17
Oct
2010
Mad Men: Season 4, Episode 13
Tomorrowland
Jordan
Thirteen weeks ago, a reporter asked us, "Who is Don Draper?" The ensuing season of Mad Men has done a lot to answer that question, even as it tells us lot about all of the other characters and the upheavals they all go through in the tumultuous 1965. This show has always been one to defy expectations, often almost perversely. This season had many examples of that, as when Don was almost exposed, but then was not with little fanfare, or when the company teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, and then quietly just kept going as the season ended. "Tomorrowland" was less about where SCDP is going as a company than it was about where each of the characters are going on their own personal journeys. These people are living through a decade of great change, and each of them are changing, or not, in their own very significant and telling ways as the stellar Season Four closes.

This season, more even than any in the past, has really been all about Don Draper. Yet before I dive into his somewhat shocking proposal, I'd like to take a look at where the show left each of the other characters as the season ended. For starters, just as we all guessed a few weeks ago, Joan did not go through with her abortion, and just as Roger suggested, she i lying to Greg and claiming the baby as theirs. Greg, of course, doesn't care enough to think about the math, focusing only on the prospect of Joan's already ample bosom getting bigger. Even earlier this season, the isolation of her uncaring husband and her unthinking coworkers would have driven Joan to well deserved tears, but she has grown a thicker skin over the course of this season (and her skin was quite thick to begin with. As she observes in a wonderful bonding moment with Peggy, the men in their lives are not who they should be, and certainly fall short of the ideals that she and Peggy (rightly) believe they are entitled to. Joan held out to marry the perfect man, then eventually gave in and married the incredibly inadequate Greg; this, and her terrible experiences with Roger this season, have shown her that all of the men in her life are at best "between marriages" and will never recognize the brilliance in their midst. Sure, Joan is better off than she was at the old Sterling Cooper--she even gets a title-only promotion to Director of Agency Operations--but no celebratory drinks are sent her way, and the promotion does not mean she won't still be fetching the drinks and delivering the mail the next day. Joan ma have earned everything she has by working ten times harder than any of the men of SCDP, but they will be the last ones to recognize her for it.

Peggy, meanwhile, is similarly frustrated at Don's sudden announcement, and at the lack of recognition she receives for bringing in the first new business since Lucky Strike left. Even more than Joan, Peggy has dealt with a lot to get where she is, but that doesn't mean she'll be recognized for her efforts, nor does that mean that she'll get the candor she expects from Don, who is too caught up in his new fiance (again, we'll get to that) to recognize what Peggy has done for the company, or what she's willing to do for him.

Before I move on to the season's (and, really the show's) center, I want to pause for a minute to mention Roger's season long arc, which gets only a mention here as he offers to lose to lose at golf to a potential client, only to be told rather bluntly by Pete that he is not necessary for their success. Roger has been increasingly marginalized in all areas of his life this season, and now he stands at its end, effectively useless to everyone around him, with an incredibly thin autobiography of beefed up accomplishments and an empty-eyed trophy wife waiting for him at home.

Roger has also served for most of the series as a cautionary tale for Don, a fact that became even more apparent tonight as Don mimicked Roger's action of a few seasons ago and abandoned a wonderful woman for a secretary that seems, on her face, to fit his needs. To my mind, Don latched onto Megan as quickly as he did tonight not only because, as Faye pointed out, he loves the beginning of things more than anything else, but also because Megan succeeded where Faye failed--she was good with Don's kids. Don Draper loves his children more than anything, though he increasingly recognizes that he is not made for fatherhood. He also knows that his ex-wife, the increasingly horrible Betty (who I could devote a paragraph too, but instead will mention in passing as increasingly angry, selfish, childish, and sad) is not fit to be a mother, and I think there is something pure and noble in his attraction to Megan as a potential mother figure for his children. Beyond that, Don mentioned earlier this season in his journal that he saw his relationship with Faye as a relationship between equals, as one that required true emotional investment. And, as he immediately followed that observation with, that is not what Don Draper wants. Don wants a modicum of control over his feelings, and that means that to be happy, Don needs to date down. He needs to be with someone who is not his equal, because that will allow him to control his relationship, and his life. It will also probably alleviate some of the guilt associated with his inevitable cheating.

