Mad Men Watch: Don Draper’s Baby

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Jaimie Trueblood/AMC

Fellow Sterling Cooper & Associates Shareholders,

It’s time to develop a more coherent approach to new business. Enough with the machinations, the subterfuge and the gambles. Enough with the set-ups, the smiling at our enemies with knives (or plans) drawn. There’s too much violence as it is: too many men just a brief flirtation away from committing assaults they’ll claim you welcome; too many men without pasts, terrified they’re without futures; too many women caught in impossible situations, too powerful to just sit there looking pretty, but too powerless to do more than shake their heads before getting dismissed from the room.

Enough time has passed, now. We have juice experience. We’ve seen a man lose his foot in this office, men stumble down the brand new grand staircase, a man hang himself in his cubicle and rot there, seen fistfights and newborns and speeches for the ages and tongue-tied executives. And the language we use for each other grows more fraught even as the furniture affects casual, velveteen comfort, and skinny ties bloat into neckerchiefs into spread colors into t-shirts. The name for this place expands and contracts, along with the range of who’s welcome inside it, along with the dimensions of the river of cash. And we’ve learned, though it’s sometimes surprising, that, generally, the worse of a person you, are the more money you make. Carve that into the walls, here. Just keep coming up with the pitches.


Don’s carousel is spinning ever more out of orbit, and it’s starting to feel like the end of Strangers on a Train. He ignores not only domestic sex-kitten Megan as she begs for attention in a peasant blouse, but also the televised, recherché Megan-cum-Betty in a sharp blond wig and accent, literally changing the channel on her. He’s dumping vodka in his orange juice and throwing money at his children. His pitches have gone soft. We knew all this was inevitable. But Dick Whitman can surprise us, still: for all the aggression, for the grand pivots he makes as he turns from rival to rival, vanquishing them with a glare, the real lesson of this week is there’s nothing more dangerous than affable Don.


And the trees whisper, Who is Bob? At this point, Bob’s Sphinx smile and creamy demeanor scream cypher. We’re tempted to project onto him: is he a sociopathic scamp like Tom Ripley? An early victim of the Best Little Boy in the World syndrome? Underneath that vacant handsomeness, is he BOB himself, biding his time back east before traveling west to Twin Peaks? How can anyone possible think it a good idea, Blank Bob and Prissy Pete heading off to Detroit, where contracts are signed with a shot in the face? Perhaps Bert Cooper really does just want Pete Campbell dead.


Like many children of divorce, Sally’s caught in a battle between her parents. Unlike most of them, our Sally is so self-contained and self-possessed that this battle is taking place almost completely inside herself. Who will win: the Don inside of her who provides that ineffable charm irresistible to teenage boys, mean girls, aging admission counselors, and eventually all of New York City and beyond? Or the Betty inside her, who wields a hauteur to mask deep suspicions of helplessness, who considers being called frigid an insult but ice queen a nobility title? Don, who pretends to want to talk to people but really just wants to instruct them—or Betty, who pretends to want to talk to people but really wants them talking about her? Don, who’s most at home drunk and drugged up in a bedroom, or Betty, chain-smoking and chain-eating French fries in her gracious automobile? Strangely, for a teenager in 1968, perhaps Sally’s big rebellion against her parents was not sleeping with Rolo. There’s an all-powering glint in Sally’s eye, and we want her to win, but resisting these inherited urges for self-annihilation is a test no one would envy.


Let’s say Peggy’s ad idea is brilliant (it is, and a little bit racist, but okay). Let’s say it’s high time for her to get more recognition for her work, as opposed to her uncanny ability to find the light of a boss’s attention and bloom in it. Let’s say she’s caught in the forces of history, at a moment in time in which, like never before, an ambitious woman is a castrating bitch or a minx — Liz Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Liz Taylor in Cleopatra. Let’s say even Peggy herself must be bored of this damned-either-way dilemma. We must also say, all the above being true, that this situation grows less interesting by the week. Week after week, Peggy is told to leave the room, and she does, and each time she does one perhaps aches a touch less for her return. We’re all begging you, Peggy: please just stay in the room.


It’s almost last call, folks. Speculation of how all this will end is a fool’s errand, but how about a few wishes in the well? Let’s hope Bobby isn’t just climbing and pulling paper off the walls; that Megan gets a fat alimony check and that apartment; that Sally falls in love with a boarding school English professor and starts writing her own story (spinoff, here she comes), that Henry runs for Mayor to justify his own existence; that Joan becomes ever more Joan and that we get to witness it; that Kenny heals and goes back to the Sci-Fi, we miss it; that Harry stays in LA and floors Norman Lear shows with ads. That, in the end, each of the people we love find ways to make their mark on the world, without too much damage and with just some slight rewards. For none of this is real, but it feels real, and that counts.