Don Draper Won't Save Himself (A "Mad Men" Recap)

Don Draper Won't Save Himself (A "Mad Men" Recap)

Don Draper is old fashioned.

Yes, his Heinz campaign last night was bolder, smarter, and more contemporary than the competition's, and yes, he smoked the dankest with Stan the Wolfman, but never forget how Don attacked Betty for letting a salesman into their home. Don knows something about how people and situations are perceived, which is to say he knows about surface, and he doesn't like it when others potentially tarnish his. Thus, it should come as no surprise to viewers when, in "To Have and to Have Not," the fourth episode of Mad Men's sixth season, Don berates Megan for acting in a love scene on the soap she works for.

 

No god to save Don. No church in the wild.

 

Last night's episode was about loyalty—do you have any? Does anyone have any in this crazy world where children get napalmed and the head of the Heinz ketchup division lubes up his ring finger with a healthy glob of spit to remove his wedding band, and in the apartment where Pete Campbell conducts his affairs no less?

Who is loyal? Not Peggy, who betrayed Stan. (Though it must be said that she's loyal to the game; pitching Heinz by cribbing from Don was colder than the ice box in Pete Campbell's chest.) Not the trio who worked on Project K; they wound up losing the lack of self-respect that is Baked Beans, and pissed off Ken Cosgrove.

Who is loyal? Are the swinging husband and wife from Megan's soap loyal to each other? They proposition Don and Megan in the most explicit free love moment the season has given viewers so far. Don makes awesome faces of disgust and incredulity at their offers of grass and sex. But in the cab, when Megan tells him that they've been together for 18 years, what sort of shock is his system experiencing? Is his brain shorting out as he processes this unexpected information? What if he and Betty could've attended a key party? Probably Betty is too repressed/casual about rape/generally fucked up about sex for this to have worked, but there's the question, laid bare and glistening in that cab. What if he and Megan fucked around a little, but openly?

He won't have it. Dead men don't change, and Don has been dead a long time.

Has Don ever inspired as much contempt than in the scene where he lingers in bed to kiss Megan before she goes off to work on the day of her big love scene? The wheels have been turning for him all night since Megan dropped the bomb about the length of the swingers' marriage. He's made himself late for work, looks disheveled in his PJs. When he kisses Megan, does he already know what he's going to do? That he's going to come to her place of work and liken her to a whore?

Inevitability is the hallmark of this show. It can be no other way. Don cannot change.

In the final moment of the episode, he goes to bed with Sylvia. He notices, perhaps for the first time, the cross she wears around her neck. This season has already erected the foundation for her Catholicism, thus the cross and her professed belief in the symbol feel earned. Don's a man of surface perceptions, and understands believing in a symbol like it. It's no different than an ad, really. He takes the metal in his hand, and clinks the cross around its chain so that it falls between Sylvia's shoulder blades, out of view. Then, presumably, they fuck. No god to save Don. No church in the wild.

Truthfully, the execution of the scene is off. The maudlin music combined with the pained expression on Don's face when Sylvia tells him that she prays for him to find peace is too much. Mad Men is given to moments of excess, but this one felt too sentimental (though, when paraphrased and recalled, it's gnarly with dread.)

What didn't feel off, however, was the introduction of a Dawn-exclusive story. It would be a mistake to let such an unprecedented moment on Mad Men go unremarked, so one final word. For the first time in the show, two black characters spoke just to each other, in a room devoid of white faces, and it was great. The show's always handled race in relief, and to impressive effect. To reflect the changing times by moving beyond that, by letting viewers follow Dawn into a space outside of the office, beyond white people—that felt right and good.

The conversation she had with her friend was without enormous revelations. The show didn't announce the importance of the scene. Instead, you had two characters talking, revealing more of themselves in small ways, as has always been the case on Mad Men with any of the principal characters. Well done.

RELATED: Don Draper and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Fearful Symmetry
RELATED: Don Draper's Pretty Face Is Going to Hell 

Written by Ross Scarano (@RossScarano)

GIF by Dave Itzkoff

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Tags: mad-men, mad-men-season-6-recap, to-have-and-to-hold, don-draper
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