SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, put on “Candle in the Wind’ and watch last night’s Mad Men.
“Your loyalty is starting to become a liability.” —Roger Sterling
Funny—so is Don’s disloyalty. But first, a word about Marilyn Monroe. In “Maidenform,” Pete Kinsey told us that all women saw themselves as either Jackie or Marilyn. The corollary was that 1962 (and then 1963) were not good years for either side of that dichotomy. You lived glamorously, self-medicated and died alone, or you hitched yourself to one man and were left vulnerable to disaster. It’s not entirely surprising that Joan would identify with Marilyn. A little more so that the elevator guy would.
Maybe Betty Draper is a little of both. There she is, alone and numbing herself with alcohol; there she is, suddenly husbandless with a young daughter and son. And yet Don, asking her to help paper over their troubles in front of the kids, makes it easier for her to keep him evicted by showing how easily he comes up with the lie: he’s working on an account in Philadelphia but will be home on weekends. This—more than any physical evidence she might find—only confirms what’s been going on for years. “Jesus. Did you just make that up?”
The fall of the aptly named Freddie Rumson, after pissing himself drunk in a meeting, was a nicely told short story that played off the other characters in several ways: Don’s aforementioned sense of loyalty, violated in the Mohawk Airlanes decision, Pete’s continued weaseliness and Peggy’s discomfort at advancing over Freddie’s drunken back. As Peggy points out, there’s a fine line between failure and colorful eccentricity, and that line consists of how other people agree to perceive you. Had Pete not squealed and pressed the issue, Freddie would be the same drunk he always was, but one with a colorful legend of having pissed himself, rather than an embarrassment who had to be cut loose.
But Freddie—dropping his brave face with Don alone, asking what will happen to him—particularly stands out as an example to Don of how little stands between a man and ruin. All you need to do is lose the thing that defines you. For Don, that’s Betty and his family. He doesn’t just need them in the way that all cheating husbands do. He needs them because they are an essentially part of the construct that makes him Don Draper. Without them, the edifice is likely to crumble; he risks letting himself go. He encounters Jimmy in the speakeasy (where heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson is) and coldcocks him, a loss of control that Don magnifies with an even greater loss of control: telling Sterling that it was “a real Archibald Whitman maneuver.”
“Who was that?”
“Some old drunk I used to know.”
It’s a dangerous, and telling, slip in a couple ways. Maybe in Freddie, Don sees his dad, and thus a possible future self. But moreover, separated now from his family, Don finds himself doing exactly the thing he explicitly avoided when Betty wanted him to take a firmer hand with his son: becoming his father. Strip away the family, the tableau of the good father and the pretend-good husband, and what do you have? Dick Whitman.
And with Don potentially losing his carefully constructed persona, you get the sense that the wheels could come off everything, as when he discovers that Sterling his leaving his own wife—for Don’s secretary. Self-destructiveness is everywhere in this episode of Mad Men: Marilyn, Betty, Freddie, Don, Roger. Apparently, it’s contagious.