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Monday, 18 of February of 2019

Mad Men – “Tomorrowland”

“Who the hell is that?”

Bobby, Sally, Gene, and Megan all wait for Don to arrive at the restaurant.

“In the future, we’ll all be happy despite our rampant alcoholism, self-destructive natures, and our short-sighted family planning. Yay!”

Tomorrowland the Ride is ultimately flawed. The idea of the thing is theoretically interesting and, if you really believe the crafted displays of the future really are visionary, then I can see how you might enjoy the ride. But, of course, as the ride aged and the people starting to live in the years to which the ride makers predicted the change to occur, it became a relic of a bygone era. Instead of being a vision of the future, it was really just a reminder of how silly we were in the past.

And that’s because futurism by amateurs is also horribly flawed: it doesn’t account for cultural development. Usually, these things assume we’ll think the same and we’ll be the same in the future, just more advanced. But that’s not the way evolution works: every part adapts and, while there are threads of constance, the way we consider things will change over the course of years, decades, centuries. While flying vehicles in the past were thought to be the way of the future, the first thing that comes to mind for us when considering the same thing are the various media properties that have since used it to sell us on the future. It’s isn’t science fact; it’s the Jetsons.

Don Draper has his own little Tomorrowland going. The moment he walks into the restaurant and sees his family in the booth, he looks at it almost like a model of his future. This is the paradise, the peace, the comfort he seeks. And while there are differences from what he knows, ultimately, this is just a relic from the past he sells to himself as the utopian future. So while you think about how Don’s actions in this episode are sudden and without motivation, consider his discussion with Anna when they first started discussing Betty in the Christmas flashback sequences. Seem relatively familiar?

When Betty handed him the key to his house, she might as well have said, “Congratulations. Here is the key to the detritus of your past. You can match it to the building blocks of your future.”

It’s not very often in an episode where they introduce to us the plot device in the same episode in which it is executed. That should give you an indication of how hurried and impulsive this relationship with Megan is. From the moment we saw his gaze of her during “Hands and Knees” to end the episode, we knew she was trouble. But I had no idea it would come to introducing the engagement ring and then presenting it to a woman least likely in the same episode. Because I don’t think we were supposed to organically reach that conclusion.

In fact, did you even feel like Don was capable of love at all? He seemed to revel in the clandestine nature of his relationship with Faye and the casual nature of his couch-sex with Megan. All season, he’s only really tried to seduce women, not work them into a need for stability. But, suddenly, he feels like he needs find the best path to “finding a steak waiting for him.” Surely his bit-part player lawyer didn’t convince him to settle down with his secretary.

Faye is the woman that’s put in all the work, more than any other woman he’s ever been involved with, including Betty. She is the holder of his secret, she fits his type (educated blonde bombshell), she even has the added capacity in that she understands what he does for a living and how important he is. That last part might have been what did her in. Faye has so much information on Don, both personally and professionally, that she is able to maintain a version of truth that is closest to reality. Megan, on the other hand, has superficial knowledge. When they are in bed together and she mentions that she “knows” him, she only discusses Season 4 Don Draper, the one that’s “trying to be better.” She knows the man he wants her to know, and that’s what Don wants. Faye has a collection of evidence and history from which she can form her own opinion. Megan only has the narrative he’s fed her. When it comes down to a decision between a strong woman that understands him completely and still loves him or a woman that he can still be a hero for, he goes for the latter. And isn’t that just like Betty?

Betty was the pretty girl he fell for, as per his discussions with Anna, and who he felt he could settle down with. Does Betty complete him? No. Does Betty understand him? Not really (maybe more now). Was Betty willing to play house? Yes. Don doesn’t seem to be looking for love. To him, love is stability. Taking his children to California to meet Anna was almost like inviting them to a harrowing of his reality, especially with the growingly-inquisitive Sally Draper. Worlds collide and all that. But as the old world that all but died with Anna fades away, introducing his family to it was almost like taking them to one of the rides as Disneyland: hey kids, it’s Dick Whitman’s Wild Ride! Those flowers were painted by the mysterious friend Anna! Dick? Well, Dick is me! It’s a nickname! Ha ha! Glad you guys saw it! Let’s go on Space Mountain.

