Mad Men - Tomorrowland

Mad Men Commentary: Episode 413 Tomorrowland

Mad Men’s first order of business has always been identity, and this fourth season – the strongest yet – opened with Don fielding a routine question from a reporter from Advertising Age: “Who is Don Draper?”

It’s a question that has stalked Don like a predator, and in last night’s season finale, Don seized on an answer that I don’t think anyone saw coming.  The episode was titled “Tomorrowland,” but it could have easily been called “Bizarroworld.”

As the episode opens, we find Don in bed, awakened by Faye, who has to leave on out-of-town business.  Don is nervous about his meeting with the American Cancer Society.  She assures him that they loved his letter (the open letter in the Times) and they’ll surely love him.

Unconvinced, he tells her he has a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, and this is where Faye shines.  She cuts to the chase and gives it to him straight:

“Listen.  Maybe it’s not all about work,” she tells him.  “Maybe that sick feeling might go away if you take your head out of the sand about your past.”

“You know it’s not that simple.”

“Of course it isn’t.  And you don’t have to do it alone.  But if you resolve some of that, you might be more comfortable with everything.”

“And then what happens?” Don asks.

“You’re stuck trying to be a person like the rest of us.”

Don takes Faye’s sage advice to heart, but we won’t see how it’s applied until much later.

Meanwhile, Joanie delivers some mail to Lane, who has an announcement.  I had to replay Lane’s speech, due to be being distracted by a bigger announcement – Joan’s tummy.  It was confirmation of what everyone I know of has been hoping for, and aborted abortion.

Oh, and Joan was promoted to Director of Agency Operations, a title-only promotion.

At the meeting with the American Cancer Society folks, Don is asked why he wrote his open letter.

“Well, most of it was in the letter, hopefully,” he tells the gathered old moneybags.  “But I think, in my heart, it was an impulse.  Because I knew what I needed to do to move forward.”  Remember that exchange.  We’ll be coming back to it later.

Don aces the meeting, and gets them to agree to explore a relationship further and a future date.  Upon returning to the office, he and Pete gather Roger and Ken for a strategy session.

Roger’s greeting upon their return: “So, did you get cancer?”

It turns out that a board member of the Cancer Society is a big shot at Dow Chemical, and Ken’s future Father-In-Law is an executive at Corning, a division of Dow.  Pete and Don and Roger pressure Ken into arranging a foursome at a local golf club, where the board member can be invited and influence can be further exerted, but Ken recoils from the using of his personal relationships for personal gain.  He nobly stands up to Pete’s haranguing, and excuses himself to manage the 30% of SCDP’s business he services.  Message sent and received.

This exchange brings to mind another great theme of this season – work and its relationship to identity.  Don and Pete and, to a lesser degree, Roger (not to mention Peggy and Joan) have always put work before all else.  To them, it hardly registers as a choice.  It’s just what you have to do to make it in this world.  But in this episode, we see Ken as decent and fair, a pleasing antidote to the workaholism that dominates SCDP.

And then there’s Betty.  True to her word, Betty is boxing up her family’s possessions and moving them to a new house in Rye.

Glen stops in to say goodbye to Sally, having waited for a moment when Betty is gone.  Carla gives in to Glen’s request to see Sally, knowing full well how Betty feels about him.  But she sees what we know, that there is nothing sinister in this relationship.

Glen knocks on Sally’s door and asks if she’s decent, something he no-doubt copied from home.  They have their goodbye, and we learn that Sally and Bobby and Gene are going to California with Don while Betty and Henry get the new house settled.  Glen asks Sally to bring him back something from Disneyland.

Betty enters the kitchen as Glen is leaving, and they have an ugly exchange in which he tells her that just because she’s sad doesn’t mean everyone else has to be.  Betty turns her childish anger on Carla, not only firing her but insulting her multiple times in the space of a few moments – the kind of hurt that no amount of apologizing can undo.

