Given all the conspiracy theories that Don Draper is legendary skyjacker D. B. Cooper, who parachuted out of a plane with $200k in 1971 never to be seen again, who isn’t paying careful attention to every detail pertaining to jets, heights, and death?
Given the inherent teaser in this episode’s title, suggesting that Don is en route to a better life, the promised land, the land of milk and honey (etcetera) — who isn’t surprised when we see him hand off his transportation to a young hustler?
Given the shock of Betty’s sudden diagnosis of terminal lung cancer — wouldn’t one of the characters have to succumb to all those Lucky Strikes, even if it’s “always been lucky” Bryn Mawr Betty? — it’s hard not to think that Matt Weiner is using the D. B. Cooper theory to toy with us, and… forgive the expression… as a smokescreen for something else.
If, like me (and so many others), you’ve been reading recent articles that support or disprove Don Draper as D. B. Cooper, what if that is little more than a ruse, Matt Weiner’s private joke, and with his sly sleight-of-hand, he has more in store than simply killing off our hero’s former Missus after having done so to one of his earlier illicit lady loves?
(Come on. Haven’t we reveled in these last few episodes?)
Don Tells All? Not Quite
How neatly accomplished was the anxiety making our palms sweat and our stomachs knot as Don finds himself the reluctant attendee at a drunken dinner at the local (okie?) VFW hall, confronting the possibility of being discovered for his stolen identity?
Whatever that something else may be that Matt Weiner has in mind, we’re circling painfully close to Don’s core identity story, which he nearly reveals (dare I say it) in “toto” in the drunken exchange of war stories. Instead, he stops short at telling how he blew up his commanding officer when he dropped a lighter into fuel, and he was the one who got to go home.
Bye bye, Dick Whitman. Hello Don Draper.
Or should we say “Bye bye, Birdie” — though not exactly the one we anticipated?
I was glued to the tube last evening, utterly fascinated. (Weren’t you?) The more miles and time Don puts between himself and the Big Apple, the more he seems to struggle with his own (forgive me) tricky Dick, and is strangely or more overtly aware of that self. Yet his Don Draper integrity is winning out, as he heads toward… drum roll please... Kansas. (Tornadoes? Dreams? Yellow Brick Road?)
All bread crumbs we can’t quite follow aside, it is admittedly pleasant to see him barefoot and stretched out with paperbacks in bed, not to mention acting like an involved father in discussion with Sally by phone from the middle of his own meandering road trip.
Surprise, surprise. With Joan’s departure from McCann and Don’s disappearance, it seems that Pete comes up smelling like the proverbial rose. We quickly learn that he has saved the day with Avon (Joan’s account), and likewise, Burger King and more.
Cue a complicated plot line for Pete, twists and turns for Trudy, and Duck making an appearance in his headhunter capacity, poaching Pete for an executive role in aviation.
Aviation. There’s that clue again! (And don’t we all remember how Pete’s father bit the dust?)
Pete has been gradually coming to realize he misses being a married man — that sentimental view of the past that Trudy says she doesn’t share — though we witness this divorced duo as having achieved an amicable relationship. But Pete can be convincing (it seems), and as he’s enticed away from the ad game with an increasingly sweetened pot — honey, anyone? — perhaps all roads lead not to California, but to the middle of Kansas.
If Pete leaves New York, which ultimately he decides he wants and with Trudi and Tammy at his side, the Campbells are headed to Wichita.
Anyone for a dose of Wizard of Oz?
Like many last night, I was enjoying remarks on Twitter during commercial breaks, with my own little “Toto, you’re not in Kansas anymore, but Don sure is” — though it’s more that he’s about to be, best I can tell. Might he and Pete rendez-vous at the local Howard Johnson’s? So will we wake to a dream after all, especially as a dream sequence of Don being stopped by a cop on the road — “We’ve been looking for you” — is what begins this agita-inducing episode?
