MAD MEN 7×09 Debriefing: The Not-So-Merry Wives of Draper

Courtesy AMC

Mad Men 7×09 Debriefing || If you thought Don and Megan’s long-distance goodbye last year was the last you’d seen of the erstwhile Mrs. Draper, then guess again. She’s back, and despite her claims to the contrary in the first half of the season, she really does need Don to take care of her. But she hates it, so everyone suffers as a result. Meanwhile, Don’s tryst with the mysterious waitress rises to the next level, and in the process becomes even more confusing, for him and for us.

Tonight’s episode opens with Don hanging out in Betty’s kitchen, fixing milkshakes for Bobby and Gene (they do exist!) and playing the role of devoted father. When Betty walks in to recap her evening out, you’d be forgiven for believing this is happy domestic scene straight out of Don’s fantasy life. (I definitely wondered if this was a dream sequence for about five seconds.) Instead, it seems he and Betty have finally turned a corner in their post-divorce custody arrangements, and Don is “babysitting” the boys at home for the night, on his off week, while she and Henry hobnob with the Rockefellers at a fundraiser. It’s an old-school take on the modern family, but for once, everyone is getting along without too much overt snark. I’m always a sucker for Don with his kids, in spite of myself, mainly because he’s often at his most honest with them, but as usual, the moment is only fleeting, and it’s time for him to escape the ‘burbs for his real fantasy life back in Manhattan.

This comes in the shape of Megan, whose farewell last year wasn’t so final after all. (It really should have been, because it was about as fitting as her character deserved, but that is another discussion.) Though she insisted she didn’t need Don to take care of her anymore when we last saw her — especially since, you know, he bought her that slick pad in the Hollywood Hills and just about everything else she owns — that was a lie, and she’s calling to ask for another allowance advance. She’s bratty about it, but again I remind everyone: she maintained she was fine on her own all those months ago. I know things change, and frankly after what Don put her through, she’s earned all the alimony she can get, but this about-face really irks me, because it’s not like Megan was blameless either. Don, as is his wont with his future ex-wives, relents and sends her more money so that she can pay the movers to get her stuff out of their apartment, and they both seem to want this over with as soon as possible.

Don does what he does best when he’s feeling sorry for himself: sleeps with other women. In this case, he basically stalks Diana, the waitress from last week, at her new gig in another restaurant. (I apologize for calling her “Dawn” last time; I swear, AMC’s audio feed on my service provider is awful.) She’s understandably creeped out, but he persists in handing her his phone number, because he’s God’s gift to women, after all. As usual, though, it works. She calls him at three in the morning, shift over and drink in hand, and sure enough, she ends up back at his apartment for a booty call, as with the stewardess from last week. However, Don’s in full-on Intense Mode, not unlike the way he was with Sylvia (how fortuitous!) or Lee Cabot, or really, any of his other affairs in which he believed there to be an emotional attraction between two strangers. (He really does have a pattern, doesn’t he?)

Courtesy AMC

Courtesy AMC

In the space of one night, they’re acting like they can confess their darkest secrets, but it’s never real: Don doesn’t even know the real Don, while Diane is running from a version of herself in every conversation. (Which once more made me question whether this was a dream sequence, but more on that later.) By morning’s light, the bed’s unkempt, and reality sets in. Don’s no mysterious stranger, but a guy with three kids and joint custody and another ex-wife coming over to pick up the last of her things. Diane breaks down; she’s not a divorcée starting over in New York; she’s a mother who lost her daughter two years before, and fled to the city to escape her grief. And because Don has such mommy issues, this seems to attract him further to her, like he wants to make it go away as he has everything else in his life. He promises to meet her at her apartment for their next date that night, as though he really can do this boyfriend thing with a woman he’s spent one night with. On the way downstairs, he and Diane share an awkward elevator ride with Sylvia and her husband (cameo alert!), highlighting how Don keeps making the same mistakes over again. (Who always look like each other, too.) Heed the universe’s warning, Don.

Megan, meanwhile, comes back to New York not only to consciously uncouple from Don and re-couple with her things, but to take some lunch meetings for her career. One of those happens to be with Harry Crane, whom she seeks out for some casting advice. It seems she’s not getting much work in L.A.; she isn’t getting any auditions for big parts, but she doesn’t want to read for minor roles in case that takes her out of the running for leads. (In other words: she’s too good to start at the bottom.) Harry can’t believe she isn’t getting any parts (really? I can), and details what he would do if he were in her agent’s shoes. Which brings out the charm smile in her: would he maybe consider being her agent? There’s her true motivation, because why else would Megan willingly share a meal with Harry? Moreover, that is the role Harry was born to play, and I can’t believe it’s taken him this long to realize it. He’s the perfect mix of sleaze bag and just-enough-smarts-to-understand-the-business to thrive in that world. Megan bats her eyes and minds her manners, but when Harry suggests they formalize their new partnership upstairs, if you know what I mean, she acts demure and declines the invitation. Harry, of course, proves what a jackass he is by suggesting that reticence of hers to join the casting couch is why she’s unemployed, and Megan rightfully storms out of the restaurant. I may not like her, but I’ve got to give her props for that at least.

