The Sound of Typewriters
Fame, Ilya S. Savenok/ Getty
Mad Men Season 7 Episode 3 recap.
This is why I love screenwriting so much. There are so many things that lesser writers would have put into Don Draper’s mouth. So many words. In fact, even just the volume of words that could have been put there would have been wrong. But for Don, it’s a very simple proposition.
How does one word tell you so much? Joan and Bert and Jim lay out the most egregious of terms for Don’s return. No being alone with clients. Sticking to a pre-approved script. No drinking. No day drinking. Reporting to Lou.
A series of punches, one after another. Taking away every perk of the job, one after the other. And Don says “okay”.
What matters to him is the work. Is the office. It’s the reason he was happy to sit in the creative bullpen, listening to all the young bucks’ stories and problems. It’s the reason he is working on ideas with Freddie in his house and sending them all over town – it’s certainly not because he needs the money. Instead, it’s because he loves it. Because he misses the office.
A different Don would have stormed out to a bar after the first 25 minutes of waiting. That’s not today’s Don Draper. A different Don would have been storming around the place demanding things (although we notice he hasn’t processed that Dawn’s new position means anything with regard to not constantly getting him coffee). This is a new Don.
The most interesting part about his return – and they took their time getting there – is what it does and will do to the office dynamics. I mean, having to report to Lou! I don’t disagree that Peggy is coming across as a shrewish petty schoolmarm, but I think this is a function of everything that’s gone on. Peggy isn’t that much of a brat, and Ginsberg isn’t that much of a dick, but in the new ecosystem, without Don to cut down all their egos or build them up based on merit, instead of favouritism, things start to suck. They need Don to keep them in balance.
Similarly, the partners are off balance at present, with Joan as an indulged pet of Cooper’s, Roger and Jim at each other’s throats consistently, and Pete and Ted utter non-events. Don is the swing vote, the number 7 position, the one who can be the fulcrum of balance between them all. Kelly sent a note early this morning hoping that I would address Joan’s coldness to Don, and I don’t think it’s personal, or all that premeditated. I think she is doing what’s most pragmatic for her current position, which is still somewhat tenuous. Remember, it was Cutler who plucked her out of the personnel position just last week – she knows where her bread is buttered. Even if she’s a fan of Don personally, she knows it won’t do her any good to align with a sinking ship, if the ship is indeed sinking. It’s kind of the inverse of how, in the early years, nobody knew better than Joan that Pete was a despicable little worm, but it behooved her to keep in good stead with him, so she did.
So now Don is going to be creative head, or something like that, but has to report to Lou. Who, as we’ve seen, is “adequate”, which is the most damning accolade you could ever hope to use. He’s going to be brilliant and temperamental and frustrating, because the one thing they’re not upset about is what he can produce.
And isn’t that just going to make Lou so crazy? If the show decided to do a bottle episode and stage it all inside Don’s/Lou’s office, well, nothing would make me happier.
There is an outstanding issue, of course, in terms of Megan. I thought it was unfortunate – or, maybe, telling? – that in what could be one of her final episodes, Megan seemed more like a real person than ever. Maybe it was the acting that improved, but regardless, I was delighted to see Megan talking and feeling like someone with actual stakes in her marriage and her life. And I don’t have any inside insight into the whole “last episode” thing but lord knows there are signs pointing all over the place to the woman who lives alone in the hills being vulnerable.
Still, it’s not about whether or not she’ll get kidnapped or eaten by a mountain lion – it’s about love. Does Don love her? He tries, undoubtedly but that’s not the same thing as loving her, especially if you have to force it to show up.
We’ll get back to Megan but this, to me, is what the whole Betty story was about. It’s far too late for us to get emotionally invested in Bobby, especially given that we don’t know what he even looks like anymore. But this is about whether or not you can be taught to love, and whether that requires that you get love in return. Betty is a child – who somehow believes that because the kid thoughtlessly gave away her sandwich that he doesn’t love her – and not that he’s just a kid. It’s saddest not because she makes him feel bad, but because they’re not a ten year old and his mother in this instance, but a couple of ten year olds with the same level of emotional maturity. Where does that come from? If you’re not taught to love, is that a repeating pattern? The issue is not whether or not Betty’s children love her, since it’s pretty clear that she’ll never be contented (after all, she goes on the field trip only to prove that Bobby needs her and that she doesn’t need a job like Francine does) and that she doesn’t know the first thing about “selfless”. But Bobby is not being given a very good example, even if Henry is going to win the award for best stepfather in fiction, ever.
The question is, do you need love to love properly? If Don has problems loving anyone, is it because of how he grew up? Because he was unloved, will he be able to love anyone properly? That is to say, anyone outside Roger, who may after all be his most perfect life partner? And is the same pattern destined to repeat itself with Bobby?
I feel like if you’ll forgive me, there’s something to be gleaned from that great line in Center Stage (I know, but I’m doing something here). As the troubled young dancer rages, the older, wiser, more humbled teacher tells her that the answer isn’t anywhere but at the barre. Puns aside, this is Don’s lesson too. Whatever problems he has, whatever shortcomings, whatever issues in learning to love, he’s only able to fix them if he looks to the place that’s always been best for him – his ad desk.
In fact I believe that’s the difference between Don of 1960 and now. Today’s Don knows he need it (and probably knows he’s going to fix Peggy on his way). He’s going to be shockingly humble as he gets back into the world he missed most. Which doesn’t preclude him causing significant problems for Lou, which is something I cannot wait for.
Attached – Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss out in New York City and Moss at an event this weekend.