The Lives of Others Dominate Mad Men, Season Seven, Episode Nine
It doesn’t seem so long ago that Don Draper was the central character and driving force behind everything that happened on “Mad Men.” While Jon Hamm as Draper still soaks up the most camera time in this final season, the Draper character has become a strange cameo player who passes through the lives of others.
He’s almost an accidental tourist who has come back to survey the wreckage he has wrought on those lives, in this case most particularly and painfully with his second wife Megan, who left a promising soap opera career in New York for a life with the damaged Draper in Los Angeles that never happens. In the ironically titled “New Business” (really more about old and unfinished business than anything new), Don is seeking redemption through a relationship with the waitress Diana, a damaged amalgam of every brunette that Don has tried to love, which is doomed to extinction like all the others. Diana has a secret that is as tragic and buried as the former Dick Whitman, and when she reveals it, Don first tries to comfort her and be there for her, as if this latest attempt at salvation will be the one that sticks. But in an odd and poignant scene (with the fine Elizabeth Reaser as Diana), Draper passively gives up the ghost and passes out of her life, as he has with others so many times before.
As in “Severance”, Don again plays voyeur, as we see him ruefully viewing the road not taken in the Francis family tableau at the beginning of the episode, and later experiencing the rage, contempt and hurt of his second estranged wife as they seek an ending to their marriage. Money can’t buy love, but a million dollar check (made out to Megan by her wayward soon-to-be ex-husband) seems to have a palliative effect. Don is out of excuses for his behavior and doesn’t even have the heart to defend himself against Megan. Her observation of him as an aging, boozy creep goes unanswered, other than by halfhearted “I’m sorry”. In between, Don has a glimpse of Sylvia and Dr. Rosen, still together, with her clearly contemptuous of Don and him blissfully ignorant of what when on right under his nose and in his bed.
These are all women—Betty, Megan and Sylvia—whose lives have been breached by the inconstant Draper, with the common denominator being that they’re all better off without him. And, in a visceral way, he knows that. Which is perhaps why after desperately seeking Diana, he gives up on her without a fight. He knows at the end, he’ll betray and disappoint her, adding to the ache of the old wound she carries. So the relationship (at least seemingly) ends, with a whimper and not a bang.
The episode ends with some heavy symbolism—Don, having been cleaned out of Diana’s life, comes home to find his own bachelor pad cleaned out as well, through the machinations of the furious Marie (Julia Ormond, again in great form), who steals everything with the exception of the kitchen sink in revenge for her daughter’s blasted life. She’s aided and abetted in this bit of thievery by the ever-malleable Roger, who trades the money she needs to pay off the movers for a last tango in Don’s crib his French Canadien amour. The last shot is of a surprised but resigned Draper, surveying not wreckage but desolation as he wanders through the empty canyon of his once furnished home.
The episode also features a curious side plot involving Peggy and Stan, and a bi-sexual poseur/con artist photographer (played by the seldom-seen Mimi Rogers, never better, by a long shot) who comes into their lives looking to triangulate them. This is part of the Continuing Education of Peggy Olson, as Peggy begins as an admirer of the older woman, ultimately disillusioned by the woman’s manipulative behavior. The Stan/Peggy relationship continues to be multilayered and complex, with Stan being one of the series’ marginal characters that has been given 3D treatment as the show has evolved. These are two mature adults with complicated feelings about each other, both professional and personal, and the Rogers character is there as a catalyst to draw them out further. It will be interesting to see where their arc ends.
Harlan R. Teller
Editor”s note: Is any one besides me interested to see how Betty Francis’ patients fare under her ministrations? While it may be true that people like to talk to her, it’s a bit of a stretch to go from there to assuming she’ll be a good therapist. Betty’s intention to go for a Master’s in psychology recalls her own time on the couch with the taciturn and sexist therapist from the first season. Still, it strikes me that saying that you want to be a therapist because people like talking to you is a bit like wanting to go into public relations because you like people, or enjoy going to lunch. Betty’s quick banter with Don is a brief light interlude in a series that is heading for its own heart of darkness.