Don Draper is perplexed — resigned even — as he seems to sleepwalk through a series of activities and events in which his usual persuasive talents are running on low. Or is Don simply sinking into middle age, 1970-style?
There’s no question that some sort of “new business” is afoot in this episode as the female characters offer a resounding NO to what the men want. Megan isn’t buying what both Don and Harry are selling; Peggy holds the upper hand with Stan (who isn’t the only one propositioned by a hot, lady photog); even Megan’s maman Marie takes what she wants — first, appropriating all the furnishings in Don’s apartment (lock, stock and barrel), then appropriating Roger’s body for sex (not that he minded), and finally, deciding to leave her husband.
As Megan reminds her whiny, judgmental sister, their mother has been unhappy for a very long time.
Even Betty, in a brief encounter with Don in the Francis kitchen, seems completely at ease with the new decade, and her new business is going back to school. She tells Don she’s planning to get a Master’s in Psychology. (Hey, she has plenty of material to mine for papers and a thesis, don’t you think?)
But she doesn’t want to “feel” as she explains that when she walked away from Racine, Wisconsin, she abandoned more than a dead child, but a live one as well, now with her ex-husband.
I was struck by Di’s look – one more brunette to call it quits with Don. Maybe he should see Dr. Betty on that topic in a few years.
Elevator Encounters, Bushy Beards, Tight Trousers
What’s not to love about the Arnold and Sylvia elevator encounter? (Is there a Best Elevator Episodes Emmy? If so, Mad Men ought to win it for every season!)
There’s Di in her uniform giving rise to Arnold’s snarky remarks, though the waitress holds her own as she and Don keep it classy.
Now about Stan… I’m still reeling (and dealing) when it comes to Roger’s facial hair, but Stan’s bushy beard is beyond believing. Stan, my man. Tidy up a tad!
On a side note, I love the casting of Mimi Rogers as a powerful older woman, nicknamed “Pima.” She’s perfectly predatory in her form-fitting gender-mixing attire, as she uses her reputation and her sexuality to get what she wants. Case in point: Stan has a dark room (and she wants more advertising gigs), so she has her way with Stan, in a very Draper-esque sort of style. She also tries propositioning Peggy, but doesn’t get very far — especially after Peggy realizes she’s slept with Stan to secure more work with the agency.
Let’s hear it for the costuming once again; Pima is wonderfully “suited” to her more masculine tactics of taking what she wants — white trousers and white vest (note the shirt and tie), and a brown pantsuit of similar style. Her stance is also worth admiring — nothing even remotely submissive about her presence!
Don is Down (But Is He Out?)
As for Don, he’s down, but is he out? He’s not quite sullen, not quite numb, not quite in step with everything that’s happening around him.
The divorce is dragging on and taking its toll, seeing Betty and his children in a pleasant family scene adds to his ache (no longer his to participate in), Megan refuses to have money doled out like a child asking for her allowance.
Megan’s mother gets the upper hand quickly as well. Would a younger, warier Don have left a soon-to-be-ex the keys to the kingdom? Even walking into an empty apartment after handing Megan a million dollar check, Don’s reaction seems to be one of contained bewilderment.
Don is decidely a man of middle age in this episode, relatively speaking. In fact, the only place he is momentarily at ease is in the kitchen making chocolate shakes for his two sons, with Betty nearby in a pretty, flowery dress.
Shades of “what if…” And Pete, strangely, a reminder of social discomfort post-divorce, which is less a concern to Don than his growing isolation. With Di, however briefly, he must have experienced an echo of intimacy.
Megan Makes a Million
Harry may have propositioned Megan (awkwardly), trying to play casting director from a restaurant in Manhattan. But Megan channels that anger into taking a strong stand with Don. Surely she nails it when she lashes out at her hubby in this bit of dialog at the lawyer’s office:
“Why did I believe you or the things you said to me? Why am I being punished for being young? I gave up everything for you because I believed you… You’re nothing but an aging, sloppy, selfish liar.”
Not entirely untrue. However, it’s hard not to feel sad for Don in his hungry-for-love, hat-in-hand emotional state. He “does the right thing” (or tries to assuage a guilty conscience) as he writes out a check for a cool mil to Missus Numéro Deux.
And after a minor protest, Megan pockets the loot and exits.
Who else is thinking of the show’s opening montage of the ad man in free fall from the top of his game? Just what will happen to Don when he hits bottom? Is there a soft landing in some personal reinvention where he can finally have what he wants? What both Dick and Don seem to want?
The “new business” of the 1970s is, in a way, about breakage, breaking away, and in some instances, reconstructing — especially for women, minorities, and traditional institutions. For example, divorce is more acceptable (Megan’s comments to her sister about their mother make this clear; compare this divorce to Betty’s, when she felt compelled to remarry). It is also about women taking action. And in Don’s case, from the breakage of his earliest origins, his first family and second marriage, perhaps he is growing clearer on the family that he wants, but to which he does not quite belong.
This may be an old story for him, but more painful as he looks to his children and two ex-wives, and as his personal free fall continues.
Click images to access originals at AMC TV.
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