What do you do when people you love make really poor decisions? Do you rage against it, cut ties entirely, suffer through it with them? What do we do now that Don Draper made the worst decision of his life?
Don is going to marry stupid Pretty Megan with her damn Canadian chicklet teeth. Don—who is often quite an asshole, but is an asshole that we all love—has engaged in some impulsive, destructive, and downright dangerous behavior in the past, but nothing has been as groan-inducing as when he recklessly proposed to his secretary. The whole time it was happening I was thinking, "Let this be a dream sequence. This can't really be happening. Make him take it back!" Just when did he think this was a good idea? When she cajoled him into the hotel swimming pool? When she lured him out on the beach-front balcony for some love under the stars? When he saw her sitting with his children in the diner or taught them a song in French or changed the baby's diapers? When, Don? And why?
At the end of last season, Betty had left Don for good (and not a moment too soon) and he and the rest of the crew from the ad agency broke out from their British overlords to start their own business. The future was filled with hope. We wondered what great things they would get up to and what adventures they had in store. But after last night's fourth season finale, I'm just full of dread. It's a sort of despair about whether or not I can even watch a show that centers around Don kissing a mouth full of little peppermint pieces of gum day after day. It's nine months away, and I already think that next season is a giant drag.
I guess I don't hate Pretty Megan for anything that she really did. It's like when your best friend breaks up with a girlfriend that you really, really liked and starts dating this younger floozy that you can't stand partly because you miss the good girlfriend that came before her. In this case that good girlfriend is Dr. Faye, who started off the episode full of her usual insight.
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The arc of this season seemed to be the integration of Don Draper and his assumed persona with Dick Whitman, the man who he is on the inside. Part of that was getting close to Dr. Faye, a woman who seemed to be an amalgamation of the two types of women Don needs in his life—blond bimbos to have sex with, and smart women to confide in and be friends with. This was cemented when, in a fit of panic, Don confessed the secret of his past to Dr. Faye, or at least part of his secret. Once she knew the truth and still accepted Don, we hoped that his transformation from the booze-soaked bachelor at the beginning of the season to a level-headed and successful ad executive was complete. If he could love Dr. Faye, he could be a complete person and no longer have to live the duality of his personality.
But as soon as he told Dr. Faye, things started to fall apart. He had sex with Pretty Megan in his office, exploited Dr. Faye for her business contacts, and then checked out of their relationship after he got her fired for striking out against Lucky Strike and the tobacco companies. What really did Dr. Faye in was that she knew about Don's past. Here we see her counsel him to deal with the issues from his past, which is what any psychologist (or sane person, for that matter) would tell him to do. He can't move into the future until he puts the past to rest. Until Don Draper and Dick Whitman fuse, he will never not be on the run, not only from the Feds like he was a few episodes ago, but also from himself and his own emotions.
The gnawing pain in the pit of Don's stomach isn't the pain felt before someone does the right thing, even though it's painful. It's the sting before doing the wrong thing that you know is the wrong thing even before you do it. When he said he would miss Dr. Faye, he wasn't talking about on his trip, he meant he would miss her in the future. He hadn't been forced together with Pretty Megan on his vacation yet, but he already knew it was over.
And from Don's pitch to the American Cancer Society, we know that he's not ready to deal with his past.
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Teenagers aren't the only ones who only think about themselves, especially when faced with such a visceral message as the one Don is proposing for the anti-smoking commercials. We all do. Everyone only thinks only about themselves, and this pitch is a direct reflection of how Don is thinking about his life. Whether he knows it or not, he is "mourning for [his] childhood more than [he's] anticipating their future." Why else would he propose to Pretty Megan? His Don Draper persona—rich, privileged, WASPy—is a salve for the sting of his unfortunate childhood. Every day he denies Dick Whitman is another day in mourning for the past, and another day that prevents a happy future.
This whole episode seemed to be about the past as diametrically opposed to the future. Don can't come to grips with his childhood, so he's rushing into an unwise relationship with a 25-year-old secretary and spoiling his future. Betty doesn't want to face the future, because she is trapped in her past as a little girl. Sally says goodbye to her childhood when she moves away from Glen, but is hopeful of the future when she can be reunited with the creepy sociopath. When he gets to California, Don's past—as symbolized by Anna—is dead and the future—as symbolized by her niece, Stephanie—is in flux, unsure of what will happen, but enjoying the uncertainty.
Maybe that's when he decided that marrying Pretty Megan was a good idea—when he got Anna's ring. The visit to the house was a little odd. It seemed like Don was making steps in the right direction when he told Sally and Bobby that Dick was "his nickname sometimes," but it was still only a half-truth probably predicated more by Stephanie's presence than a desire to tell the truth. But when Stephanie tells him that Anna was insistent that Don have her engagement ring it was like the past shaping his future. The woman who he loved more than any other—although platonically—the only one to see both Dick Whitman and Don Draper as they really are—is telling him to get married again. It was like one of those fairy tale love potions where he will fall in love with the first person he sees. Unfortunately, that was Pretty Megan.
