By Sarah Carlson | TV | October 18, 2010 |
By Sarah Carlson | TV | October 18, 2010 |
Standing in the kitchen of the empty home they once shared, Betty Francis admits to ex-husband Don Draper that in her new life, “things aren’t perfect.” She has finally left the house that was once the Draper residence, moving the children and husband Henry from Ossining to Rye, New York. But she knows the move — just as her divorce from Don and marriage to Henry — won’t solve her problems. “So, you’ll move again,” Don says, a cool assertion, though not said cruelly, that does more to belittle Betty than calm her anxiety. He might as well be talking about himself. Don is the constant chameleon, the ever-changing everyman who picks up and moves on when so forced. He can always find a way around his problems by creating new ones instead, and the enigma of his character — “Who is Don Draper?” is the question that opened Season Four — is what keeps us watching. But after four seasons, the fourth concluding Sunday with Episode 13, “Tomorrowland,” the joke is on the viewers. We know all about Draper’s past as Dick Whitman, and about all his indiscretions, fears and secrets. But we still can’t predict what he’ll do next, and last night’s jaw-dropping developments were incredible even for him. But for all we know, he’ll just pack up in Season Five and move again.
Don has a sick feeling in his stomach as “Tomorrowland” opens, which Faye attributes to nerves he has for meeting with the American Cancer Society board. Its members were intrigued by the stunt he pulled when Lucky Strike company American Tobacco ended its business with Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce — running a full-page ad in The New York Times declaring the agency would not longer work with tobacco companies, adding that he was tired of working with them anyway. It’s early in the morning, and Faye is leaving Don’s apartment to catch an early flight. He’s heading to California with his kids later, and she says she’ll call him when he gets back. Don says that he’ll miss her. At the big meeting, ACC board members tell Don that they believe strongly in preventing lung cancer by getting people to stop smoking, but they admit that targeting adults can be a lost cause. Don suggests they form a campaign to target teenagers, who like rebellion and adulthood, yes, but who also have sentimental sides. “They’re mourning for their childhood more than they’re anticipating their future,” he says, “because they don’t know it yet, but they don’t want to die.”
This meeting lands Don and the agency a second meeting. After Don and Pete tell Roger and Ken the news, they all turn to Ken and ask him to use his future father-in-law’s connection to one of the ACC board members to help the agency land Dow Chemical. Ken isn’t game, though, admitting he isn’t like Pete in how far he’ll go for work. Pete, in classic form, agrees that Ken isn’t like him, but Ken is firm in his stance that he won’t do anything to jeopardize his impending marriage. That’s his life; this is just work, he says, which Don considers. The agency is desperate for new business now that Lucky Strike is gone and other clients are dropping out. Money is tight, which means that even though Joan has been promoted to Director of Agency Operations, Lane tells her, the raise comes only in title, not in pay. “Well, it’s almost an honor,” Joan says as she goes back to pushing the mail cart.
Sally’s recent playdates with Glen prompted Betty to agree to move the family away from Ossining, and the house is almost all packed when Glen stops by to see Sally. Carla doesn’t think it wise at first, but then agrees to let Glen tell his friend goodbye. In Sally’s room, the two discuss visiting each other once Glen can drive, and Sally says she could write him letters. They hug goodbye. But as Glen heads out, Betty arrives and yells at him. Glen doesn’t run away like he did last time she confronted him, instead saying, “Just ‘cause you’re sad doesn’t mean everybody has to be.” Betty turns on Carla for letting Glen see Sally. “When did you decide that you’re her mother?” Betty asks her. “It was a mistake,” Carla says. “There’s no need for that talk.” Betty then feeds Carla the line that she’s considered about the traveling distance from where Carla lives to where the Francis’ are moving, and she thinks it’s best they find another housekeeper/nanny. She continues to be obnoxious to the point that Carla says, “You best stop talking now.” Betty doesn’t let Carla tell the children goodbye, and soon calls Don to tell him about the ordeal and that Carla won’t be able to travel with him and the children to California.
(Side note: Betty is still wearing those plaid pants and house dresses, looking more like a ’50s housewife than one in the mid-’60s. She once represented the height of fashion, but now she appears stuck in her old habits as the younger women of the day embrace trends of shorter dresses and skirts, as well as bolder makeup and hair-dos. Betty is outdated.)
Megan, Don’s secretary, is tasked with finding sitters who can help out Don while he’s in California, which he lets people think is a business trip mixed with vacation but is really a trip for him to settle his affairs with the (real) Draper estate now that Anna has died. Finding the potential solutions too complicated, Don invites Megan to join them instead. Thus begins a series of sun-kissed images of the beautiful (and 25) Megan tending to Sally, Bobby and Gene at the pool and in the hotel room, even teaching them songs to sing in French. “You said you didn’t have any experience,” Don tells her, “and you’re like Maria von Trapp.” Don takes Sally and Bobby with him to Anna Draper’s empty house so he can sign papers with Anna’s niece, Stephanie. Sally notices the tag on the wall where Don wrote “Dick + Anna ‘64.” She asks who Dick is, and after a pause Don says that he is Dick — “that’s my nickname sometimes.” When the children are out of earshot, Stephanie hands Don the engagement ring Anna received from the real Don Draper. Anna wanted him to have it, Stephanie insists. The three return to find Megan in the pool with Gene, and after first saying he wasn’t up for swimming, Don returns to the pool to offer a cannonball and play around. In the room later, he discusses Disneyland plans with the kids, circling places to visit on a park map. Megan stops by with a college friend to see if they need anything before they head out to dinner. Don watches her as he leaves, an almost sad look on his face. “What about Tomorrowland?” Bobby asks the others, still focusing on the map. “I don’t want to ride an elephant; I want to fly a jet.”