As this is going on, Don is meeting with his accountant, making plans for the future.  Don is yet again worrying, but the accountant soothes him, encouraging him to “enjoy the harvest and plant some seeds.”  As Don’s phone rings, he adds, “Don’t you want to come home one day and see a steak on the table?”

The call is from Betty, informing Don that she’s fired Carla, which – surprise! Surprise! – puts a huge wrinkle in Don’s California plans.  Carla was to help with the kids.

Though it’s never spelled out, we’re left to wonder how conscious Betty is of her actions.  The evidence is damning.  As with the power play move out to Rye, to “win” against Sally, Betty seems to have no reluctance to pulling out all the stops to maintain even the slightest illusion of control.

Don, to his credit, is determined to take the kids to California, and it’s in this decision that Betty’s maneuver will ultimately backfire.

Don puts Megan on the job of lining up childcare, but it’s a patchwork quilt that seems like a logistical nightmare.  In a flash of inspiration, Don gives Megan his “gotcha!” look and asks her how much she makes a week (funny question, since he’s her boss).  Before you can say “The Sound of Music,” Don, the kids, and Megan are checking into a nice hotel in sunny California.  Uh oh.

Go west, young man!  And woman.

While Don is in La-La land, Peggy’s friend Joyce brings her a present in the form of a fragile model named Carolyn Jones (not THAT one), who’s just been fired from a shoot.  Harry Crane, seeming more and more the lecherous old man, creepily hangs around, hoping for a chance to be the big shot mentor.

Peggy learns that Carolyn has been fired from a job for Topaz Panty Hose – along with the agency – and before you can say “L’eggs” she’s hatching a plan with good-guy Ken that involves working hard over the holiday (Labor Day?) weekend for a chance to pitch some much-needed business.

Out in California, Don comes in from a day of meetings for find Megan and kids in a state of pure bliss.  Gene sleeps while Sally and Bobby sing Don a French lullaby Megan has taught them.  Megan goes to her own room, leaving Don to have some happy Q-time with the kids.  Weird, right?

The next day, Don leaves Gene with Megan and takes the kids to see Anna’s house, where they meet Stephanie.  Naturally, the kids are drawn to the painting that Don and Anna did the last time he visited.  Sally asks who Dick is, and Don tells her the truth…sort of.  “Well, that’s me.  That’s my nickname, sometimes.”  Another baby step towards living out in the open.

Don sends the kids out to play, and in their moment alone, Stephanie gives Don something that Anna wanted him to have.  It’s the engagement ring that the real Don Draper gave her.  It floors Don, who doesn’t feel as though he should have it.  Stephanie insists, and he tucks it away into the breast pocket of his sport coat, stunned.

Don asks Stephanie what she’s going to do.

“I don’t know.  That’s the best part.  I’ve got my whole life ahead of me.  So do you.”

Don and the kids return to the pool, where Megan looks like Jackie O in the pool with little Gene sitting on the side.  The kids shuck off their clothes, swimming suits used as underwear for just such an occasion.  They beg Don to join them, but he declines, saying he’s beat.

Up in the hotel room, Don ponders what has just happened, and unexpectedly, he returns to the pool and does a huge cannonball, a west coast baptism performed to the song “Hot Dog.”  He seems genuinely happy, as do the kids and Megan, thrilled at his presence.

Later, he and the kids are planning their assault on Disneyland, the following day, when Megan stops in with a friend to say good bye for the evening.  She’s stunning in a black dress, and Don has that I’m-gonna-#%@*-you look on his face as she leaves.

As the scene closes on this moment, which will certainly be a highlight for the Draper kids, Bobby announces, “What about Tomorrowland?  I don’t want to fly in an elephant.  I want to fly a jet.”

Next, we see Henry Francis, all serious and probably wondering what went wrong, when Betty returns from showing the old house.  It’s easy to empathize with Henry, monstrous as Betty can be, and we take his side as he chews her out for her treatment of Carla.  His confusion is palpable as he tries to make sense of her erratic actions and explanations of them.

When she claims that all she wanted was a fresh start, he says more than he may know when he tells her, “There is no fresh start.  Lives carry on.”