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Because Betty fired Carla (more on that in a minute), Don needs help on his vacation with the kids. When he can't find any, he invites Megan along to care for the kids. Was that when he decided to romance her or did it happen later? Was his initial invitation just a seed of an idea and the ring the water that made the seed grow into something real? Either way, when Don left his existential dread stance—hunched forward sitting on the edge of the bed—and joined Megan with the kids in the pool, it was obvious what was happening. When Megan came on to him in the office the first time, Don stopped her and questioned whether they should do it or not and she pressed forward. This time, it's Don pressing and Megan questioning whether it should happen. Maybe she realized that if they went through with it, this time it was for good.
His proposal itself is interesting. We see him again in his existential dread pose and it has the same ending, with him being drawn toward Megan. He says he knows he loves her because, "I feel like myself, but the way I always wanted to feel." As soon as he said that, we knew that it was Don Draper proposing and that Dick Whitman had nothing to do with it. He has tried to totally excise his past again, something he did with Betty and that eventually lead to their relationship's undoing. The death of Dick Whitman started earlier when Don and Megan were lying in bed after their hook up and he tried to confess to her that he had "done things," that he wasn't always the person he is now. She said that she knows him (even though he knows she doesn't) and doesn't care about the past. She doesn't ask questions. She longs for the future at the expense of not knowing the past.
Don Draper proposes and Dick Whitman has lost. Now he must dispense of Dr. Faye. Poor, poor Dr. Faye. She did everything right, and that asshole Don broke up with her anyway. And this is the worst kind of break up. Many of us have been through it, when you think that you're on solid ground with someone when they're really just keeping you in a holding pattern, using you as companion and therapist until something comes along and they not only dump you, but they propose to the next person. God, that hurts.
This is the second time we've seen Dr. Faye break up with someone over the phone, but the last time she was the one doing the breaking up. It's as if falling in love with Don has stripped her of her power, because she has lost her job and the upper hand with men. He has completely stripped her of her identity and barely seems to apologize. She gets some good digs in at Don—the line about taking out an ad in the Times was perfect—and she never lets him hear her cry, which is a small consolation, but an important one. This is why she wears that fake wedding ring, to keep the Don Drapers out of her life.
Dr. Faye, always the insightful psychologist, says one of the truest things about Don: he "only likes the beginning of things." Don Draper is, if anything, a modern American archetype. He's the company man, the visionary, the second chance, the new beginning. He's Jay Gatsby, forging himself a new identity in order to succeed in life. But he's also another intensely American archetype: the pioneer. He gets his real charge from starting something, luring something in. He's all about conquering new worlds, whether that's breaking into the ad biz or scoring a new piece of tail, starting his own agency or entering a new relationship. Don is the master of the pitch, which is a sort of psychological siege all its own, and once he is the victor, he's not often concerned about what happens next. He is resentful of the women he picks up, he scorns the clients he once sold on his ideas, and he lashes out at his business partners when they disagree with him. Don will never be a settler, hunkering down to plow the fields. He'll always be off looking over the next mountain wondering when he'll finally reach the end of the world.
Speaking of pitches, it's Peggy's turn to land a pitch of her own. Lesbian Joyce brings a comely model into the office to try to get her some work and Peggy learns that Topaz pantyhose just fired their ad team—and the model. Knowing an opportunity when she sees it, Peggy get's Ken Cosgrove on the case. Ken, who turned down the chance to exploit his personal life for business connections at the beginning of the episode, gets Peggy a meeting the old-fashioned way: with some good luck and hard work. Because they're pressed for time and it's a holiday weekend, Peggy and Ken go to the meeting alone, and she has to work her magic.
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Peggy's transformation into the next Don Draper is now complete. She is doing the work Don does and her demeanor in the meeting—the way she pauses to think up an idea and then presents it by raising her palms and opening her arms to the client, as if she is Jesus presenting bread and fish for the masses—is taken right out of Don's playbook. Naturally, she lands the account and breaks Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's streak of hard luck after losing Lucky Strike.
Before she can share her good news, she is greeted with the announcement of Don's pending nuptials. When everyone else leaves the room, she closes the door to talk to Don privately, a luxury she has earned through her hard work and their mutual respect. Don knows that Peggy will be concerned by the news, probably because somewhere deep down inside he has the same reservations himself. What is interesting is that Don wants Peggy's approval. Just as she was always vying for his attention professionally, now he wants her seal of approval over his personal life. She is the new Anna, and if she can accept Megan, he can let go of his reservations.
What position is Peggy in to do anything? Don is happy and if she tells him he's an idiot, she risks losing her job and her position as the boss' favorite. She gives him a hug and offers her congratulations. It's a different story when she sits down with Joan for a smoke.
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Finally these two are getting along! This was my favorite scene of the night (probably because Peggy and Joan are my favorites and they were both wearing cute outfits). With her position bumped up to Director of Agency Operations, and Peggy landing new business, they seem to be on a level playing field on different sides of the agency and they can come together on something—bitching about the men in the office. They're not fighting one another for the scraps of power anymore, they're consolidating against a common enemy. When Joan says she takes satisfaction from something other than her job, Peggy, for the first time in her life, has the strength to stand up to Joan and call "bullshit." They both know they live for work, and that common ground brings them together. In my dreams, the episode ended with Peggy and Joan leaving to start a ladies' agency all their own with the help of Dr. Faye and Ken Cosgrove, but we guess that will have to wait for next season.