Naturally, this annoys Megan even more, and she takes it out on everyone else, demonstrating her true spoiled nature. Her mother and sister are in town to help her with the move, but they’re on the outs because her sister in particular doesn’t want to do her dirty work (moving an entire apartment) while Megan hurries off and gets everything she wants. (Megan Megan Megan!) Meanwhile, Marie Calvet decides to take her daughter’s impending asset distribution into her own hands, and cleans out Don’s apartment of its furniture as payback — only she failed to calculate the extra costs this incurs with the moves. So she pleads with Roger to come bail her out with cash, then bail her out with some sex, too. When Megan comes home, aghast not only at her mother’s greed (in wiping out Don) and having a roll in the hay while she’s at it with the man she had an affair with, she’s even more irate. Poor little soon-to-be-rich girl.

When Don and Megan finally reunite at the lawyer’s office, she’s pouting — actually pouting — and focusing her ire on Don. Look, Don’s a terrible husband and pretty awful human being, I grant you that, but he and Megan have been incredibly civil, if not friendly, throughout this whole separation, so her behavior here comes across as nothing more than childish — perhaps as a nod to what her father said about her when he last visited. In an earlier conversation, Roger foretold that Megan would turn out just like Jane — blaming Don for the loss of the best years of her life, giving up her career and beauty and childbearing years to be with him. Don defended her, insisting Megan isn’t like that at all, but as soon as he enters the room, she lashes out at him and hurls accusations not unlike Roger’s predictions. It’s painfully cliché, for Don and for us. Yet, rather than fight back, Don does what he apparently always does when he divorces his wives: he gives up. Despite claiming he’s not as wealthy as he was when they got married thanks to the McCann deal at work, he offers her a check for one million dollars, on the spot. A final settlement to wipe the slate clean, and atone for his sins, just like he gave up the Ossining house to Betty and let her stay there for years, even after marrying Henry, instead of selling it like any sane person would do. Megan grabs the check, folds it into an impossibly tiny pocket in her baby doll dress, and leaves — hopefully for good this time. Was this really what Megan was always after? Who even knows anymore.

Off Don goes to Diana’s shabby apartment, finally a free man. He wants to celebrate, but Diana is upset, and has a speech she needs to give him. She’s woken up and smelled the roses, and realizes this is all a huge mistake; she came to the city to forget, but being with Don makes her realize she doesn’t want to forget at all. Not only did she lose a daughter, but in another plot twist, she has another child, still very much alive, who she left with her ex-husband back in Wisconsin. All she wanted to do was be numb to the pain, but now she’s ready to remember again, because she mattered. This is what Don has been fighting his entire adult life, and his “it never happened” mantra is quickly unraveling in this instance. He leaves her, returning to his now-very-bare apartment, shocked, but probably numb in a very different way. That big ol’ house is as empty as he is, and it seems like it’s crashing down at breakneck speed.

Elsewhere, Peggy and Stan are busy shooting their latest ad, in which they must deal with famed photographer Pima Ryan (played by guest star Mimi Rogers). She’s the proto-Diane-Keaton-meets-Annie-Leibowitz type, who Stan claims to take issue with, but from whom he secretly and desperately seeks approval. He’s in a creative rut, confiding in his girlfriend that he feels like he’s sold out on his art, and she encourages him to keep going and even approach Pima, since all artists have to improve upon themselves. Of course, this being Mad Men, it leads to Stan and Pima cavorting in the dark room, because when isn’t it about sex for these guys? Except, it isn’t only the guys: next, Pima sets her sights on Peggy, flattering her professional standing in one breath, and coming onto her in the next, when they’re going over proofs for the ad. Peggy is awkward as usual, but quickly figures out that they’re all being hustled by Pima and declares to Stan that she won’t be hiring her for any other shoots. However, Stan is embarrassed, and instead claims Peggy’s just jealous, but she takes it in stride, because this is just the sort of crap they have to deal with at Sterling Cooper & Partners. And she’s a thoroughly modern woman, dammit.

