When Don Draper takes a detour in California to visit Anna Draper at the end of Mad Men’s second season, he goes back to being Dick Whitman. The change is immediate for him, and it’s natural. He drops his façade and is welcomed with open arms by the one person who really knows him and knows his secret. Anna reads his Tarot cards one day, and even though Dick doesn’t believe there’s any truth revealed in the spread, he’s disturbed by the presence of the Judgment card. He sees it as representing “the end of the world,” but Anna’s view is different. “It’s the resurrection,” she says.
A sort of rebirth is what Dick needs, but this early in the series, he still is under the mistaken notion that to achieve this is to continue his life with a false identity. He can try all he wants to be a better version of Don, but he won’t find peace — he won’t find the sort of escape he longs for, the kind he reveals in Season Six’s “The Doorway” with his footprints-leading-into-the-ocean ad — until he reckons with his life as Dick. Now halfway through Season Seven, we’ve seen him get closer to finding redemption, and the beauty of Mad Men is seeing how the stage was set for this path all along.
Rewatching Don walking into the ocean as a sort of cleansing at the end of the Season Two’s The Mountain King, it’s much easier to connect it to that ocean ad in Season Six. The footprints are his; the desire is his. Peggy is on the same path and encounters a similar message in Season Two. As the Cuban Missile Crisis has everyone wondering if the next minute will be their last, a priest advises the following to his congregation: Because you can’t control the world’s events, you should at least take charge of your own soul. Everyone is a sinner, and the only path to redemption is to admit this fact to yourself, confess it to others, then repair it. Admit, confess, repair. That’s the arc of the series.
“One day you’re there, and then all of a sudden, there’s less of you,” Peggy tells Pete in the Season Two finale. “… You keep thinking maybe you’ll get it back. And then you realize — it’s gone.” There is no magic escape route to a better life — there is no paradise on earth, a theme heavily discussed in the sixth and seventh seasons. Season Two Peggy and Don still have to come to terms with this, though, and watching them “then” knowing what we know now is a beautiful thing.
Join us — myself, Corey Atad, and Movie Mezzanine writer Kevin Ketchum — as we discuss Season Two and specifically the final three episodes (The Jet Set, The Mountain King, and Meditations in an Emergency) in the latest Not Great, Pod!
And join us for the rewatch, won’t you? It continues next month with the first half of Season Three.
Sarah Carlson is Television Editor for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.