Monday, May 18, 2015

Initial impresion: Mad Men Season 7, Episode 14: Person to Person

Part one - Don's Journey

The Don Draper we met in the pilot was an empty shell.  He looked great and sounded great, but inside was hollow.  He prattled on about there being no such thing as love, which he had to not only say but believe because how else to justify cheating on his wife and not being there for his children?  He belittled coworkers, he was arrogant and rude to potential clients, and was agnostic about everything.  He was also handsome and good at selling people and so he had all the external signs of success. 

Don has been in free fall for a long time.  He's been at war with this created persona, he's been in fear of being discovered and he's been convinced that no one would or could love the real him.  He has run away whenever cornered, or scared, or challenged.  He lacks the basic coping mechanisms to get one through the day.  So he drinks and cheats and naps and loses himself at movies.  He has many ways to keep himself from feeling.  

But all this avoidance behavior eventually has to catch up with you, doesn't it?  How many casualties can you leave in your wake?  How much damage can you withstand?   Don had been grappling with this for years. It's been tedious watching him seem to gain some amount of self awareness only to go right back to the same bad behavior.  People don't change.  We've heard that.  Don has said that.  But then why live life if that is true?  We have to believe that it's never too late to learn and to change.  

Two phone calls help lead to that change.  Don learns to painful facts in rapid succession.  His wife, who he loved but who he cheated on, is dying.  His daughter was hesitant to tell him, worse, she didn't want him to come in on his white horse and save the day.  She doesn't see him that way, the dad who comes in and fixes things and makes them all better.  He's someone she talks to on the phone once a week to chitchat.  And Betty told him the best thing he could do if he cared about his children was stay away.  He hasn't been there for them up to now and changing that would only be unsettling.

He takes this news and heads to California, where he's gone before looking for that elusive happiness. California has made him feel like himself in the past, maybe it can be that for him again.  He goes in search of Stephanie, Anna Draper's niece.  He will swoop in with Anna's ring and save the day.  He will have a new, ready made family, his faux niece and her new baby.  But what he finds there is another lost soul, another broken, empty shell.  She's heading up to a retreat and invites him to come along.

There, Stephanie faced the truth of who she was and what she's done and hearing the repulsion of the woman in the group, she ran out.  Don wanted to tell her to ignore their beliefs, their disapproval of her choices.  He could help her forget the past and move forward.  But that's not what she wanted to hear and that was not the answer.  She knew the people in the group were right and she knew that she could not run away from the truth.  She left him, hopefully to go back and fix things.

And so somewhere in Northern California Don comes face to face with all the sins he's committed.  This awareness was triggered by a trifecta of sadness.  The wife who tried to love his is dying, the daughter who does love him does not want him to come home, the woman he considered his niece rejected him and abandoned him.  Don had a panic attack, like he did back in Season 4's  Hands and Knees when he thought that his past was going to catch up to him. 

His past is catching up to him.  All the lies that are his life. His betrayals, his transgressions.  The opportunities for happiness he let slip away and the people who tried to love him who he hurt and pushed away. As Stephanie explained, Don was wrong believing that you could put what you have done behind you.  You can't run away from your past, not if you want to find peace.  But facing it, especially when you're Don Draper, is a monumentally difficult endeavor. 

Don sat in the circle and heard a sad sack Everyman who felt unloved and wasn't even sure if that feeling was correct.  "They should love me.  Maybe they do."  This average Joe (actually, Leonard) had this recurring dream of being on a shelf in the refrigerator when his family opens it up, reaches for something, only for him to stay there as the door closes and it's dark. You live your life and hope for love and you never get it and you die.  That's what his dream is telling him and it's what Don Draper has been saying since the pilot. "You live alone and you die alone."

But it doesn't have to be that way.  Not when you have children who love and need you and coworkers who are friends and care that you're okay.  Who want you to know they appreciate you and accept you. Someone - many people actually - notices when Don is there and care when he is gone.  Someone wants him to come home. It's time for him to accept that and not be afraid of it and not feel unworthy. 

So cleaned up and clear headed our one-time cynical ad man sits in the lotus position with the smell of the ocean filling his nostrils and he's at peace.  And he wants to share this feeling with the world.  And maybe sell a little Coca Cola while he's at it. 