So as these two worlds melded so easily, I figured the whole Don-Reflects-to-Woodwinds scene (just before he decides to hit the pool) was about how things might actually be working out for Don, that one world is dropping out for the other. Instead, apparently, he was thinking about how much he was in love with this stranger. Did you know she was French? Did we know that before?

That’s the other thing: we know nothing about her and, as far as we know, Don doesn’t know much either. All he knows is that Sally likes her, she’s good with his kids, and she isn’t bitter like Betty (like being okay with spilled milk — shake). He likes the way she looks at him (the flawed genius trying to be a better man). And that she’s happy (unlike everyone else he’s slept with since the beginning of the series, now Midge included in that melancholy family). He never says anything about her laugh but he does comment on he likes her smile. Where am I pulling these characteristics from? Flashback to 1952 when Don asks Anna for a divorce to marry Betty (“The Mountain King”). He never comments on a connection or anything beyond being a smitten kitten. As the conversation continues, Anna mentions how marrying Betty is an opportunity for a whole new life. This is how Megan and Betty are the same.

Welcome to Don Draper’s Tomorrowland. See these scenes from the future? Where the kids and the (step)mom get along? See how there’s no bitterness? Marvel at the children as they sing French folk tunes! Behold a companion that appreciates him rather than begrudges him! Notice the lack of times the writers have not tried to pound into us that Megan is a child! The thing is that Don’s Tomorrowland is the same old thing dressed up as something new. Call this a pessimistic view of Don’s character, but Megan is just a new life for him to ruin and a new way to dip into his self-destructive cycle, all the while buying into the same cliche Roger did: humping and then marrying his secretary. If only Peggy were around to sto–

Oh, God. Peggy.

This is where the episode finally got good for me. The quick admission of love (to which I said to myself, “Like you can love, Robot Don”) and proposal was almost surreal to me, like we were going to find out it was a dream of Megan’s. But when Don suggested their relationship should be public (something Faye was never treated to), my first thought was that Peggy. Is going to FLIP. OUT. Obviously, not in an Allision-throw-things-and-run-out-of-the-office way but in that Peggy slow-burn-I-look-stoic-but-listen-to-me-speak way.

The partners reacted to the announcement just like I thought they would, Roger’s being the best. Pete and Joan congratulating him and Megan made sense but once Peggy finds out what is overshadowing her accomplishment. Oh man.

And Peggy did have an accomplishment. She basically Don Drapered a client meeting. She probably needs to be careful about pitching ideas instead of concepts (since clients might be able to take those ideas to other agencies) but she walked in and wowed them on her own, using her own special bit of charisma and talent to build trust and feel someone eating out of her hand. Topaz may be small but it was big for their company (just as something to build on) and big for her in her development of being like her role model.

Oh, but to hear about the engagement like this. I’m not sure that the point is even that Peggy didn’t know about it as she is generally the person that knows everything about Don Draper. His romantic liaisons don’t matter much to her, although had she known how much Faye knows about Don and how she is (I guess was now) competition to the throne of his most trusted confidante, she might have killed Faye with her own hands. But Megan? Megan isn’t even worth Don’s time, in Peggy’s estimation. She doesn’t have the capacity to love him, to understand him, to know him deep inside. Yes, those are the lyrics to a Bryan Adams song. I don’t think Peggy wants to position herself as his lover but she does feel protective over him, and Megan is inadequate.

How does Peggy make her sentiments known? Close the door. “Wow.” Translation: “What the hell are you doing?” Don explains it’s been going on a while (it hasn’t) and that he appreciates her concern (he might). “She’s — very beautiful.” Translation: “She has nothing else going on.” And what does Don say? “You know that she reminds me of you.”