When she accuses him of not taking her side, he gets the final word when he tells her, “No one’s ever on your side, Betty.”

Just as the Francis marriage appears to be unraveling, a new romance is brewing in California.  When Megan returns from her night out, Don goes to her room, claiming to want to go over the plans for Disney.  She calls him out, but invites him in anyway.  They end up out on the balcony, make some small talk, then make out.

This time, it’s Megan who sounds the caution, and Don is the one to make assurances, telling her he’s been thinking about her so much.  Caution averted.

There’s this cool transition between Don and Megan ending up in bed, where Betty goes to Sally’s nearly empty room and lays on the bed on her side and stares off into the night.  Cut to Don, on his side, staring into Megan’s eyes.  Though Don and Betty are divorced, these two are far from through with each other.

That said, Don is caught up in the moment and asks Megan if this is what she thought of when he asked her to come with him.  She confesses that it was the very first thought.

Even though it was obvious these two would end up in bed, what wasn’t obvious to me was how Don would respond to Megan.

He tells her, “You don’t know anything about me.”

“But I do.  I know you have a good heart.  And I know that you’re always trying to be better.”

“We all try.  We don’t always make it.”

Aside from them being naked, this could have been Dick and Anna talking.

Don pushes on.  “I’ve done a lot of things.”

“I know who you are now.”

Don asks if he can see her again the next night.  He needs to know if this is just a one-night stand, like back in New York.  Megan assures him it’s not.

The following day, the last in California, Don and Megan and the kids are eating at what looks like the same diner as the last scene in Pulp Fiction.  Sally and Bobby bicker, and in the process, a milkshake is spilled.  Don starts to erupt, but Megan swings into action, daubing up the mess and announcing that there’s no use crying over spilled milkshakes, something Betty never would have shrugged off.  Every one is silently amazed at this new presence in their midst.  Tense bodies go loose with relief.

Meanwhile, back in New York, Peggy and Ken have a meeting with Topaz.  Ken lets Peggy do the talking, and in Don Draper fashion, she melds preparation with improvisation and impresses a tough New York businessman.  Things are looking good for ending SCDP’s losing streak.

On the morning of their return, Don is dressed for work, sitting on the edge of his bed.  Megan stirs.  He’s been up for hours, thinking.

Don tells her, “I feel like myself when I’m with you.  But the way I always wanted to feel.  Because I’m in love with you, Megan.  And I think I have been for a while.”  After these words are uttered, he produces Anna’s engagement ring and presents it to Megan.  And proposes.

Megan is flustered, and as she gathers herself, we learn what Don has been thinking.

“Did you ever think of the number of things that had to happen for me to get to know you?  But everything happened, and it got me here….  What does that mean?”

Of course, after that speech, Megan could only say “Yes!”

After a quick call to Megan’s mother in Montreal (in French), they decide to announce the engagement that day to the folks at SCDP.

Don gathers Roger, Lane, Pete, and Joan and tells them that he and Ms. Calvais are getting married.

“Who the hell is that?” Roger asks.  Joan tells him it’s Megan.  “Megan out there?  Well, let’s get her in here.”

And with that bit of Roger Sterling humor, the congratulations begin, with Lane being the first to step forward and wish Don and Megan the best.

At about the same time, Ken finds out the good news about Topaz and rushes to tell Peggy, giving her the lion’s share of the credit.  Poor Peggy.  They rush to Don/Daddy’s office, only to be upstaged.

Ken is genuinely happy for Don and Megan, but Peggy squeezes out a smile as thought she’s trying to get the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube.  “You must be so happy,” is all she can muster.

They tell Don their good news, and he’s all back slaps and atta-boys, but his thoughts are obviously elsewhere.

Peggy sends Ken on his way, closes the door, and faces Don.  “Wow.”  Don tells her he appreciates her concern, and steps in a big ol’ pile by telling Peggy that Megan reminds him of her, that she has the same spark.  He finishes the botch-job by telling Peggy that Megan admires her as much as he does.  Peggy hugs him, then gets the hell out of there.

