“People tell you who they are, but we ignore it.. because we want them to be who we want them to be.”
Many moons ago when I was watching Mad Men as it aired, I realistically didn’t think anything could top The Suitcase. And then this fucking episode dropped. Holy noir, holy depression, holy introspection. Fuckin-a.
In the wake of Anna’s death and being a human H-bomb for entirely too long, Don is attempting to get his shit together. You know that Adam Carolla bit about how there’s always That Guy at the office who’s never felt more alive because he swims laps at 5am and makes us all look like assholes? Don’s trying that on for a bit, despite almost keeling over in the pool.
image courtesy of Slant Magazine
He’s taken up journaling, in an effort to understand what the hell is going on inside his head. This is an episode where we get a rare peek into his internal monologue, through a series of film noir voiceovers.
“When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere, just ask him. If you listen, he’ll tell you how he got there. How he forgot where he was going, and that he woke up. If you listen, he’ll tell you about the time he thought he was an angel, dreamt of being perfect. And then he’ll smile with wisdom, content that he realised the world isn’t perfect.”
Don’s got a lotta feelings, writing his thoughts in an attempt to “gain a modicum of control” over how he feels, to come to terms with it all. The divorce affected him more than he’s willing to admit, having that Perfect(TM) world he created shatter all around him due to his deception. Anna’s illness and death didn’t help his mindset either, and not having a consistent baseline of a Home to return to leaves him in freefall. Dude’s gotta learn to love himself. You can get lost along the way, but the greatest relationship you’ll ever have is that one you share with your own damn self.
Peppered throughout is the notion of people who appear to have everything but actually have nothing. Tale as old as tiiiiiiime. We see Joan as this omniscient powerful lady in charge of it all at SCDP, but at the end of the day she gets cruelly ridiculed by disrespectful freelancer Joey and goes home to vile Greg who’s about to be shipped out to Vietnam.
In another display of how differently Peggy and Joan think and react, Peggy curtly fires Joey over the mess he made. Her approach was direct and that of a man (with Don’s advice “You want some respect? Go out and get it for yourself.”) whereas Joan sticks with the dated notion of “catch more flies with honey” and office politicking, thinking a dinner with a client would have sealed the deal instead. She’s learned to wield power through flattery and persuasion (on top of being gorgeous), but where has that really gotten her?
Joan is married to a gormless asshole who’s about to be blasted off to a humid hellhole. Her office is mostly used as a thoroughfare, and she feels that disrespect radiating towards her in the day to day on top of being at home, with Greg creepily trying to talk her into having a bang despite not being in the mood.
image courtesy of Amy’s Robot
Peggy’s approach sends a clear message, and viewing it through 2017 eyes, makes the most sense to me. Sadly Joan feels undermined by this approach, but times are changing. She’s a sharp woman, she’ll figure it out.
Most obviously, Betty sees Don as the guy with everything when we know (along with Francine) how completely lost and fucked out he’s been since the divorce. When she and Henry see him in the city on a date with Bethany, Betty invents this entire narrative in her mind that he’s out living some crazy awesome life when the reality is anything but; dude is eating Dinty Moore from a damn can. We’ve all been there, running into an ex and feeling entirely raw in spite of the actual reality before us.
Arguing with Henry about it grounds her a little bit, and he’s right to be pissed off; she can’t let something as simple as seeing the guy out somewhere obliterate an entire evening. Time to grow up, Betty; look at your life now, appreciate what in the hell you’ve got. Get on with it.
In the nuclear winter of it all, Don gradually begins to get back on the horse. “I want to wake up. I don’t want to be that man” — he knows he needs to change. The guy even has a pair of vaguely successful dates with the aforementioned one-dimensional Bethany and more on point Faye. He feels less drawn to Bethany because he knows her type; been there, done that. Faye is a little more on the level.
image courtesy of MadMenWiki
Don is making an effort to booze it less in the office, in an attempt to reconcile the effects of the mess around him. He knows he can’t go to his son’s birthday party that weekend, for he is not welcome at that house. I love that Don’s voiceover highlights the parallel between he and baby Gene; “Conceived in a moment of desperation, and born into a mess”.
And yet, the only time he seems truly happy (including Bethany’s tryhard taxi blowjob) is when he’s holding Gene in his arms at the birthday party. Betty even happily brings him to Don without the typical dramatics; it’s a nice moment, rare for this season thus far.
image courtesy of MadMenWiki
I always read the ending as Betty ended up ringing Don and inviting him to the party as a gesture to Henry that she’s indeed moved on. She’s trying to, at least. Francine’s comments about Don having nothing to lose, i.e. Betty has “won”, sort of neutralises him a touch in her eyes. Even though he’s not really the Only Man she’s ever been with, but whatevs.
Does Don miss that life? Who the hell knows.. it was mostly smoke and mirrors to him anyway, it left him with the thoughts of “is that all there is?” eating away at him every night and with every rando he banged, just as it echoes in his life now albeit louder. Either way he’s lost that part of his identity and is trying to be at peace with himself, bit by bit. This is a decent start.
“We’re flawed, because we want so much more. We’re ruined, because we get these things, and wish for what we had.”