Henry is furious at Betty for firing Carla without consulting him. He learned about the incident because Carla called him, also informing him that Betty refused to write her a letter of recommendation. Betty had used the kids needing stability as her excuse for not moving for so long, Henry says to her. What kind of stability does it provide when she fires the nanny they have had since they were born? Betty says she wanted a fresh start. “There is no fresh start,” Henry says. “Lives carry on.” (Ah, an adult.) “Jesus, Henry, just once could you take my side?” Betty yells back. “No one’s ever on your side, Betty,” he answers.
In California, Don hears Megan return to her room and visits her under the pretense of going over the plans for the Disneyland visit. She’s no fool and invites him in, and looking at the stars from the balcony, they kiss. Megan wonders if their romance is a good idea, but they continue anyway. In bed early the next morning, Don appears lovestruck and Megan admits she had thought about this scenario immediately after Don suggested she travel with the family. She doesn’t know anything about him, he says, but she disagrees. “I know you have a good heart,” she says. “I know you’re always trying to be better.” “We all try,” he says. “We don’t always make it.” He wants reassurance, and receives it, that whatever their relationship is, it’s more than just a hook-up. The next day, Don looks almost startled to see Megan and his kids eating at a restaurant, looking like a family. Sally and Bobby quibble about something and Sally accidentally knocks over her milkshake. Don immediately yells “Great!” and his temper flares, but Megan is calm as she wipes up the spill and asks for more napkins. No use getting upset, she says, and Don looks amazed.
He’s still amazed that next morning, back in New York. He’s dressed and sitting on the edge of his bed as Megan sleeps, and when she wakes he tells her he couldn’t sleep because he kept thinking about her. “I don’t know what it is about you,” he says, “but I feel like myself when I’m with you, but the way I’ve always wanted to feel. Because I’m in love with you, Megan, and I think I have been for awhile.” Don pulls out Anna’s engagement ring. “When I saw you sleeping there, I thought, I couldn’t imagine not seeing you sleeping there every morning. Will you marry me?”
I’ll give you a moment to process that last part.
Megan is shocked and says it’s all happening so fast, but she soon says yes. “You have a ring — how long have you been thinking about this?” she asks excitedly as he slips it on her finger. Don says the ring has been in his family, then is a tad more truthful by saying it belonged to someone he cared about (someone who knew who he really is). Thinking about how much Megan doesn’t know about Don’s life hurts my head; most people are in the dark, and with Anna now gone, only Betty and Faye know that Don is actually Dick (though Pete knows part of the story). Don is all smiles at the office, though, as he tells his partners of his engagement. Roger doesn’t recognize Megan’s last name, but Joan smiles and lets the men know Don is referring to Megan. They offer their congratulations and invite Megan inside the office as they applaud.
Only Peggy shows shock as she and Ken stop by with account news. Throughout Don’s dalliances in California, Peggy has been working to land an account with Topaz pantyhose she learned about through Joyce and Joyce’s model friend, Carolyn. Carolyn was fired from a photo shoot for Topaz, as was the agency behind the campaign, and Peggy, Ken and Harry worked to secure a meeting with Topaz representatives. Peggy started throwing ideas out and immediately grabbed the reps’ attention, and they agreed to come on board — a $250,000-a-year boost for the struggling agency, and the first deal made since Lucky Strike left. Don is happy at the news, but Peggy steals a moment to shut his door and ask him about the engagement. Don tells her not to worry, that the relationship has been going on awhile. “She reminds me of you, she’s got the same spark,” Don tells Peggy. “I know she admires you just as much as I do.”
Peggy heads to Joan’s office and knocks on the already open door. “Whatever could be on your mind?” a smiling Joan says sarcastically, and the two discuss the ridiculousness of the situation. “He’ll probably make her a copywriter,” Joan says. “He won’t want to be married to his secretary.” Peggy wonders if that was what Don meant when he said Megan admires her, and then she goes on to complain that even though she just brought in the first account since Lucky Strike, it still doesn’t merit the excitement of getting married. Joan commiserates by telling Peggy she received a raise by title only. “If they poured champagne, it must have been while I was pushing the mail cart,” she says dryly, adding she learned a long time ago not to derive all her satisfaction from her job. “That’s bullshit,” Peggy says, and the two laugh.
