsive move to propose to Megan. (Didn't Don say the article against tobacco was an impulse?)

    Contrast that with Betty's life...Henry saying to Betty, there is no fresh start, lives just carry on. And Henry telling Betty that no one is on her side. Don & Megan in that beautiful california setting with the view from the balcony. then the camera goes to Betty laying on a bare matress...

    As Retrowarbird stated, one of the hihlights was Peggy's "bullshit". Not only could Faye be out for revenge, but Peggy also.