Mad Men Season 4 Episode 13: Tomorrowland
Fate played a big part in the outcome of the Don and Megan arc, or at least the mistaken impression of it. “Did you ever think of the number of things that had to happen for me to get to know you?” Don asks Megan. “But it all happened. And it got me here. What does that mean?” Well, it doesn’t mean it was destined, Don. It just means that your ex-wife had an inappropriate relationship with a neighborhood boy who then became fixated on your daughter, causing your ex-wife to not only sell the house in response, but also to fire their longtime caretaker, leaving you, Don, to desperately latch onto Megan, because earlier that year you mistakenly latched onto your other secretary, Allison, thereby breaking a longheld taboo that gave you a newfound and self-granted freedom to sleep with secretaries, which, combined with a trip to California to settle the estate of the woman whose husband’s identity you stole over a decade before, and whose tragic death snapped you out of the self-destructive spiral you collapsed into after your divorce, all combined, along with the previously mentioned disturbingly knowledgeable Dr. Faye, to pretty much send you screaming into the arms of Megan.
So, no, Don. It wasn’t fate at all that brought you together. It was merely your particular set of tics and neuroses grinding back into gear so you can do what we all do in life: keep making the same mistakes. As Faye herself put it back when she made her unfortunate prediction, “No one ever wants to hear that they’re a type.” There are no fresh starts. There are no grand epiphanies. Lives carry on. “They’re all between marriages,” says a weary Joan to an annoyed Peggy. “You know that.”
And yet, the universe really did seem to be pushing Don to marry someone – anyone. Don can’t articulate; doesn’t even realize it, but when Faye gently pushed for him to come to terms with his past, the expiration date that’s been stamped on her forehead ever since she first found out about Dick Whitman suddenly started flashing and blinking. “You don’t have to do it alone,” she says. And he looks her in the face for the last time and says “I’m gonna miss you, you know.” He may have achieved some small measure of growth (although not really), but there was no way in hell Don was going to stay with a woman who knew THAT much about him and had the disturbing tendency to want to talk about it all the time.
But “You don’t have to do it alone,” like a song stuck in your head, must have worked its way into the back of Don’s mind. “Don’t you want to go home some day and see a steak on the table?” asks Don’s lawyer, further stoking the flames. “Don’t you want to carry around this engagement ring and have it burn a hole in your pocket?” asks Anna, from beyond the grave, pouring gasoline on them. “Don’t you, really, at the end of the day, just want someone to raise your kids and worship you again?” asks Megan, wordlessly. It may not have been fate, but forces were definitely at work, conspiring to push Don, despite everything he’s been through in the last few years, right back into making the same mistakes.
And ironically, one of the contributors to this series of events is probably the last person in the world who wanted to see them come about: Betty Francis. Had she not fired Carla, Megan never would have gone on that trip with Don and might only have remained a secretary he had a brief fling with once. Betty’s finally paying the price for her behavior and we hope for her sake, there will be some form of redemption in her future. We don’t watch this show for happy endings or morally upright characters, but Betty’s descent from nuanced, flawed character to outright villainous bitch status was not a development in season 4 that we particularly enjoyed. Her vehement response to the re-entry of Glenn into her life might have been understandable as a mother protecting a too-young daughter from entering into relationships she’s not old enough to have. But firing Carla, who’s been raising those kids from birth? And then refusing to give her a letter of recommendation? That is some hardcore nasty bitchery right there.
But Betty got a couple well-deserved slaps to the face this episode. “Just cause you’re sad doesn’t mean everybody has to be,” says Glenn, and that cuts her right to the bone because she knows it’s true. “Well somebody had to raise those children,” snaps Carla, finally letting Betty know what she really thinks of her. “Nobody’s ever on your side, Betty,” says Henry, truly disgusted upon discovering who he really married. And the reason these slaps sting so hard is because these are coming from insiders, people who, for better or worse, know Betty really well. She could convince herself that anything critical Don ever said about her is null and void in light if his deficiencies, but when it comes from the woman who raised your kids? The man you left your husband for?
Like Don, Betty’s downfall is her desperate pursuit for a surface lifestyle that’s supposed to make her happy. “I don’t want her poisoning the well,” she says to Don by way of explanation for Carla’s firing. She gave an equally revealing but no more truthful explanation to Henry: “I wanted a fresh start, okay? I’m entitled to that!” She’s a woman in her mid-thirties who still hasn’t learned that there’s no such thing as a perfect life. In other words, she’s still a child, a point hammered home by having her curl up in Sally’s bed dressed eerily like Sally herself.
