One of the many thrills of Sunday night’s 7B premiere of Mad Men was seeing Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff) again, and all that it is that she represents about the series. Of course, seeing her in a vision continued Don’s pattern of having visions of those who are already dead (see also: Anna Draper, Bert Cooper, and his half brother). But she also represented — as Ken Cosgrove noted in getting fired by McCann Erickson — “the life not taken.” Don had the opportunity to leave his wife and children in 1962 and move to Los Angeles with Rachel, but that opportunity passed him by, and where Rachel found happiness, Don is still struggling to locate it.
Indeed, as Don noted in the pilot episode of Mad Men in 2007, “This is all there is,” echoing the Peggy Lee song in the 7B premiere, “Is that all there is?” a song, by the way, that Matthew Weiner considered making the theme song.
My theory here on Don is that he’s still missing what Rachel found, and that is pure and simple love. The problem, as he explained to Rachel in the pilot episode of Mad Men, is that he doesn’t believe that “love” exists.
“Oh, you mean love. You mean the big lightning bolt to the heart where you can’t eat and you can’t work and you just run off and get married and make babies. The reason you haven’t felt it is because it doesn’t exist. What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons. You’re born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget.”
And maybe that’s where Don Draper is heading in the final six episodes. Either in search of that missing lightning bolt, or toward death. Alone.
Recall also that Don, in that episode, asked Rachel, “Why aren’t you married … don’t you think that getting married and having a family would make you happier?”
How’d that work out for Don?
It’s also worth mentioning, because nothing in Matthew Weiner’s universe is done by accident, that it’s no coincidence that the 7B premiere involved Don calling Rachel to get her to help to sell nylons to department store given that near iconic line delivered to Rachel Menken, a department store owner: “What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.”
That’s one hell of a multi-layered callback, Weiner.