I’m reviewing all the episodes of Mad Men before the last seven episodes premiere in the Spring of 2015. If you want to see an overview of the episodes I’ve written about so far, click HERE.
Remember that flashback scene a couple of episodes back in which a woman comes in to tell Don that she knows he isn’t Don Draper? And remember the end of the first episode of this season, in which Don mails a copy of Meditations in an Emergency to an unknown person? Well, “The Mountain King” reveals these secrets, as we have the pleasure to meet Anna Draper.
Here’s the gist of what happened. After our Don took the identity of the real Don Draper, he started his new life selling used cars until, one day, Anna found him, and confronted him about having stolen her husband’s identity. Years later, though, the relationship between Don and Anna is surprisingly warm and fuzzy (especially for Don’s standards). After practically two seasons of seeing Don be incapable of build a true emotional connection with anyone around him, after twenty-plus episodes of seeing him struggle to keep up the idealized persona he has build around the name Don Draper, one of the biggest and most effective emotional punches of the show is that, at the end of the day, Don is still most comfortable, happy, at home, when he can drop the act, and just be Dick Whitman.
Don’s childhood has been marked by cruelty. As an adult, his life is colored by the pressure of being the man that he wants to be, and the fear of losing the control he requires to achieve this. He has built an enormous castle made out of cards, and he must be eternally vigilant that this castle is not torn down. Still, we have seen time and again that the things he most desired, the things that will make him truly happy might not be in the castle that he has built. He is constantly looking for what will make him happy, and he is constantly met with failure. He has brief moments of pleasure (the most obvious example are his numerous lovers), but at the end of the day, he always ends up sad, sitting alone, in the dark.
Anna Draper is a new piece in the puzzle that will let us understand Don Draper, and frankly, it might very well be the most important piece. Amongst all of Don’s destructive behavior, and amongst his frantic search for abstract happiness, there is Anna Draper. A person that saw Don (or Dick) in his most vulnerable moment, and decided to forgive him. Anna gave Don a second chance, and so, two hurt people decided to move on, and keep on living their lives. Perhaps the most touching moment of the episode, takes place in a flashback: Don is spending christmas with Anna, and he tells her that he has fallen in love, and that he wants to get married. But for Don to get married, Anna must grant him a divorce. The person Don is marrying is Betty, and Anna doesn’t hesitate a second before telling Don that, yes, she will divorce him. The happiness in Don’s voice as he tells Anna how happy he is to be in love with Betty is the liveliest and most excited we have ever seen Don.
On one hand, being with Anna puts Don completely at ease. He is comfortable. She is his friend (perhaps his only true friend). On the other, his excitement about marrying Betty seems to be a sign of his erratic behavior. We have spent a lot of time with the Draper marriage, and there is little evidence to support this type of excitement on Don’s part. He is looking for answers for his problems, he is looking for commodities that will make him happier, that will make him have the life he wants to have, be the man he wants to be. “The only thing keeping you from being happy is the belief that you’r alone” says Anna. “What if it’s true?”, says Don. Her response: “Then you can change”. His response: “People don’t change”.
Well, do they? There seems to be a big tension within Mad Men‘s themes that is trying to answer the question of whether or not people are capable of changing, but I think this particular exchange offers a useful hint, as it presents the ideas of change, and being alone together. Practically all of Don’s arc is about him desperately wanting to change both himself and his surroundings. But Don’s constant has been his dissatisfaction with all of his lives. The true contrast has only creeped up in this episode, when we can see Don as such a radiant figure. Is Don different, changed, when he is around Anna? I think Mad Men might be trying to argue that we can only ever change, if we have other people helping us. This, of course, brings up a bigger question, of changing by either being helped by people (people like Anna), or using people to change yourself (like Dick Whitman used Don Draper’s death).
This idea is echoed in the episode’s other big story-lines. Peggy, who managed to get the Popsicle account on her own while Don was away, moves into Freddie Rumsen’s now vacant office. Meanwhile, Joan parades her fiancee around the office, and when Dr. Greg sees hints of her having had a romantic past with Roger Sterling, decides to rape her in Don’s empty office. In the last moments of the episode Joan pretends to be nothing but happy about her upcoming marriage to Greg, telling Peggy how wonderful he is, just as the new copywriter moves into the office of the guy who once discovered her, and is now out of work thanks to his alcohol problem. Joan once flirted with the possibility of having a more substantial job at the agency, and she was rejected. She is now seemingly shackled to a horrible husbands, and looks as Peggy moves ahead in the professional world. How did Peggy get there? Did she do it on her own? Is Joan right to feel jealous? Did Peggy’s rise to the top deserved? Did she change thanks to Freddie’s help? Is she now using his absence to rise even further? These characters’ search for happiness continues, and just like Don found himself empty after getting “all that he wanted”, so Joan is finding out that she might not be going down the road that she most wanted to go through.
- The only person who doesn’t give a crap about Cooper’s no-shoe policy is his sister Alice. Perhaps because she’s known him all her life, perhaps because she is a major stockholder of Sterling Cooper. Or maybe is just that “These things cost more than your carpeting”.
- Oh, and yes, Bert Cooper’s sister is named Alice Cooper.
- Pete Campbell, in one of his biggest jerk moments, throws a chicken out the window. It would be hilarious moment if it weren’t so infuriating.
- Peggy pitches! On her own. And she gets the account too. I love the way she says “No. This is original” when the client says the artwork reminds him of something.
Slightly Spoiler-y Thoughts:
- “I’m sorry I don’t know whose eyes to look at” or “Take care of your children” “I just have the one” “Really?”. The banter between Alice and Roger is so fantastic it makes me wish we would have seen more of her during the show’s run.
- The TV is showing The Day the Earth Stood Still. Is it foreshadowing the next episode?