As for Joan we know that she will, in fact, be giving birth next season, and that Doctor Rapist thinks the baby is his. Maybe once Joanie has the baby she'll have something to live for other than work. God, I really hope that she has a daughter.
Speaking of mothers and daughters, let us talk for a minute about Betty Draper, Mother of the Year. Betty is such an awful, horrible, no-good, very bad person I can hardly stand her. When she discovers that Glen has been to visit Sally, she lashes out at Glen. He calls her out and says that just because she's unhappy, she doesn't have to make everyone else miserable too. The reason she doesn't want Glen with Sally isn't because she thinks they're "doing it," but because she lost her connection with Glen as a sad, lost child and wants to deny her daughter the same connection.
The worst thing about Betty is that she uses what little power she has like a tyrant. She fires Carla when she dares to stand up to her, she lords over Sally's personal life, and she even fucks up Don's vacation with her own petty problems. God, Betty is awful.
When Henry finds out that Betty fired Carla, he's not happy.
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The most telling part of their exchange was Betty saying that she wants, finally, a fresh start and Henry says, "There are no fresh starts, life continues." Is Henry Frances the wisest person on this whole damn show? That seems to be the "moral" of last night's story.
When Betty married Henry, all she wanted was a fresh start. She wanted someone to love, trust, and respect her, something Don was incapable of doing. But, like when she married Don, she married some idea of a man, not the real thing. How fitting that Henry was sitting on the fainting couch that he convinced Betty to buy last season. It was a symbol of her sexual awakening and her desire to be swept off her feet by this dashing older man. Now he sullies it with their fights. Again Betty's vision of a perfect life has faded away and she is left incomplete and miserable. And when she goes to mope, she lies down on Sally's bed, trapped forever in a little girl's room, like she is trapped in the little girl's idea of having a perfect house and a perfect husband and the perfect kids. Oh sad, Betty. No one is ever on your side because you are always wrong!
With her future looking bleak, she thinks maybe she can go back to the past, and she hatches a little trap for Don. She pretends like she forgot that Don was going by the old house, but really she was waiting there for him, ready to seduce him and try to make her old life work again. After all she can't get divorced again unless she's going back to her children's father. That's the only option for someone "respectable" like Betty.
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When discussing her new house, Betty can only focus on the negative—as she always does—saying she'll need to rip out the kitchen. Then she confesses to Don that "things aren't perfect." He says, "So you'll move again." Of course that's Protean Don Draper's answer. When things aren't working for you, move, reinvent yourself, start over. But, as Henry said, there are no fresh starts. The future can not be extricated from the past. Even Betty might know that instinctively. "So much change has made things...difficult," she says. Each change isn't a fresh start, it's a new chance at the same old failure.
This is really the first time we've seen Don and Betty getting along all season and it finally dawned on me that maybe they are on parallel trajectories. Betty married someone who she didn't really know because she wanted an escape and she liked the idea of a fresh start with someone who seemed like the perfect fit. Don is now going through the same thing and, just like Betty has come to regret her decision, I have a feeling Don will as well. I'd like to think that some of what we see on Betty's face is that same recognition that he's headed for a fall, but she's way too selfish for that. She's just pissed that he found someone to replace her and won't take her back.
The funny thing is, Don is marrying Betty all over again with Megan. Well, not exactly. Megan is actually the anti-Betty. If Sally had spilled a milkshake at the diner in front of Betty, she would yelled her usual "Go to your room!" and then bitched about cleaning it up. Megan just calmly reaches for the napkins. Betty wanted to be the perfect mother in the perfect house and live her suburban splendor lifestyle. Megan wants to be a successful copywriter and career gal. Betty speaks Italian. Megan speaks French. Betty is a blond. Megan is brunette. But what they're both doing is marrying Don without even knowing who he is to reach their own goals. Just because Megan would rather work than be a housewife doesn't make changing her social position through marriage any more noble. She and Betty, while different, are one and the same.
Don is making the same mistake again. Just like he did the expected thing and married a pretty model to raise his kids and care for his house when he married Betty, he's doing the expected middle-aged thing and marrying his 25-year-old secretary. He is a sorry cliche, a cliche that he disdained when Roger Sterling took the same path. Don has turned into everything he hated, and all because he wasn't strong enough to confront Dick Whitman. His future will always be poisoned by his past.
But for now, he is happy, he is in love, and he is embarking on another new adventure. But even as he lies in bed with Megan, he is staring out the window. He is a pioneer, and he's dreaming about what is just down the street, what is over the apartment building next to theirs, what is out there in the vast plains of American waiting for him. He wonders and wonders, hoping whatever new world he discovers will bring him happiness, but it won't. He will grow tired and restless and search for the next undiscovered territory. Tonight, he stares out the window and all he sees are the streetlights, the planets, the stars—but all we see is the darkness.