Something to consider after this episode, and as we head into Season Five next summer, is who exactly Megan is and what her intentions are. Her every move with Don has been incredibly calculated, from seducing him in his office to swinging by dressed to the nines on her way out. Yet from what she told us, Megan's path is not akin to Joan's or Jane's; she is not looking to land a husband and settle down. Rather, it seems she has been angling for a cop-writing job from day one, and being married to a partner is likely to help her get that. I immediately see the benefit of this union from Don's perspective--Megan is a solid presence who will be loyal to him, easy to control his emotions with, and a solid mother figure for his children. What Megan hopes to get out of this marriage is slightly less straightforward, and I expect the answer to that question will play a large role in Season Five.

This is a lot of the plot development, but what of the actual quality of the episode? I must admit that as a pretty committed fan of the Faye-Don union, I was saddened to see her pushed to the margins. Faye would have made Don into a better man, I think, but after a season's worth of searching, Don knows who he is and who he wants to be, and he has made his choice. As much as he likes his dalliances with women he considers on his level, he does not want to commit to a relationship with one. In seasons past, I always pegged Don as unhappy in his marriage with Betty and cheating on her with women he would prefer to be with. Yet I was giving Don too much credit. Don was shocked and angered when Betty ended their marriage, because his emotional control in that relationship was exactly where he wanted it. He has pursued affairs with women on his level not because he wants to be with them, but because he wants a taste of what that might be like before retreating to the safety of his comfortable, though ultimately loveless marriage. "Tomorrowland" was not the huge, dramatic game changer of "Shut the Door, Have a Seat," but it did change the game in its own, quiet way. As Stephanie tells Don tonight, her still has his whole life ahead of him, and it seems that Don takes that to mean he can remake himself once again as a happily married and successful man, even if this is little more than a lie he tells to himself and the world. Don Draper is,at heart, an existentialist. He saw the hand that life dealt him, found it lacking, and so decided to change it, to remake himself into his image of success and happiness. It seemed for much of this season like Don was headed for total ruin, and he may still be, but "Tomorrowland" reminds us that for a man like Don Draper, the future is his to create however he sees fit. As for how he will do that, well, that's a question for next season.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-Its been great covering another season of Mad Men. Thanks to everyone who's been reading!

-I didn't mention this above, mostly because I avoided belaboring the Betty subplot when there was much juicier material to cover, but Carla's dismissal was a real heartbreaker. At least she lashed out at Betty a bit before she left though.

-"Maybe is not all about work. Maybe that sick feeling would go away if you take your head out of the sand about the past." Don wants, more than anything, to just be an ordinary guy. Yet the terrible things he does haunt him at his most introspective, and I'm not sure he'll ever be able to let go of the past. I'm not sure he should.

-"Did you get cancer?"

-"Its not worth the risk. Cynthia is my life. My ACTUAL LIFE." Ken, who I also neglected above, values family over business. That certainly makes him the odd man out at SCDP. But also, remember that Ray Wise plays his father-in-law, so his priorities may shift next season, as the show will almost definitely be bringing Wise back.

-"You said you didn't have any experience and you're like Maria Von Trapp." And Don's relationship with Megan is a tad bit like The Sound of Music, isn't it?

-"I waned a fresh start. I'm ENTITLED to that." "There's not such thing as a fresh start. Life just goes on." Wise words by Henry to an impetuous Betty. Don could also use to her them tonight.

-Trivia: Don and his kids ate in the same diner set that a used in Pulp Fiction.

-"What about Tomorrowland? I don't want to ride an elephant, I want to fly a jet." New Bobby (Fuck You, New Bobby) got a line, and it was a meaningful one.

-"Ms. Calvay and I are getting married." "Who the hell is that?"

-"Whatever could be on your mind?"-Joan, when Peggy storms in after Don's engagement announcement.

-And, to play us out, as it did the episode, a nice, period and story appropriate use of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe." See you all next season!
Tags: Mad Men
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