The appeal of Don Draper lies mostly in mystery. His true personality hides in the shadows while his slick persona acts as a seductive mask. There are a few things we know for certain though, and the fuzzy edges of those facts are coming into focus.
We know that Don is always looking for an escape hatch. Whether it’s a morbid one like death (see: season premiere), or one between the legs of another woman, or a highly explosive career move, he’s prone to jump and run from his problems rather than facing them. The biggest instance of this of course was the shedding of his former identity, Dick Whitman. Since he started inhabiting the oily snake skin that is Don Draper, he’s been an enigma. He’s charming, talented, and envied. And yet he’s also narcissistic, dangerous and despised. As far as I’ve seen, season six seems to be his sharpest decline, his most drastic separation from himself. He’s distancing himself from Megan at lightspeed, he’s latching onto copy that only loosely references the product and is more interested in imagining what it can offer, and he has a complete disregard for anyone he once valued.
But even beyond Don’s descent, the world around Don is slowly calling him out on his bullshit. Man-boy Pete Campbell realizes that the man he always wanted to be is despicable. Joan gives the most accurate assessment of Don’s myopia, and Peggy stares bewildered as she walks into her new boss’s office and sees her old boss smiling slyly from the couch. No one is in Don’s corner. Everybody is beginning to see that maybe they shouldn’t have trusted Don to run the boardroom, because he’s increasingly shutting everyone else out. He’s terrified that he doesn’t fit in with the rest of the scramblers on the ground floor. So he’s elevating himself above them into an arena all his own. When he seduces Ted Chaough into merging SCDP with CGC, he is no innovator, he’s a demolitionist. He’s leveling the structure where he doesn’t get to look out and see possibility, and he’s erecting an apparatus where, he’s lifted above all, because they have no choice.
I’m actually starting to wonder whether Don Draper or Tony Soprano is more diabolical. Both are equally fascinating as psychological subjects, like laboratory mice who always go at the cheese in the maze the same way because that’s how they are wired. But who will leave the most lives ruined along their path to self-actualization? Considering we have approximately 20 episodes to go before Mad Men stop falling off skyscrapers, and this episode displayed a level of bloodless carnage that would make the Dimeo family blush, we might want to reevaluate who the biggest baddie is.
Onto last night’s proceedings! We begin with some closed door dealings. Joan, Pete and Bert Cooper sit before an underwriter who is evaluating the worth of SCDP in the interest of going public. The man compliments Joan for immaculate paperwork, and Pete interprets it as just another man who wants her. But they both drink hard in anticipation of making themselves very rich. The IPO would double the company’s worth, and with Joan’s portion alone she would be a millionaire. Cheeks rosy from some liquor she took to the face, she glistens as she imagines the security she can assure fro her son.
Next, we see Roger with a new plaything (read:woman) who is a stewardess. He is using her for leads on new accounts, clearly, but she’s all too keen to pick up a phone and inform him that a big wig from Chevrolet has a flight delay back to Detroit. This little bit of smarminess by Mr. Sterling is what gets the ball rolling.
Pete slinks into bed with a lingerie-clad Trudy and while she’s initial receptive, she doesn’t want him to get the wrong idea. She realizes they are still married, and she is taking note of his efforts, but she is holding strong that he needs to show up more as a father.
Frank Gleason, the G of CGC, tells the latter C, Ted, that he is suffering from pancreatic cancer. Ted has been dependent upon Frank’s paintbrush for twenty years, so this sets up Ted’s anxiety about the firm’s future for laster in the episode.
Maybe the only weak link for me—and it seems many others share this sentiment—was the Meg portion of the storyline. While I certainly sympathize given that her husband is getting some from Lindsay Weir, I mean Sylvia Rosen, on the side, but her response is quite whiny. She characterizes his emotional distance from her perfectly, but she’s way too game to remedy this by sexing herself up for the dinner with Herb from Jaguar (a.k.a the scum from “The Other Woman”). Her mother, Marie, basically tells her that she’ll only get him back by making herself too tempting to resist. This is literally the worst motherly advice. Consider the piss poor relationship Marie has with her husband, then also consider that Don is already DTF as the kids say with Sylvia occupied by her son visiting from college. Trying to reel a cheat back in with sex is like trying to get a addict off heroin by offering him coke. It’s only feeding the beast. We do at least get a stellar bit of obvious where Matt Weiner using Julia Ormond as a mouthpiece, “He may think you are more for other people than for him.” His obsession with actresses and models has always been a double-edged sword. He is attracted to those who can mold themselves into different identities, but his own insecurities about his inauthenticity causes him to pull away.Once again, Don Draper is a delicious conundrum.