And like a child – or at least, like someone who doesn’t self-examine or process emotions effectively – Betty is very good at convincing herself she’s not doing something she’s clearly doing. Examples: her stable crush, which she took right up to the line and then set him up with her friend, which she denied ever doing. That guy she screwed in the backroom of the bar after she found out she was pregnant. It was calculated and virtually premeditated, but she acted like a limp doll. “I’m waiting,” she said to him. And now, with Henry openly revealing his disgust for her, she “forgets” Don is stopping by with the realtor, quickly powders her nose before he comes in, and puts out some feelers to see if they still have anything of any worth between them. That is EXACTLY what was going on in that scene, even if, like we said, Betty would never admit it. When he asks her about her new house, she wrinkles her nose and says “It’s not perfect.” Once again, we feel compelled to point out that January Jones, at least in this role, is a better actress than people give her credit for. The wave of emotions that briefly washed over her face (before she quickly locked them down) upon hearing Don’s news was brilliant. The fact that she blurted out Bethany’s name lets us know just how much she’s been obsessing over that girl since she first set eyes on her. That scene in the kitchen was deeply sad and beautifully played. It depresses us to think so, but Betty’s not looking at much happiness in her future, as far as we can see. Not unless she gets up from some of the blows she took this episode and really examines herself. Henry’s not gonna stick around “in another man’s dirt” much longer if she doesn’t get her shit together.
Someone who doesn’t need to be told to get her shit together is Miss Peggy Olson, whose shit is so together it comes out wrapped in a bow. We’re a mite disappointed that we didn’t hear any news of her relationship with Abe, but then again, if you’re going to wrap up a Peggy Olson arc, it has to end in the office. Her ears perk up at the sound of opportunity, coming from the unlikely source of a model friend of Joyce’s. SCDP hasn’t landed a new client in ten weeks and the halls are cavernous and empty, but Peggy’s still plugging away, looking for opportunities and angles. Not only that, but she aced a pitch under damn stressful circumstances. We doubt very much if Don himself could have done any better in that meeting with the Topaz pantyhose reps. She nailed it, not only coming up with several tag lines and concepts on the fly, but also illuminating the experience of wearing the brand and what it means to a woman on both a practical and fanciful level. In other words, she took a product and was able to relate it to strong emotions and experiences, very much the same way Don does when he’s at his best.
Joan, on the other hand, is quite angrily (and rightly so) pushing the mail cart through the empty offices, reduced to tasks that would have been considered demeaning for a secretary to do, let alone a manager. To make matters worse, Lane chooses that moment to inform her that she’s been promoted to Director of Agency Operations, a position that seems to offer no discernible benefits to Joan whatsoever. “Well, it’s almost an honor,” she says darkly.
This finale was a little light on the deeply emotional scenes, but we admit we got a huge, joyous kick out of Peggy and Joan’s scene together. “Whatever could be on your mind?” At best, these two have always warily circled each other; at worst, they openly insulted each other. What was so frustrating to us as viewers was that we could see just how much these two women could benefit from pursuing a friendship with the other one. This scene felt like such a payoff to their long, confusing relationship. Peggy and Joan have known each other for almost 6 years now. In fact, neither of them work with any woman they’ve known as long as each other. It was wonderful to see two such different women let go of the bullshit for a second and just have a cigarette and bitch about the goddamn men around them. And because the writing is always multi-layered, each of them were looking at it from a different vantage point, yet still able to come together. For Peggy, it’s about the recognition she’s always seeking out. “You know, I just saved this company, but it’s not as important as getting married.” Joan, for her part, shares in Peggy’s career frustrations, dryly relating the news of her meaningless promotion and observing, “And if they poured Champagne it must have been while I was pushing the mail cart.” Why, Mrs. Harris. That sounds like it could have been a line from a feminist manifesto. But it’s not about the recognition for Joan, not the same way it is for Peggy. Seeing another partner marry another secretary (“That’s the way it works for some.”) just serves to remind her of the time she wasted on ad men and how little she’s gotten for all her troubles. Other girls got the prize. She just gets the baby.
