Is Don Draper right?
My productivity is usually lower on Mondays, as I spend a fair portion of the day reading commentaries on the previous night's episode of "Mad Men." Last night, we had the season finale. And I think a lot of the analyses are missing something. But I'll put what it is after the jump to avoid spoiling the episode for those who haven't seen it.
All of the commentaries are saying pretty much the same thing: It was a symphony of bad, childish choices. But I'm not so sure.
Take Faye, who knows Don's secret, and tells him, before he leaves, that he'll be a happier person if he confronts what's in his past and moves beyond it. That type of intimacy gets her dumped. Megan, who knows nothing about Don, gets told, "I feel like myself when I'm with you, but the way I always wanted to feel." She also gets a ring.
The general theory is that Don is making an awful, immature mistake. But what if he's right, at least for him? The guy's been Don Draper for decades now. Maybe that's really who he is.
But no, you say, this secret is torturing him. Is it? Betty's discovery of his documents and an ill-considered background check threw his life into chaos, at least for a time. But that's because there are consequences if his secrets are revealed. By contrast, there are few if they simply remain hidden. What if Faye didn't represent redemption, but risk? Someone who knew enough to hurt him, whom he could never relax around? Because the reality is, what Dick Whitman did was illegal, and he could face federal prosecution and professional ruin if it emerged. He can make peace with his past, but he can never admit to it. Not publicly, at least. And the easier it is to uphold his lie, the easier it is to protect his life.
We saw a similar story with Joan. As most suspected, and as we now know, she's carrying Roger Sterling's child. She didn't get the abortion. And she's lying to her husband, making him believe the baby is his. It's not a nice thing to do. But in the 1960s, could a third abortion pose a risk to a 35-year-old woman who still wants to have children? The show certainly suggested so. And with Joan's husband in Vietnam, this could have been her last chance at parenthood.
Then there's the choice between Megan and Faye. The show has worked to complicate Megan's character a bit -- she's smart, and ambitious, and worldly -- but the choice was still between the fiercely independent and competent Faye, and the much more maternal and family-oriented Megan. Earlier in the season, Megan bested Faye when Sally fell at the office and needed comforting, and it was her easy serenity amid his children's squabbling that seemed to trigger Don's proposal. Choosing, essentially, a caretaker -- for both him and his kids -- over an equal is offensive to modern sensibilities, but I'm not sure it's wrong. Don's kids do, after all, need care.
Indeed, the show seems to be torturing us by offering dilemmas where the mores of the '60s demand a very different decision than the trends of the Aughts. The psychological and legal context of today could coax Dick Whitman out of the closet, but it's not clear that that's a good idea in 1965. The social and technological options of the late 21st century could ease Joan's concerns, but they're were not available to her. Don's hapless, helpless behavior around his children would elicit contempt today, and his decision to bed and marry his secretary would violate workplace office codes. But as things stand, Don has kids he needs to care for, no idea how to care for them and society's permission to pass that burden off to a nearby woman -- including the one sitting outside his office. Maybe he's doing the responsible thing.
The season finale was called "Tomorrowland." Most have taken that as a reference to the false illusion of an irenic future that Disney offers. But you could see it another way, too: The point of Tomorrowland is that, someday, everything will be different. But you have to go to an amusement park because, well, you live in todayland, and here, everything is exactly the same.
Photo credit: AMC
| October 18, 2010; 4:25 PM ET
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