Joan seems to be waiting for her when Peggy barges into her office.  “Whatever could be on your mind?” she asks, a smug grin on her face.  A weird thing happens here.  She does her Joan-thing by predicting that Don will make Megan a copy writer, not wanting to be married to a secretary.  This sends Peggy over the edge, of course, as Joan intended.  But when Joan tries to put the cherry on the sundae with her comment about having learned a long time ago not to get her satisfaction from this job, Peggy calls her on it.

And then they share a laugh.  At long last, Joan and Peggy are like sisters-in-arms.  Joan even shares her own humiliation, having gotten her promotion-with-no-pay…and no announcement, either.

And then there’s Faye.

It’s Megan who finally gets Don to stop procrastinating and make the call he’s been dreading.  Nice, how Megan knew all about her.  It’s as if she got revenge on Faye from their little catty exchanges last week.

So Don calls her, and she immediately senses that something is up.  He asks her to coffee, but she tells him to just get to it.  And when he does, the tough façade crumbles as the pain of his confession sinks in.  She asks who it is, but Don dodges the question.

Faye pulls herself together enough to get in a couple of nice digs.  She asks Don if he’s going to write a letter to the Times, saying that he doesn’t like her.  Unlike with Peggy, he has the good sense to shut up.

She goes on to say what could very well be another prophecy, that Don only likes the beginnings of relationships.

And with that, Don hung up on what may have been the best thing he had going.  Faye was unvarnished, harsh truth.  She accepted Don’s transgressions, even as they swept her decision making up in them.

She was clear-eyed about his need to move on, and he took that advice to heart.  It just seems that the choice he made was for yet another story book image, like his marriage to Betty, of what a marriage/family should look like (consummated at Disneyland, in LA, in California, where Americans go to recreate themselves as easily as one would change a hairstyle or trade in a Buick for a Corvette), rather than a challenging equal of a wife who would push rather than pamper.

And remember Don’s response to the lady from the American Cancer Society about why he impulsively wrote his open letter?  Well, his response to her seems to hold as well for his proposal to Megan – he did it because he knew what he needed to do to move forward.

We’ll see whether it was the right impulse soon enough, I suspect.

That evening, Joan tells Greg everything that has happened, but all he’s interested in is whether her pregnancy (she’s evidently told him that the baby is theirs) has enlarged her breasts even more.  Once she assures him it has, he’s ready to go and goof off with his buddies, like a freshman rushing a fraternity.

Finally, Betty and Don meet at their old house.  Don is there to show the house to prospective buyers.  Betty seems to be there for the sole purpose of seeing Don.  She’s softer and prettier than she’s been all season, much like the old Betty from two seasons ago or more.

It seemed obvious to me that she was at the very least wanting to flirt with Don (but I suspect she had something else in the back of her mind, even if only subconsciously).

They talk without jaws clenched for a change.  Betty asks Don if he likes the new house.  He admits that he does.  He finds an old bottle of something, Scotch perhaps.

She asks, “Remember this place?”

“I do.”

“It’s different.”

“Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“I don’t know, Don.  Things aren’t perfect.”  She’s lowered her guard.

But Don isn’t game.  “So you’ll move again.”

“So much change.  It’s made everything difficult.”

She’s trying, but Don finishes the moment off by telling her of his engagement.  She composes herself and congratulates him.  It’s a painfully sad moment.  Another miss for these two.  The doorbell rings, breaking the spell once and for all.  They part ways – him to the front door and her to the back.

The show closes mysteriously with Don and Megan in his bed in the Village, and as Sonny and Cher sing “I’ve got you Babe,” Megan sleeps while Don glances out the window.  What is he looking for?

Will he follow through with Megan, or will he leave her as soon as the newness wears off, as Faye predicted?  Did his trip to California help him deal with some of his baggage from the past, to the point where he is stuck trying to be a person like the rest of us?  Or was it all just a fairy tale?

Only tomorrow knows.