Jesus, Don. Why not just punch Peggy in kidneys? This vapid, flighty, immature secretary is in the image of the great Peggy Olsen? She who just won an account on talent and charm? She who has done nothing but provide exceptional work for which you take credit? She who has walked beside you every step of the way except for the times that she’s carried you? He goes on: “She’s got the same spark. I know that she admires you just as much as I do.” Ugh! Like Horse Grin understands how amazing Peggy is? And to equate how she appreciates Peggy with how much you appreciate Peggy? Which is worse: Don only appreciating Peggy on the superficial terms around which Long Tooth can wrap her pea brain or having to imagine Don and Megan on the same level since he’s admitting their equality? And to do all this with his secretary. How cliche. How gauche.

Peggy has done a lot of things with Don: picked him up from jail after a car accident while philandering, recovered from labor with him by her side, watched him puke his guts out as he touched down on rock bottom. This is the worst he’s ever done to her. But, somehow, also the best.

A major focal point for the series in the realm of Peggy is not just being Don’s protege but also becoming his peer. Though they don’t hang out after hours like Don and Roger used to, they obviously respect each other and Don regards her as one of the few people he can trust in this life. This was something that came to a head in “The Suitcase” and has continued ever since. This news further proves how close they are as he tries to justify this engagement to her. He doesn’t feel obligated to explain himself to anyone else. Peggy doesn’t buy it however and goes to commiserate with Joan, her other idol. While Don was the focus of her professional development, Joan has always been the focus of her development as a woman. The conversation they share about their trials on the job and how they’ve been shorted is the most candid conversation they’ve had in recent memory. It’s fitting in this final episode of the season that we see Peggy basking in the glory of her professional rise: respect from Joan and Don.

As bad as Peggy got it, it didn’t compare to how bad Faye got it. With all the work she put into the relationship, risking her career, suffering through his melancholy and hiding, burdening herself with his incriminating secrets, she comes out of this just as confused as we are although far more broken-hearted (since we could see this wouldn’t end well from miles away — just not how it would happen). She’s stood by him through one of the roughest patches of his life and has been selfless to him. And then he punishes her by “falling for” a woman he barely knows beyond a quickie they had on his couch. It was unfair, disrespectful, and will probably prove really stupid (you don’t screw over people with enough dirt to bring you crashing down). But this is supposed to be Don Draper’s new life. And in his new life, he’s breaking his cycle of educated blonde bombshells. In essence, choosing Megan over Faye was his way of stabbing the last bit of life out of his past with Betty.

I mean, really, this whole thing is Betty’s fault.

Had Betty not been crazy people, especially in relation to creepy Glenn, and fired Carla without first considering the consequences, Don would never have asked Megan to go with her out to California in the first place (since he often assumes that anyone with a vagina is good with children). And Don would never have had his Reflect-to-Woodwinds moment. And he wouldn’t have convinced himself that he’s in love with this poor girl.

Betty is dealing with her own Change, however, and her struggle with that prompts everything about her in this episode. She wasn’t quite prepared for the ramifications her spiteful revenge on Sally would have on her as Henry leaps on the opportunity to move out of the House that Draper Built. Complicate that with her being a child (we get it already) and she does some things like firing the only person in the world you can really trust to do anything. When Henry calls her on it, she tries to spin it around like an adolescent, saying that he’s never on her side. “No one’s ever on your side, Betty,” he replies. And it’s true for her. Everything is everyone else’s fault and the whole world is conspiring against her. With her world in upheaval, it seems ever more true. Sadly, right now, her constant is her relationship with Don.

Don will always be her husband. They may have changed their relationship physically, legally, and emotionally but, as long as Don stays in limbo, he will always be her husband. So when Don comes to the house, finds her all gussied up (Betty constantly trying to be the big winner in their split), and he tells her about his engagement, this is another loss for her. As much as this episode is about Don and his loss of past and embrace of the future, this is also about Betty letting go and walking the path she chose. As he essentially concretizes their separation by officially moving on (rather than moving from one indiscretion to another), he effectively cuts that last tie to the emotional wreckage of his marriage and shakes the last bit of stability Betty has left. Turning the key over to him is surrendering all that they have left together. And he’s willing to sell it to be rid of the thing.

