No, I can’t make Don stop cheating on his awesome wife. No, I can’t make him live his life instead of escaping from anxiety. No, I can’t make him wake up and remember that he has children who need him.
But last night I solved his Royal Hawaiian problem. Two sets of clothes, a suit and a dress. Two sets of footprints, his and hers. Then we’re not thinking about death. Then we’re thinking about happy naked people having sex on the beach. The tagline: Feel new again. Don’s revised spiel: You will feel reborn. You’ll shed your skin from the other world and remember what it felt like to be so young all you wanted was the sun on your skin, to be happy on the beach.
Yes, the season opener was a moody meditation on death. It was brilliant. Those who wanted more snap, crackle and pop were probably the same Twitter whiners who complained about last season’s Zou Bisou Bisou. Let it play out, people. Let’s see how Don blows up his life. Let’s see if he realizes his wife’s true merit. Let’s see if he can face why he needed to get so drunk (bored? freaked out about death?) before the funeral of his buddy’s mother. Let’s see.
I am the master of my domain. I won’t go so far as to say that I’m the Don Draper of my office, but it’s my name on the door, and there aren’t many doors in my industry. And in my office, there’s no Lane, no Bert Cooper, and, sadly, no Roger Sterling.
But there is a Megan. My Megan is not Canadian, but she is a second wife who’s given me a second lease on life, if indeed I had a first. She’s a marvelous, loving step mother, a steadfast comrade to have in my foxhole, and a cool drink of water who doesn’t need to sing Zou Bisou Bisou to turn heads.
And she made me the happiest man in the world when she accepted my ring. And then she made me even happier when she came to work behind the door with my name on it. I relish seeing her business acumen emerge, and our successes and struggles all seem better because we’re experiencing them together. She makes it seem like more of an adventure because she’s part of it.
But all of it is on my terms. I know she’s not going to want to have her own name on the door, and as much as what’s mine is hers, I’m the boss. In ways I have not fully examined and am not entirely comfortable in admitting, that plays a role in the pleasure I derive in her joining my venture. Her support and blossoming talent validates what I’m doing.
And if she came to me and told me how she wanted to do something else because it was important to her, I hope I’d react as well and as quickly as Don did, though there was some venom beneath that benediction when he hurried her out the door. I’d end up feeling as abandoned as he did trying to fake the chemistry with Peggy over non-dairy whipped topping. She was right. Don wasn’t angry at her.
Let us now praise Megan (Calvet) Draper (Jessica Paré). She’s taken a lot of heat from the Mad Men community on both sides of the camera, and it’s time for it to stop.
Yes, she a shade more than half her husband’s age, and yes, a bit of premarital counseling and a longer courtship might have been wise. But let’s first place this in context. It was the ’60s, and marriage, especially to a handsome, wealthy man, was considered a desirable outcome for a young lady, and 20-something was not considered too young to marry then. Taking a dim view of her choice through gimlet-colored glasses does a disservice to her character.
Absent the helter skelter courtship, upon what charges should we condemn her?
Her song at his birthday party? Brave.
Her youth? Not quite her fault.
Her jumping into the stepmother role enthusiastically? She’s good with kids. Someone in their lives should be. The way she cheerfully made Don’s children pasta when they unexpectedly crashed her dinner party demonstrated a natural aptitude for her role as stepmother.
Her not knowing her husband as well as others? She asked. She’s interested.
A critic could highlight her difficulty in navigating the territory of being the boss’ wife while finding her own professional sea legs, but she’s working at it and avoids pulling rank. She consciously acts as part of her creative team, has her husband’s back at a dinner meeting, and while the conflict might register on her face, it’s not an internal conflict she subsumes with alcohol or sex.
As she told her judgmental father, her marriage is not an end, but a beginning. She sees her marriage as a place in which she can grow. She shows her husband sincere affection, shares his sexual interest and does not appear to be using him for his money.
She’s not acting like a young girl in over her head. She’s acting married, and considering the train wreck that her parents showed themselves to be, Megan’s a bit of a marriage savant. At some point, can we just accept that Megan is the dream wife? At this point, even Matt Stiles should be getting jealous.
Here’s what bullying looks like, in the world of Mad Men:
Lane Pryce was bullied into having a Christmas Party, when finances didn’t warrant it.
Pete Campbell was bullied into not staying in NYC for Christmas, b/c Trudy wanted to go away.
Off-screen, Roger bullied someone off the wagon at a lunch (apparently).
On-screen, Roger bullied Joan into wearing the red dress w/ a bow.
Lee Garner, Jr. bullied Roger into being Santa (perhaps the most obvious of the bullying).
