Fellow Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce shareholders,
We all are going to die. Like the ruthlessness of New York real estate, the impossibility of really ever knowing anyone else, or the inevitable destruction of our civilization in the face of risen apes—these are certainties to be faced. The manner in which we face them is, of course, the manner in which our true nature exposes itself.
And so, in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who have our heroes become?
The once-vigorous Draper is almost a mimeograph now of his former self, purple with burst blood vessels from the booze and the exploits. To tell the truth, he’s almost a bore: when the Andy awards resume after a brief interlude for grieving and lining up at the payphones to make sure loved ones are safe and sound, Don greets Megan’s horror with a shrug. “What else are we gonna do?” he asks. His imagination, or empathy, or life force, fails him.
Mrs. Draper, meanwhile, is on a bit of a tear. She wins our only award of the night, but gave up advertising for acting long ago (and is a wild success at that, too.) She wears the late ‘e60s phantasmagoria of prints and fabrics like she was born to do it. In the meantime, she’s a more attentive and responsive parent to the Little Drapers than either of their biological parents, or than her own parents were to her. And if she married her father (stuck on Canadian Club instead of Marx), it seems far more likely she’ll be the one getting serviced in upscale powder rooms, instead of on her knees to please another man, like her mother.
Let’s just say Mrs. Francis makes a lousy Lady Macbeth. If she’s really been angling for Henry to make senator, as she says, binge eating and bad parenting and suggesting he rape a pre-teen are strange ways to do it. But let’s not forget the astounding moment when Henry explains how, in the course of his campaign, People Will Meet Her. Her face flares from anticipation to dissociation to fear in mere seconds—for who will those people meet, after hall? The pretty young Betty with the world in her handbag, or this pudgy Brunette model slouched down under the weight of her own self-loathing?
The only thing tougher than apartment hunting in the city, for Peggy, seems to be actually connecting with another human being. The awkward hugs of sympathy she dispenses seem to physically pain her, as if she loses something of herself with each touch. For someone so good at exploiting and profiting from the force of the human appetite—or advertising, as it’s called—she has a hell of a time marshaling her own desires.
It’s important to note that we only had reactions to MLK’s death from black secretaries, line cooks, and ushers for no other reason than that Those In Charge Of All This have, from the beginning of our story, chosen to ignore the many worlds in which they did things other than serve the white men in charge. This choice fails both us out here in the real world and the characters we follow; it fails us all consistently; and though the failure is most evident in moments like this week, when the stakes seem all the higher, doesn’t mean the failure isn’t happening in small ways, every week. We are our choices.
So let’s focus on small things that look promising. First of all, have Pete and Harry traded places in some strange Freaky Friday hijinks? Pete taking the moral high ground and Harry whining about money was a delicious switcheroo, made all the better by Burt Cooper’s befuddled Buddha posture; if Pete had punched Harry in the face, we all would have cheered as loudly as we did when Layne (RIP) punched him.
There was some serious stunt-casting shenanigans this week. Let’s please stop it. All the Tecumseh in the world won’t distract us. There might be a tear and in that tear might be all the tears in the world. All the animals might be crying. But Ethan Goodspeed will never be who he seems, no matter what or when or how he appears. Don’t let him on your manifest.
Bobby! Bobby! At very long last young Bobby Draper is given things to do: he watches Planet of the Apes, learns about time travel, and blasphemes gloriously. We at last can see the Don in him—and he can, too. If only Don himself was as pleased as we are, but no: in a matter of hours he’s blitzed in his bedroom and on his balcony, existentially lost. Sally, meanwhile, is all sneers and resentment and still the best kid on television. Ginsburg and his father seem to be stuck in some Neil Simon play. Joan tried what might have been a macramé ensemble, to her discredit. Roger thought Dr. King could talk his way into revolutionary success, because of course Roger thought that, and his being wrong seemed a larger source of sadness to Roger than Dr. King’s death. But that’s who Roger is.
Let’s open the floor: should we stop trying to shoehorn Big Historical Moments into these stories, and focus on the small personal details that always feel so devastating real? What’s more irresponsible—fully admitting everyone exploits history for their own gain, and doing it anyway, or sidestepping the whole problem through things like, oh, subtle allegories like Planet of the Apes?