There could be essays written on the Merry Wives of Draper, but it’s much too late at night, and the episode is still too fresh, for me to be able to write coherently about it. I’m sure it’s no mistake that we witnessed the three “generations” of Draper women vaguely intersecting here, from the now-idealized Betty, to the warts-exposed Megan, to the next Potential Soulmate Diana. It just proves that Don continually buys into the idea of a perfect other, but he’s never really capable of giving his true self to them, nor does he ever really see the real them.

He looks longingly at Betty and the family moving on without him at the house, much like the life unlived that Ken was speaking of last week, but the reason that life is no longer his is entirely of his own doing, because he chose to perpetuate his own lies instead of living the life he had. He put Megan on a pedestal as a modern woman who wanted a career by his side, but when she left agency to become an actress, just like Betty was a model before her, the shine wore off, and his independent, intellectual bride was revealed as a spoiled, narcissistic brat who lusted after the limelight. (Don’t get me wrong: Don is just as selfish, if not more so — and that self-centeredness is why he never saw Megan’s true colors.) Then, there’s Diana: another enigma wrapped in a waitress’ uniform, but it turns out her motivations are all too familiar, only this time she’s aware enough to admit how destructive they are. It’s like Pete asks in the car: what if you never get past the beginning? Don never gets past the beginning of any relationship; once that starstruck phase dissipates, he’s off chasing the next high, without fail.

I’ve got to say, I really have no idea where Matthew Weiner is going with all this, and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. In the past, I’ve been so understanding with the pacing of the seasons, because the writers usually dropped enough nuggets in each episode that quickly snowball into an explosion of greatness by the finale. Now, though, I have yet to see any cohesiveness; it seems like we’re focusing so heavily on secondary characters whose stories have already reached a natural conclusion (Megan) or have come out of nowhere (Diana), that I merely find myself wondering what’s going on with the characters I do care for, like Peggy or Joan, or hell, even Roger or Pete.  To be perfectly honest, by this point in the season — especially the final one — I’d expect more forward movement, but each episode seems perpetually halted. I’m hoping the next four (sniff!) get the ball rolling. I admit that my anti-Megan bias has colored my perception of this hour, but it comes from a place of love for this show, because I just want its swan song to be as brilliant as the season-ender arcs of yore.

Other odds and ends:

  • Did I hear right — Betty wants to go back to school to get a degree in Psychology? Oh, lord, that’s a disaster waiting to happen. I mean, good for you, Betty, for making something of your life experiences, but… I sure hope you take some of your own advice is all I’m saying.
  • Are we going to see any more Sally before the series ends? I’d have to think so. (I assume this is the last we’ll see of the boys for this show.)
  • Anyone else think Roger’s mustache makes him look like Colonel Sanders?
  • The Manson family references again reminded me that I was convinced Megan was going to end up like Sharon Tate when she moved to Hollywood. Just saying.
  • I got really excited when Peggy and Stan arrived on the ad shoot because I thought the guy meeting them was Sal for a split-second. (Speaking of cameos I’d have loved to see…)
  • I can’t believe how much I’ve come to enjoy Don and Pete’s exchanges over the years. Case in point, the hurried golf date, for which Pete does not believe he’s properly attired because there is not nearly enough plaid (read: any) on his person.
    Don: I’ll throw my tie over my shoulder and roll up my sleeves, they’ll love it.
    Pete, reluctantly: They probably will!
  • Harry Crane is the worst, #3,875: he claims Don isn’t loyal to anyone but himself, to which Megan more or less agrees. I’m sorry, I’m no defender of Don Draper’s horrid behavior, but Don’s shown more loyalty to a select few people than Harry ever will. He took care of Anna, and has had a few key relationships at work — like Peggy, Roger, and even Pete. He isn’t a good person, but he does protect his people, to a certain extent. Harry, meanwhile, will hitch a ride on the first bus in town. Ugh, Harry. (He’s going to go on to found the show’s version of CAA, won’t he?)
  • Harry Crane is the worst, #3,876: Knowing the shit’s about to hit the fan after he propositions Megan, he runs back to Don and claims Megan’s mentally unstable and saying crazy things, so don’t believe a word she says, in order to mitigate the effects on him. What was I saying about loyalty. GO AWAY HARRY. He’s such a slimeball.
  • Roger is a total putz, but his telling Megan that the tryst was Marie’s idea, like he’s a kid caught in the cookie jar, made me chuckle. Oh Roger, you beautiful idiot, you.

What did you think of “New Business”? Is it in with the new, or out with the old?

Nels
Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control before she knew how to talk. As a result, she has spent an inordinate amount of time pretending she actually lives on a soundstage. When she isn’t watching whichever show is currently capturing her heart, she is writing about how said show is currently capturing her heart. She loves pie.

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