Peggy was bullied by her boyfriend into sleeping with him, even though she didn’t really want to.
Glenn bullies his way into Sally’s home for attention. (Kind of a stretch, but not too much of one).
Not all of this may be considered bullying…but that’s okay. Some is just persuasion. But where does persuasion cross the line into bullying?
For example: it’d be easy to argue that Roger asking Joan to dress up in red is persuasion, but Lee asking Roger to dress up in red is bullying. In each case, one person is asking another to play a specific role. Is it persuasion if it’s something we actually want, but bullying if it’s something we are simply expected and/or forced to act on?
Looking at the various levels of bullying played out in all the other characters, I’m led back to the thematic question of the season — “Who is Don Draper?” After last night’s episode, I feel like I’m supposed to ask myself, “is Don Draper a bully?” And I can’t think about that w/o thinking about the situation with his secretary, Allison.
Allison is the only one, of all the characters highlighted above, who still doesn’t have that hardness, or cynical nature, that everyone else had. Pete got bullied; that happens in his marriage, he’s accepted it. Joan & Roger wear their costumes; such is their role. Peggy is trying to hide from her past; she chooses to play to expectations and give in. Even Sally recognizes that someone made a mess of the entire house except her room, where a present remained. As an increasingly rebellious kid, Sally doesn’t tell her Mom when she figures out who broke into their house; instead, Sally welcomes the bully.
My point is — every other character was self-aware about the bullying that was going on. Neither Don nor Allison, I think, ever thought there was any bullying. Don thought he was hooking up with someone willing to come over late at night; Allison thought she was connecting with someone she cared about and used the drinking as an excuse to get something she wanted. To me, I just didn’t see any bullying there. In fact, that was probably the most boring and predictable of any of Don’s hook-ups. Doesn’t make it less worse for Allison - but it also doesn’t allow us to say, “yes, Don Draper is a bully.”
Cross that one off the list. The thematic question rolls on…and in the mean time, I’m left to wonder what it is in my life I do that I want, and what it is I do in my life simply because it is expected of me.
Did you know that on Jan. 11, 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General said — for the first time — that smoking may be hazardous to one’s health. And later, on Jun 24, the Federal Trade Commission said that, starting in ‘65, cigarette companies have to put warning labels on their packaging. Given that Lucky Strike is 71% of the firm’s business, isn’t that huge? Is that going to be addressed?
Those two historical events happened during the “lost year” of Mad Men. As Elise pointed out, the timeline of Mad Men jumped from Christmas, 1963 to to Thanksgiving, 1964 with the start of Season 4. What else happened then, not just historically but to the characters, and how/will the show revisit any of the time covered in the lost year?
Quick tangent — I’ve always loved lost years in storytelling. The first writing assignment I ever remember, from 5th grade, was to write about the lost year of Maniac Magee — which was one of the first narratives-can-be-different books I ever read. Without knowing whether or not Mad Men will have flashbacks to the lost year (doubtful) or simply allusions to events that occurred (my suspicion), I wanted to try and keep up with some of the details from the lost year. Having said that, I thought of this after I watched the episode, so it’s highly likely I’ll forget some stuff. This also may turn out to be a really dumb idea after a single episode. I also don’t know if we should do one of these every episode (a “Lost Year” capsule), or just keep adding comments to this thread. I’m open to ideas/suggestions/threatening me to stop writing or else you’ll get a hooker to slap me.
Here’s what I can deduce from the lost year of Mad Men, first w/ the plot and then some choice historical things I looked up via the Google:
Don moves into an apartment by himself and stops dating and starts hiring hookers that slap him around. He also hires a woman to come take care of his pad.
Betty marries Henry Francis and reaches an agreement that she’ll be moved out of the house by October 1, 1964. That hasn’t happened as of Thanksgiving, which even Henry seemed annoyed about.
Joan has her own office space; not sure what her new role is with the company, eager to learn more there.
Bert Cooper looks like he had 3 extra strokes, and Harry Crane bought purple pants and had a terrible tan.
Historical notes (in real-world 1964): So, I spent 15 minutes working on this, then found a blog that already had a great list together. So here’s the link: Sixteen Significant 1964 Moments Mad Men Might Tackle in Season Four. (Or not — we’ll have to wait and see.) Highlights: LBJ’s war on poverty, Civil Rights Act passed, Jeopardy started, Beatlemania arrived, military involvement in Vietnam, Freedom Summer, and first Ford Mustang.
That’s it! Add anything else you caught that occurred during the “lost year” and we’ll see if this idea goes anywhere or not in the next couple episodes.