Henry Francis Drinks Your Milkshake, and other observations from this week’s ‘Mad Men’ (‘New Business’)

donIf Diana the Menkenish waitress hadn’t sent moonlighting travel agent Don Draper packing, how long do you think it would have taken for our dapper hero to discover that his apartment had been gutted bare by a vengeful French-Canadian expatriate? Would the sly, mustachioed silver fox they call Roger Sterling have ratted out his once and future blowjob queen? If Marie’s really defecting to New York, she won’t be able to avoid Don for long, especially if she plans on touring the city’s finest shag carpets with his business partner. And what of poor Megan in all this? All she wanted was a new agent and a reasonable divorce settlement, and suddenly she’s deflecting advances from the slimy Harry Crane and catching her devious mother red-handed and post-coital. No wonder that when the news comes in from her crying sister that Marie has left her father, Megan doesn’t even have the energy to give a shit. Her parents are both miserable assholes; this was for the best.

How many lives has Don Draper ransacked? His very name is a lie; he’s just a Dick squatting in Lieutenant Draper’s abandoned identity. If Anna Draper hadn’t been the understanding saint that she was, Dick Whitman would’ve gone straight to prison. Instead of being grateful for his salvation, Don’s approach to life under an assumed name has been to screw, physically and metaphorically, almost everyone he’s met since moving to New York. We know the affairs and secrets and dick moves that have resulted in divorces and leaves of absence, but between those moments are the smaller, incidental screw-overs that define Don Draper’s day-to-day character. Was Ginsberg ever the same after Don accidentally-on-purpose left the poor nebbish’s art for Sno Ball in a cab? Will Stan ever forgive Don for hijacking the job at the LA office, only to hot-potato it over to Ted Chaough because he felt bad? We feel for Don when we watch him suffer through emotional rough patches–Anna’s death, the Hershey breakdown–but he’s never really gotten his just desserts for his long history of just being the worst husband, father, lover, boss and employee in the known universe. Marie is unpredictable but she’s not wrong; Don does deserve to have his life vandalized, because it’s exactly what he’s been doing to other people since he became Don Draper, and it’s been far too easy for him to get away with it.

It was evident in the episode’s opening scene, when Henry Francis literally drank Don’s milkshake, that the world wasn’t going to continue to bend to Don’s whim. A decade after Don had private meetings with her shrink, Betty announced that she herself will be pursuing a master’s degree in psychology. She’s declaring war on her personal demons by resolving to educate herself in the science that tracks them. Under Henry’s roof, her intelligence and ambition are respected and nurtured rather than belittled. Don’s cynical self-assurance should be threatened by this development. He never believed in the value of psychoanalysis, even back when Betty was on the couch; he just wanted to know what his wife said about him. But in reality, few could derive a greater benefit from a good shrinking of the head than Don Draper. As Betty moves on with her life, Don remains stuck in his well-worn loop of Canadian Club and meaningless intercourse.

A therapist might say that Don applies meaning to his sexual appetite that isn’t really there. He fantasizes that Diana needs him, that they need each other, that their sex is cathartic, bandaging self-inflicted wounds from former lives. But it’s all an invention of his ego and his salesman’s imagination. What Diana needs is to be alone, for only then can she allow herself to feel the pain of what she’s been through and the guilt of what she’s done. Don only lets out his feelings in brief and intermittent moments of self-betrayal (like the Hershey incident) only to show up the following day and pretend like nothing ever happened. He’s more forthcoming with his childhood now, as we saw in last week’s midseason premiere, but telling funny stories about growing up in a whorehouse is not the same as feeling the pain from an old wound. Where he once used an air of mystery to stand as a barrier between himself and his true emotions, he now uses a relaxed attitude toward his past as a shield against the circumstances of his present. Diana’s loss of her child one-ups Don in the unspeakable tragedy department, and though she’s run away from her problems just like Don has, at least she has the strength of character to admit her faults and wrap herself in the sadness. Rather than rationalizing her distractions the way Don would, she sees them for what they are and promptly disengages once their temporary effect has worn off. As the series draws to a close, we wonder if Don will finally take a cue from someone who knows how to deal honestly with her pain.

stanWe may be done with Diana, but the ghosts of betrayals past continue to haunt the periphery of McCann-occupied SC&P. Roger has to skip a round of golf with client because the account man is that old cuckold Burt Goddamn Peterson, the man who never met a merger he could survive. Either Roger forgot or nobody told him that old Burt had been a senior VP at McCann since at least season six, a position he landed courtesy of headhunter extraordinaire Duck Phillips. I’m sad we didn’t get to see Burt in the episode–what does a happy, successful Burt Peterson even look like?!–but the mere mention of his name is enough. Like the situation with Ken Cosgrove in last week’s episode, here’s a man Roger betrayed, took pleasure in betraying, for whom he never felt remorse and indeed would have forgotten about entirely had he not kept reappearing, stronger and more unavoidable than ever. Thank goodness he has Marie Calvet to bail him out of the office for a fun-filled hour or two. Though by episode’s end Marie has left her husband Emile, I doubt she’ll be running straight into Roger’s arms for more than the odd booty call. Marie can’t take shit from anyone; how long could she possibly last with a man who proudly shits where he eats?

One of this episode’s common threads seemed to be men taking orders from and being sexually conquered by women. Stan has a hard time keeping his balls as it is, so the last thing he needs is for the slinky Pima Ryan (Mimi Rogers) to criticize his photographs and make him like it. As is so often the case with wannabe artists, Stan’s initial resentment of Pima stems from envy and a deep desire for her good opinion. She’s a real artist dabbling in advertising; he’s an ad company art director pining for legitimacy, and Pima’s presence both threatens and excites him. Those twin reactions converge during the darkroom rendezvous, and after their intercourse Stan becomes Pima’s property. Suddenly he’s campaigning on her behalf to a copy chief who experienced a similar come-on. This allows Peggy to throw Stan’s weakness back in his face, and he ends the episode seemingly wondering just how many balls he has left to lose at SC&P.

Don’s grand gesture of buying himself out of his relationship with a check for $1 million is part of his patented routine of self-aggrandizement through altruism: faced with responsibility for wrongdoing, he swoops in and provides some life-saving asset in an attempt to finagle himself back into the good graces of those he’s wronged. The last time we saw this move was in season six, when he pulled that fraying string we call Ted Chaough and saved Mitchell Rosen from possibly having to go to Vietnam, and we all remember how that turned out. Not coincidentally, the elder Rosens have a cameo in “New Business,” with Arnold mentioning that they’ve just come from the wedding of Mitchell’s commanding officer. We’re reminded that yes, Don (via Ted) saved Mitchell’s life, but in the end it didn’t get Don out of trouble the way he thought it would. Similarly, after handing over the $1 million check to Megan–what’s a million dollars to Don Draper? He was a millionaire when they met!–he finally comes home to find that he’s been robbed blind. A million dollars won’t buy Megan her youth back; it’s a lovely parting gift, but without some requisite damage to Don’s life there can be no settling of the score. Megan may not be happy with her mother, but she could care less what happens to Don. She doesn’t need to care anymore; she’s rich.
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