There’s a lot to unpack in this episode, but first we go from the metaphorical Who is Don Draper to the .. wait .. hold the goddamn phone, Who literally IS Don Draper?
image courtesy of Vulture
Adam Whitman pops up in the city, and Don is not pleased. Apparently someone does read Advertising Age after all. He comes to Don with love and acceptance, just happy to see his half brother after all this time and is met with stone cold rejection.
Mad Men gives us this suave untouchable symbol, this Don Draper and his illusion of complete control. He weaves bullshit webs, and Peggy gets stuck in one when she accidentally overhears his phone conversation with mistress Midge. When Betty and the kids turn up at the office for portrait day, Peggy assumes that Don’s gone off to get it in (when he’s really at lunch with Adam), and momentarily panics. As an honest person, Peggy doesn’t really know how to handle it but to Don, it’s second nature and he’s back with an effortless excuse.
He’s got it all in check until Adam shows up; his entire demeanour becomes the Don we come to know in the rest of the series moving forward. It’s almost like that Don didn’t exist until 5G. And then when he admits to Adam that he missed him, we see some warmth and hope, a glimpse at who he was.
“Of course I did”. The way Don’s face changes says it all. However, he stiffens at the end of the lunch, and his “this never happened” mantra begins. I feel like he’s not sure he believes it when he says it at this point, but it becomes true to him in time.
At first glance, this is a man who’s so deeply ashamed of his past that he’s pretty much panicking and launching money at the problem. But looking deeper, he feels isolated and this helps shed light on his actions; yet he does it to himself. He’s a self-haunted guy.
His entire façade crumbles then hardens– the tone of his voice resets, the whole nine. These are the roots of Don being a million miles away. He’s looking at an old photo of himself with Adam, whiskey in hand, burning it in an effigy to his past. He’s really driving home the tryhard THIS NEVER HAPPENED approach and it’s all so fucking dramatic, but it works in this context.
Brass tacks, all Adam wants is a connection with Don. Love, family, and companionship. Don isn’t prepared to offer any of these things, and only withdraws further over the course of the series/decade or so as the show goes on. It starts off as mysterious and interesting, but ends up being fucking depressing and infuriating.
“I have a life, it only goes in one direction — forward”.
Don’s fundamental misunderstanding of how human connection works is on display here. He’s plying Adam with 5 grand and quite literally cannot understand why he’s upset, cannot get why that isn’t enough. Don figures that he salted the earth of his past self and started over, why can’t Adam do the same?
One of the B plots in this episode is Kenny Cosgrove getting a short story published in The Atlantic, making the other Sterling Cooper guys jealous. Pete convinces Trudy to talk to her vaguely oily ex, and Pete is apoplectic that all she can “get” is Boys Life magazine.. haha. Roger jokes in a meeting that everyone at Sterling Cooper has the first ten pages of a novel locked in a drawer somewhere, Don quips that it’s actually five.. but all we see in his locked drawer is a bunch of Go Cash and things he’d rather forget. It’s all about projecting that image in whatever small way possible.
Seeing the stark contrast between Adam’s hellscape hotel room and Don’s lush master bedroom at home is pretty jarring. This thing Don has built for himself, he doesn’t want to lose that. He’s leaving behind that dismal past he doesn’t want in lieu of the persona he wants to attain, to play out.
God-awful portrait aside..
image courtesy of Mad Men Wikia
At the end of the episode, Betty expresses to Don that she likes seeing her dad, a feeling he can’t relate to in the least.
“We gave you everything- we gave you your name”.
“What difference does it make? People change their names”.