I love Mad Men. Let’s talk about it:
With yesterday’s episode (if Weiner sticks to his five year plan), we’re now past the halfway point of not only this season, but the show as a whole. And in this season, we’ve gotten even deeper into answering the central question of the show: “Who is Don Draper?”
Season one was pretty much the most straightforward answer to that question — Don Draper is not Don Draper, but really a man named Dick Whitman, a man who, as Jon Hamm himself has said, runs when Don is in trouble. We saw the follow through on that last season, when Don Draper and Dick Whitman collided over the Bobbie Barrett thing, leading to the L.A. pilgrimage. Don came back from L.A. determined to be the Don Draper he wanted to be, as if he’d taken Dick’s independent streak (which often manifests itself as cowardice) and mastered it. That’s the whole reason he was able to turn the screws to Duck — the fact that Dick Whitman arranged for Don Draper to work without a contract paid off well for him in season two.
Now we’re at season three, and the Dick-Don battle is raging again, except this time, there’s no L.A. to run off to. Don’s tied to a contract with Sterling-Cooper, fighting with Roger, meaning he has to answer to the clients, even when he doesn’t agree with them. (I went back and watched Don’s first meeting with Hilton, and it’s clear that Don cedes to Hilton the minute he “gives him one for free.” The terms of their entire relationship are set in that meeting.) In his relationship with Hilton (which seems pretty codependent, as both men see the other as fulfilling a father-son role that they wanted but didn’t/couldn’t have)*, Don is in the position he torpedoed Duck to avoid at the end of season two — where creative is ruled by the accounts and the bottom line.
Even though he and Betty are clearly unhappy, both of them realizing that what got broken last season doesn’t get put back together (even when they pretend to be strangers, as in Rome), he’s tied by a baby and the sense that this is what Don Draper would do.
“Who is Don Draper?” And I think that what we’re seeing this season is that question is meaningless, because what’s happening as a result of Don feeling boxed in, trapped, is that with no place to run to, Dick Whitman has to show himself in some nasty, dangerous ways. “Limit your exposure” is a Don Draper line. “You people” is all Dick Whitman. The dressing down of Peggy in “Seven Twenty Three,” where he accuses her of constantly having her hand in his pocket, is reminiscent of his father dealing with the Hobo in season one. This season’s answer “Who is Don Draper?” seems to be “No one, because he’s always been Dick Whitman.” And Dick Whitman is wholly unlikeable — we’ve seen him in sympathetic positions before, in seasons one and two, but now we’re getting a sense of who that really is. And he’s not someone we want to know; because he’s not a good man.
“When Don’s in trouble, Dick runs.” Except in this season, Dick Whitman has nowhere to run to, except to a woman. We’ve seen him do that before, with Rachel Menken in season one. But with work and the baby threatening to overwhelm him (which makes the promo campaign for this season just as great and relevant as the one for past seasons**), Don can’t keep up mistresses anymore, so he has to settle for the one closes to him. With her perceptiveness, intelligence, and even her physical features, she is like all the others, except she’s much different. Dick Whitman — like Pete Campbell — is shitting where he eats, and that’s something that Don Draper would never think of doing. And notice, too, how both Pete and Don basically force themselves on women who aren’t too receptive to their advances. The teacher has enough emotional problems (especially in the all-time eclipse episode), that this has disastrous consequences.
I could write more about the other stuff going on this season, about how fucking great Robert Morse and Bryan Batt are (anvilicious depiction of what was probably The Ramble aside), about Joan and Roger and Sally’s temper, but I’ve rambled enough for now.
*And is where the title of this post comes from, a reference (not mine) to the fact that Hilton’s late night calls to Don are reminiscent of the story Stephen King tells about Kubrick calling him up at all hours during the making of The Shining to ask him if he believed in God.