Cons and Dons
All Dorothy-and-Toto dilemmas aside, when Don’s car breaks down on the road, he finds himself stuck in the middle of nowhere at his own version of the Bates Motel. Now, now, it is apparently friendlier, except for the huckster 20-something who steals $500 from the VFW fundraiser Don attends, then sets Don up as his patsy.
Let’s face it, you can’t con a con man. Don knows exactly who the culprit is (even after being held down and smacked in the head by some old guys with the yellow pages). In another nice little twist (of conscience and wisdom), Don talks the kid into giving the money back, and tells him he doesn’t want a life on the run. He takes him to the bus stop – a bench in the middle of nowhere, and I mean Nowhere — then Don hands the keys to his caddy over to the kid!
Don sits on the bench to wait for a bus (to where?), with little more than a plastic bag from Sears.
Is he off to see the Wizard? So what of the meaning of land of milk and honey? For Don, hasn’t the land of dreams usually meant California? And what about the failed shot at SC&P West? He was happy in Disneyland once, with Megan. And let’s remember that California is the one place Don could be Dick when he was with Anna.
Is that the ideal destination for yet another identity and starting over again, even as he maintains contacts with his children?
Thanks to a few hints dropped in phone calls, we know Don has been on the road for a few weeks, anyway. It’s clear he has no intention of returning any time soon. But given that Betty only has nine months to one year to live, this changes the picture for Don.
It’s apparent that Henry will be useless once Betty is gone; she knows it, and Sally sees it, as her step-dad breaks down and sobs when he tells her about her mother’s illness. And if for no other reason than Don’s increasingly responsible handling of his children — despite the touching goodbye to Sally on the Greyhound bus — this suggests to me that Don is probably not D. B. Cooper. He won’t abandon his children.
Theoretically, were real time equal to fiction time, Betty would have the next months to determine who she wants to care for her children. Then again, given that she never offers her daughter so much as a smile or a hug — her daughter who has just been told that she’s going to be motherless — do we think that’s even going to cross her mind?
Worse, she passes her instructions for funeral arrangements to Sally, then calmly tells her to go to sleep.
I find it difficult to imagine that this woman ever allowed herself any depth of emotion; she certainly doesn’t display it. This same woman calmly looks in the mirror and brushes her beautiful (intact) hair and says (about her own life), “I’ve learned to believe people when they say it’s over.”
As we have only one more episode left in which to wrap up all the loose ends that seem to have multiplied in the past few weeks, it is of some small comfort to see Sally suddenly maternal with her younger brothers, and to know that Joan has a good man in her life, and a quarter million in the bank. Presumably, Peggy will continue to land on her feet.
Good thing Don and Henry both have bank, because even if Sally “doesn’t know anything about money,” she’s going to need it. Those next decades of therapy will cost a pretty penny.
Three quick notes I can’t resist.
First, I find it very kind of Mr. Weiner to be shining the spotlight on our core characters; last week, we focused on Joan, Peggy and Roger, while this week gives us Don, Pete, and Betty (with a side of Sally).
Second, the handling of Betty’s illness, her sang froid in receiving the news, and her chilly behavior afterward all remind me of how many missed opportunities there have been with this character. I can’t help but wish that Betty in all of her complexity had been given greater screen time.
Third, I imagine Matt Weiner whistling with a half grin to himself as he masters Machiavellian and mischievous wordplay. Pete is going to take his little girl to “Friendly’s” (an ice cream place I recall as a kid); Don blew up his C. O., which one might consider “friendly fire;” and weren’t we once well versed in the ad jingle — Fly the “friendly” skies with United?
As for those conspiracy theories, I’m not sure what to make of them, though surely if Matt Weiner did indeed decide to use D. B. Cooper as a diversionary tactic, adding to his own fun at whatever surprise he actually has in store.
Like all the other Mad Men fans, I will just wait until next week, wondering how “French” Mr. Weiner might wax, with a queue de poisson type ending, known to leave the future somewhat open-ended, and interpretation of what comes next, to our imagination.
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