And yes, we were a little surprised at the pregnancy reveal because it’s just a little too soap opera-cheesey. Especially since they’ve already done a mystery pregnancy storyline with Peggy. Wouldn’t it be great if someday these two women can REALLY bond over their respective secretive pregnancies? Not likely. It’s just another example of how Peggy and Joan are more similar than either of them will ever realize. Still, they got their moment together. “Well I learned a long time ago to not get all my satisfaction from this job.” Peggy thinks about that for a second, and looks at this woman she’s known for years. “That’s bullshit!” she exclaims, and they both collapse in laughter, weary and comfortable because for just that moment, they can admit that they know each other well. A classic scene.
And what of Megan in all this? Who is she? Alarmingly, we don’t really know a thing about her and neither does Don. She’s too perfect, in a way. She’s Maria Von Trapp with his kids, she’s engaged and excited by the work he does, she’s totally infatuated with him, and she quite naively thinks she knows everything she needs to know about him. She’s also quite empathetic, which we already knew when she consoled Sally in the office, but we got further hints at this. “Are you sure we should be doing this?” she asks, when Don first tries to kiss her. “You should go. I don’t want to confuse them,” she says the next morning. Even in the midst of this whirlwind romance, she’s thinking of the consequences and how it will affect other people. It’s safe to say that Don’s NEVER been with a woman like that. “Don’t be upset. It’s just a milk shake.” Every single Draper sitting at that table reacted with shock to that. They literally did not know how to respond to someone who doesn’t cry over spilled milkshake.
Briefly, it seemed like the engagement might be a good thing. After all, she is, as we said, almost too perfect for him. And the sight of Don in the full bloom of love was a sight to see, but ultimately not a very assuring one. His eager and wide-eyed announcement to Joan and the partners was as disconcerting as his over-the-top excitement and praise at the news that Peggy landed an account. He’s like a dry drunk, someone who’s overcompensating and over-emoting because they’re trying to ignore something. Peggy, because she knows him better than anyone, is the only person to have reservations at the news. And they’re so close now that she doesn’t even have to state them. “It’s been going on a while. But I appreciate your concern,” he tells her, adding, “You know she reminds me of you. She’s got the same spark,” which is one of those things where the person who says it thinks they’re paying a compliment and the person who hears it thinks they’re, well, not. Peggy is disappointed in Don. She’s the only one who knows him well enough to know that this is not the direction he should be going in, no matter how happy he may appear now.
Because whatever good qualities Megan may have are far outshined by the most important one of all: “You don’t know anything about me,” Don says with wonder, a sad callback to Anna’s line earlier this season: “I know everything about you and I still love you.” Don hasn’t learned the value of that, repeating the mistake of falling for someone in the exact opposite position: loving him without knowing anything about him. 1965 has forced an unwanted openness on Don’s life and too many people are milling about who know too many things about him, from Betty to Pete to Peggy to Faye and he just wants something simple and uncomplicated that can make him feel better about himself. “I feel like myself with you,” he tells her when he proposes. “But the way that I always wanted to feel.” This isn’t love. This is fear. And unfortunately, as she sleeps with her head on Don’s chest and he looks out the window with an expression that sure didn’t read as contentment to our eyes, we think on some level Don knows this. Sadly, people don’t change.
* “You don’t say congratulations to the bride. You say ‘best wishes.’” Of course Pete would know that.
* “See, Don? This is the way to behave.” All things considered, that was mild. Considering how judgmental Don was about Roger’s marriage to Jane, we’re surprised he didn’t take the moment to really get a dig in, Sterling style.
* We’re gonna miss Faye and her blunt native New Yorker ways. “You know what? I’m not gonna have some conversation and have to sit through coffee afterwards. Just get to it.” And if you need further convincing that Don ran away from her because she knew him too well, consider her parting line: “I hope she knows that you only like the beginnings of things.” NAILED him.
* “Yes, honey. They’re bigger.”
* Who knew? Ken Cosgrove has a soul. “I’m not Pete.” And the funny thing is, Pete didn’t even realize that was an insult. “You’re certainly not,” he huffed. None of those men; Don, Roger, or Pete, had any idea what Ken was saying about not letting is professional life intrude on his person one. “Cynthia’s my life, my actual life.”
* “Who’s Dick?” asks Sally “Well…that’s me,” says Don, and we held our breath for a second, wondering how far he was planning to take this. “That’s my nickname sometimes.” Not very far. People don’t change. There are no fresh starts.
[Photo credit: AMC TV]