Now it’s time for Don to tell Faye. He calls and says they need to talk, and he suggests getting coffee, but Faye says she’d rather just hear what it is now without going through the forced niceties of a coffee date. Don tells her he’s met someone else … and now they are engaged. “Are you kidding me?” she asks, already teary. Then, “Who is she?” “What’s the difference?” Don says. “I fell in love. I didn’t mean for this to happen, and you’ve been very important to me.” “So you’re not gonna put an ad in the New York Times saying you never liked me?” Faye responds. (Love her.) “Well,” she continues, “I hope you’re very happy. And I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things.”
“And he’s smiling like a fool like he’s the first man who’s ever married his secretary,” a laughing Joan tells her husband, Greg, on the phone in Vietnam. Greg wants to know when Joan will share with her coworkers her own news — she’s pregnant. Ruh roh. I’m assuming she didn’t go through with the abortion after her tryst with Roger after all, and she’s telling Greg that the baby is his. Greg wants to see her growing belly, wondering why she isn’t showing in the pictures she sent. She would be if the baby were his and she’d gotten pregnant months earlier than she did. What’s Roger going to do and say when he finds out?
Don stops by the old house in Ossining to meet a realtor, and Betty is there with one last box. Don finds a bottle of wine he had hidden in a cupboard above the refrigerator, and the two share sips as they discuss their past in the house. This is when Betty reveals that her new life isn’t so perfect, and Don’s answer is simply that they can move again if they need another change. He tells her he’s engaged, and though shocked, Betty says she is happy for him. “It’s OK, Betty,” he says. “I don’t know why I’m surprised,” she replies. “Is she your secretary? I know she watched the kids in California.” Correct guess, Betty. She hands him her key and heads out the back of the house as he goes toward the front to meet the realtor. The bottle of wine and plastic cup they used remain on the kitchen counter. That night, as Megan sleeps alongside him, Don stares out the window at the night sky.
This season has been outstanding for its consistency of story and amped drama as well as comedy — 13 episodes that each made the viewer care for the characters. “Tomorrowland” was a fitting finale, albeit a confusing one, that ended almost two years from where Season Three left off. Where that season’s “Shut the Door. Have a Seat” showed many changes in the characters lives, those events were natural outcomes of choices made. Don’s engagement to Megan seems to defy comprehension at first. It happens so quickly and with a character I never suspected him to end up with that my hands were in the air and I wondered if the entire proposal were a dream sequence.
The rash decision makes sense considering Don’s tendency (and this episode’s theme) of jumping for a fresh start once his previous one shows signs of growing stale. What negates this proposition is how he clung to his marriage to Betty and moved on only when forced, and even then he took his sweet time crawling out from the hole he’d dug for himself. But now, so quickly moving from Faye to Megan — from the woman who can be his partner, who calls him on his shit, who truly knows him, to a much-younger woman he barely knows — he’s turning into the man he once brutally criticized for doing the same thing: Roger. Roger dumped his wife, Mona, to be with his young secretary, Jane, having fallen in love. Now, Don is repeating the trend, and while he was busy in California, Peggy was working on a holiday in New York and doing her best to save the company. And as a friend pointed out to me, she’s now becoming Don, the hardworking, go-to talent the agency can’t survive without. This season has all along played with the notions of the new guard replacing the old, and now that appears to be coming to fruition. Even Don can’t avoid the cycle of becoming just like his predecessors.
Perhaps Don feels trapped. If most of us really are destined to turn into our parents or mentors — to lose the ideals of youth and conform to society through age, not to mention being replaced in society by younger and hipper models of ourselves — and if there’s no such thing as a fresh start, why not just do what we like and hope for the best? Creator Matthew Weiner doesn’t seem to have left his characters many options. There’s middle ground out there, the “lives carry on” bit Henry mentioned. Don grew as the season developed — so close to actually carrying on with his life. I didn’t expect him to change course and turn into a clone of Roger. The ascension of Peggy is glorious, but is it now time for the fall of Don?
So, is Don really in love? Will his and Megan’s relationship last? Or, as my friend hoped, did Megan hit her head in the hotel pool and thus dream the entire engagement scenario? And what about Faye — she knows who Don is, about his desertion from the Army and stolen identity. She has the power to make his life miserable, not to mention she also has a “two-bit gangster” for a father. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of her. As for Henry, the longer he’s with Betty the more he seems to realize the mess he has gotten himself into by marrying her. Perhaps he’s learned there’s more to love in someone than a pretty face, but will he ever leave her? Or is he too honorable to turn his back on the new family? Will Glen make it out to Rye to visit Sally, and what will happen with Sally in general now that her mother continues to make her life miserable?
In his pitch to the American Cancer Society board, Don recommends they target teenagers and create images that put cigarettes in between them and their parents. But they hate their parents, a board member says, but Don replies that that is beside the point. They won’t be thinking about their parents; they’ll be thinking about themselves. It’s what they do. Don always knows how to target an audience, and an anti-smoking campaign (created by a smoker) aimed at teenagers is no exception. He’s just like them — always thinking of himself and longing for the innocence of childhood. He’s aware of his own mortality, though, but he’s either not ready or unable to grow up. He’ll leave that to do tomorrow.
Sarah Carlson has a front-row seat to the decline of the newspaper industry and lives in Alabama with her overly excitable Pembroke Welsh Corgi.