At the dinner with Herb, which Don has dragged Megan and her mom to, Herb brings up a boy who does flyers for him at the dealership. He suggests that maybe he could give Don some input. As Don is being undermined, I swear I saw him turn into the Madison Avenue equivalent of The Hulk, as he hands him his card with the boy’s name written on it and says, here’s who will be handling your account now. Like a petulant child, he mocks Herb’s weight and when the women return says he has never felt better. There’s some severe cognitive dissonance for me with this scene. While Don telling off an executive who “doesn’t understand him” has been welcome fodder in the past, it makes me uncomfortable now because Don isn’t in fighting form. He isn’t producing the prodigious work we know is his potential, and he is increasingly acting more egomaniacal than eccentric. At the same time, Herb is made up of the most rotten filth you can imagine, and they way he degraded Joan makes me want him dead with no questions asked. So to see Don so blatantly telling him off was equal parts rewarding and uncomfortable.
Back at Don’s apartment he’s all randy after making another man feel small that he rips Megan’s panties right off. Marie is in he next room listening and rejecting Roger on the telephone. She’s incensed he would ditch the dinner and force her to listen to Herb’s wife Peaches who she equates to “the apple that goes in the pig’s mouth.” She insists that Roger “forget her name” and it looks like the days of blow jobs at award banquets are over for Roger. But he’s clearly taking it all in stride as he missed the dinner to court an American car.
Pete continues his record pace of losing all he has by bring Bob Benson to a brothel and running into his father-in-law as he follows a buxom black woman into a room. He’s instantly petrified over the fallout. Tom, his father-in-law is also an executive at Vick (as in cough drops and vapo-rub) and he doesn’t want to endanger that account when they’re about to go public. Pete confides in Ken Cosgrove, and Ken’s convinced it’s a case of mutual assured destruction. If either says anything they risk blowing themselves up, too. He compares it to “the big one.” The risk is too high for either to be caught. And just as Pete calms down, Herb calls Ken about how the diner went. Cut to Pete falling down the stairs in rage, intent to give Don a piece of his mind.
Don stands by his decision, believing that Herb’s bullshit isn’t worth dealing with, but Pete is incensed because he risked their IPO. With immaculate timing, Roger walks in with news that he got them a meeting with Chevy so they can get an even better car! Pete grows even more furious when Don acts like it all worked out according to plan, when he had no idea about Roger’s inroads with Chevy, yelling, “You’re Tarzan, just swinging from vine to vine.” But it’s Joan who really lasers in on Don’s epic ego. When she gathers that he “fired” Jaguar, she’s the most angry and betrayed. She feels justifiably that she has had to put up with A LOT more of Herb than he has, and that he could suck it up. When Don tries to apologize for being self-centered she throws it back at him. He promises Chevy, she responds, “Just once I would like to hear you use the word ‘we.’ Because we’re all rooting for you from the sidelines, hoping you’ll decide whatever you think is right for our lives.”
That is a sociologically loaded statement. When Joan says “we” who does she mean? Does she mean the other partners, or does she mean women? Or does she mean all those less privileged than he is. The 60s were a cultural shift toward questioning the power structures, and maybe Joan is saying why do you feel you have the right to lead? Because you want what’s best for the firm, for those who follow you into the advertising fray, or is it your right because you want it so badly. The question of social power and privilege is a complex one, but clearly Don doesn’t have to do much to maintain his. Joan and Peggy have clawed and scratched, however, and so Don decides to sabotage the company because he has the luxury of wanting when he already has.