The weirdest part of this episode is that it didn’t feel like a season finale to me. The cliffhangers were generally pretty normal for the series on a week-to-week basis. It wasn’t like the end of Season 3 where there was a giant shift at the end, where they were on the precipice of something huge. I don’t want to make light of these events since they are important, but it’s just not the kind of drama I’m used to for an episode as this stage of the season. This is especially true for a season dedicated to a great many storylines based on the agency. The season finale skipped that for the most part (except for Peggy and Cosgrove’s victory) and focused, instead, on Don’s personal life. Maybe that’s why it didn’t feel right: the ending didn’t match the means. Still a decent episode but didn’t leave me clamoring for more.

Some other quick things:

  • I think it’s fitting that, until very recently, Megan’s part on the show up is listed on IMDb as “Secretary.” I wish I would’ve taken screenshots now.
  • How did the least important news of the episode turn out to be Joan not having the abortion? Maybe because we saw it coming even though I kind of wished she’d gone through with it. Was that just me? Am I the only babykiller?
  • “It’s Glenn. Are you decent?” Glenn being polite is still a creep show.

    I felt like the reason Don asked Megan to take care of his children rather than Faye was partly due to the power dynamic the two women have with him. While Faye is a peer and confidante, Megan is someone that Don feels authority over and can manipulate for his babysitting needs. Though I may just be restating why Don proposed to Megan over Faye.

  • Did Crane almost have a storyline in this episode? He came so close with that Carolyn Jones thing. Then it petered out to a punchline. Oh well. I’m still rooting for the Crane web series during the production hiatus.

    The line Don uses to sell ads to the American Lung Cancer Society, about teenagers not anticipating their futures and mourning for their childhood, is a description of Don and Betty. Betty is clearly the latter but Don is the former because he’s trying to convince himself that he is anticipating his future but, instead, he’s actually just engaging in his same self-destructive cycle in the present.

  • Notice I didn’t say anything about Stephanie? Because I don’t like Stephanie.
  • Peggy and Megan do share some commonality in how they “know” Don. They both lack his personal history (the one that Faye has). The difference between them is that Megan is still in the top two layers of the onion that is Don Draper whereas Peggy has pretty much hit into all that there is to know about him emotionally without knowing too much about Dick Whitman. Also a difference: Don will only allow Megan to dig into those first two layers. Peggy has license to cut into him as deep as she wants (though she usually pulls her punches a little bit — usually).
  • Another weird relationship in this scenario is Anna and Megan. Don proposes to Megan with the ring Real Don proposes to Anna with. Anna, of course, was the original and most-confided-in holder of Dick Whitman’s secrets and, before she died, was the only person on the planet that knew him, the real him. To slip that ring off Anna’s finger and onto Megan’s, a woman that only has a shallow perception of him (no matter how deep she thinks it is), almost feels like disrespect to the memory of Anna, especially since Megan is no more than the next version of Betty.
  • Did anyone else feel sick to their stomachs when Don said, “I’m in love with you” and “I have been for a while?” Do you think he actually feels like this has been going on for a while or has he just convinced himself of that?
  • I love how Megan’s lack of insane reaction to the spilled milkshake makes everyone else at the table really uncomfortable. I felt uncomfortable for them.
  • Ken continues his campaign to be the anti-Pete. His refusal to merge his personal and professional lives is not only admirable but a loud slap to Pete Campbell, a man not only willing to use his father-in-law as leverage into a giant account, but also okay with whoring out his wife for his own professional gain (in his writing anyway) and, lest we forget, impregnating his co-worker as a newlywed. Just another reason why Ken is the all-American poster boy and Pete is skeezy and bitch-facey.
  • Megan obviously came over with her friend all dolled up in order to bait Don. And it totally worked. As my friend Katie would say, “Whorish.”

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