Mad Men is BACK! After a lethargic premiere last week Mad Men has returned to form in a deliciously vicious fashion. The terrible edge that makes this show great was on full display as Don finalizes his divorce from Megan. Peggy and Stan grapple with their insecurities and one another as Don tries building an emotional castle in the past and Betty decides that she’s…uh….going back to school for psychology.
Let’s just start with this thread, there is no future at the top for Don Draper…only the past. So far in the last half season Don Draper has dealt exclusively in the past. He wraps up his marriage to Megan, longs for the family life he once shared with Betty, attends the funeral of Rachel Menkin and begins courting a diner waitress who catches his eye due to the feeling that he has “seen her somewhere before.” It’s almost as if that because he believes he has finally achieved all the success he wanted in his business that he should be able to turn around and reconstruct the past to support his accomplishments. All avenues of forward progress appear voided and Don looks increasingly like a rat in a maze, bumping into walls as we pore omnisciently over his progress.
While Don fumbles around his personal life the office maintains its revolution around Mcann and the bevy of new clients it brings along. Thankfully this gives us a reason to spend a little quality time with Stan, everyone’s favorite bearded art director. The relationship between he and Peggy had long stagnated and was due for a defib. The catalyst for this change is the freelance photographer Pima (Mimi Rogers) who is called in to shoot a whiskey print ad. Pima enjoys photography, vests and both sexes, she is also a complete cougar and possibly Meredith Viera’s actual mother. She brings to light the insecurity of both subjects: Stan’s confidence in his own work wanes when he brings it to Pima for examination and Peggy’s confidence in her ability to judge creative material and her own sexual identity are rattled. Both of these tectonic plates shift to reveal the emotional rift between the two and the need they have for one another’s explicit approval. Hopefully we are treated to a few more scenes between these kiddos before the series ends as their chemistry bubbles and purrs, yes, purrs on screen.
How is it possible that Megan’s life could become even more pathetic than it already is? Naiveté has given way to gratuitous petulance in Megan’s current state of affairs. When we met her long ago as a receptionist aspiring to become an actress she was innocent and beguiling. It’s clear that the fresh face zealousness was due to a recessed belief that she would ultimately be handed whatever she wanted in life. She can’t understand how anyone as beautiful and sweet as herself could ever be the victim of misfortune. When Don came along it felt like the natural course of events: “Ah, of course I will marry a rich, handsome ad executive and become an actress and live in a rooftop apartment in New York…I am me and I am NICE and PRETTY.” Don turns out to be Don, she turns out to be a mediocre talent and she now realizes that her looks are only going to get her creepy offers from guys like Harry Crane (seriously one of the most disgusting scenes on the show for me so far). On top of that she discovers that her mother is engaged in an extramarital affair with Roger Sterling of all people.
At this stage she is very tired of people around her not being as wonderful as she is and wishes they would all stop disappointing her. She realizes that the start of her life’s demise is Don Draper and so, at the final legal meeting with an absent divorce lawyer, she lets him know just how he has spoiled her purity and essentially casts blame for her whole life’s natural arc on his head. In what was one of the episode’s best moment Don concedes, “You’re right, I want you to have everything you deserve.” and proceeds to pen a check for one million dollars…jut to make her go away. Caught off guard Megan becomes quiet and struggles internally….confidence in her ability to provide for herself waning and her own pride reassuring her that she deserves this because she is owed it for the irreparable damage that has been caused to her. Ultimately she takes the check and confirms herself as the chronic victim…a malady from which her character will likely never recover.
Don’s relationship with Diana, the diner waitress, is his most tangible and present way to change the past. It’s no coincidence that she looks like a mix between Rachel, Megan and Sylvia Rosen, the wife of the doctor who lives below him. She’s simple with no pretensions, but has a past almost as messed up as Don’s. Ultimately she rejects Don due to circumstances beyond his control, (ala an abandoned child back home) illustrating just one of the myriad of reasons that reconstructing a life that seems perfect in hindsight won’t work.
As long as Don Draper is looking to fix what doesn’t even belong to him anymore there is no hope for his future. And while there is no obvious end in sight for the series (let wild speculation abound elsewhere) this episode removed any doubt about the shows creative ability to finish what they started. Even in this final hour they are able to produce a standalone episode worthy of erection in the pantheon of golden moments during Mad Men’s 7 seasons on the air. Whatever the end may be, I have confidence that it will be taut..and above all else, it’ll be cool.
Hopefully this episode of Mad Men is a indicator of things to come as the show has rounded back into the form that made it a hit.