Over at the equally hungry CGC, Ted Chaough is freaking about presenting to Chevy himself. Peggy tries to fives him confidence, and Ted gets swept up in his gratitude and kisses her. At first she seems shocked, maybe even slightly appalled, but then it’s made evident she liked it as she later fantasizes about Ted while kissing Abe.
Megan again continues to go about this winning her husband back all wrong. As he’s about to fly to Detroit for his meeting of destiny with Chevy, she goes down on him in him that he will be fearless, and fly off the balcony like Superman. I’ll be frank, if blow jobs were all it took to be Superman, than being the Man of Steel wouldn’t be that special. But he has a stupid smile on his face at the terminal as Daisy, Roger’s assistant/plaything/stewardess hands him a drink. Roger and Don size up the competition and super-firm Dancer teases them about how they lost Vick Chemical and Roger calls the office. Pete makes a last ditch effort with his father-in-law, but Tom basically says his girl is a princess, and he just isn’t good enough for her. He can either walk out like a man, or be thrown out like the lowlife he is. Pete tells him he’s pushing too hard, and it will blow up in his face. If he has as little character as Tom thinks, what will stop him from telling Trudy? Tom coolly answers that he’ll do the right thing.
At the hotel bar, Don is chugging Old Fashioneds when Ted appears and says, “Dammit!”
Don kids him saying, “Nice to see you, too” and Ted explains that with two little agencies going against the two big dogs, they’ll just get used as creative fuel for the ones with the resources. Don laments that the business is rigged, which is such an ironic comment coming from him since he has spent his whole life trying to rig the system in his favor. They pitch each other their ideas and I gotta say I favor Ted’s over Don’s. For the first time, I think Draper’s fear of what awaits him is stifling his creativity. He’s focused entirely on the unknown, on what dwells in the ether, the imagination, the dubious future. For his Sheraton ad, he had the clothes on the beach symbolizing what he thought was renewal, but to the clients it was suicide. For Heinz, he tried making ketchup the missing ingredient. And for Chevy, it’s the brilliant technological advantage that we couldn’t have possibly dreamed up. Why is Don’s imagination so stuck in itself? His only angle seems to be that something is missing. And you wonder if advertising has become more about selling an idea to himself than to the masses.
Then, he has his moment of diabolical genius. Rig the system. Combine the ingenuities of SCDP and CGC to create a new superpower that Chevy can’t deny. Ted isn’t receptive at first, but then the idea of dipping into each other’s pool of creativity sounds sexy, and they stay up that night prepping. The next morning both Jim Cutler and Roger Sterling look like proud, skeptical papas hoping their boys are just crazy enough that they could make it work. And it does, despite all laws of fairness.
Pete solidifies himself as pathetic by entering the house unwelcome and telling Trudy that he father was with “a Negro prostitute.” Whether she can trust him or not, she’s disgusted he would try and hurt her this way for his own gain, and she tells him to pack his things. And in one fell swoop, Pete’s value to the world drops like a stock that could have been.
Peggy gets a call that Ted expects him in his office. Now sort of hoping that things stray into the physical she checks her makeup. She arrives and Don is sitting at Ted’s couch, confirming they won Chevy. The gives her the keys to that car, saying she’ll be copy chief of a top 25 ad firm before 30, a remarkable accomplishment, but she also doesn’t get a say in her worlds colliding. The man she couldn’t let go of, and the man she wants to hold onto will now be competing for her loyalty and affections, and it’s out of her hands. She simultaneously was given everything she could want while being losing all semblance of control. She’s powerless to accept these privileges. Because what else does she have? So she’s told to write out the press release, like she’s back in the secretary pool, and she starts with “For Immediate Release” because that’s how Don operates, gratifying himself first before considering how it would affect others.
And this is the greatest side effect of privilege, the neglect of your own influence. As you grow and expand you knock other pawns off the board. And what have you won, really, if there are no pieces left to recognize your dominion? It’s the old adage, lonely is the king who wears the crown. How long can he continue to make decisions for others before they seize control? Or will he have the foresight to flee before the rebellion takes place? Time is running out on the Don Draper Dynasty.