Monday, October 18, 2010
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.
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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