The phone call with Betty was almost too painful to talk about. The truth that the children need consistency and normalcy and that Don not being there would provide those things. The unspoken feelings between the two.  It was beautiful and sad. 

Don sputtered when he tried to recycle his forget the past speech, it wasn't slick and convincing like when he gave it to Peggy in Season One or every other time he used it as the panacea to all ills.  It was jarring seeing how shaky his attempt to sell this pitch was in contrast to his usual glib smoothness. 

Don has always been out of touch with what was current. He never understood the Beatles or the youth movement or the civil rights movement.  Since he was stuck in an artificial construct of the persona he created for the fictional Don Draper, maybe he couldn't connect with what was current.  But in the end, what was so meaningful in his creating the Coke pitch, was his first real connection with what is going on in the world around him. Don finally understood and could speak to the younger generation. 

The first time Don interacted with the others at the retreat he was his cynical, aloof, disconnected self.  Privately mocking the touchy feely vibe, he could not hide his disdain.  During his first interaction with the others. He comes face to face with an older, motherly type. The instruction is to convey what you feel about this person nonverbally. He looks bored and amused - and soon finds out that this attitude stirs up angry feelings.  The woman pushes him hard in the chest - and we're reminded of the fight he had with Betty in Ep. 2.04 Three Sundays when she too pushed him in anger.   

When Don calls Peggy he tells her that he's not the man she thinks he is.  He believes this to the core. He goes through his laundry-list of his sins.   Reminiscent of their soul-baring moment in Ep. 4.07 The Suitcase, after Don tells her all the terrible things he's done, she simply responds, "That's not true."  Her belief in him is more than Don can take and he drops to the ground, paralyzed.

In Ep. 2.12 The Mountain King, Anna Draper does a tarot card reading for the disbelieving Don.  The exchange is particularly meaningful as the show draws to a close:
Anna:  You're definitely in a strange place.  But here is the sun.Don: That can't be good.
Anna: It is.
Don: It's the end of the world.
Anna:  It's the resurrection.  Do you want to know what this means or not?
Don:  No, I don't.  I smell the ocean.
Anna:  This is the one.
Don:  Who's she?
Anna:  She's the soul of the world.  She's in a very important spot here.  This is you, what you are bringing to the reading. She says you are part of the world. Air, water. Every living thing is connected to you.
Don:  It's a nice thought.
Anna:  It is.
Don:  What does it mean?
Anna:  It means the only thing keeping you from being happy is the belief that you are alone.
Don:  What if that's true?
Anna:  Then you can change.
Don: People don't change.
Anna:  I think she stands for wisdom.  As you live, you learn things. 
Don, with the sun, smelling the ocean, is told that he is part of the world.  "Every living this is connected to you."  She follows that up with telling him that happiness is within his reach - once he gives up the belief that he is alone.  His spiritual awakening leads him to embrace what Anna prophesized for him.

While in the real world, Don Draper did not create the famous Coke ad, it did come from McCann Erickson in 1971.  Like with the "It's Toasted" ad for Lucky Strike in the pilot episode, Mad Men used real commercial pitches to show the creative genius of Don while playing around with the true origins of the work.

There was a nice juxtaposition of Don encouraging Stephanie to run from her past - and the months on the road of Don running from his - and Stan Rizzo running to his future with Peggy. 

Teddy Chaough told Don that there are three women in every man's life (in Ep. 7.08 Severance, in the context of trying to sell Wilkinson razors) and in this episode Don had phone calls with the three most important women in his life.  Betty, Sally and Peggy.  Three women who have tried, in their own ways, to love Don and three who he, in some ways, failed.  Betty and Sally each tell him to stay away,  That everything would be better if he didn't come home to them.  Only Peggy tells him to come home.  And by home she means McCann.  She lets him know he's still welcome there.  It is not a surprise, then, that when he reaches nirvana on the cliffs of Big Sur, he decides to go home.  Which he described, way back in Ep. 1.13 The Wheel, as "that place where we know we are loved." 

In Ep. 7.10 The Forecast, Peggy comes in for her performance evaluation.  The discussion get redirected by Don who want to discus her hopes and dreams for the future.  When pushed, Peggy says she'd like to create something of lasting value.  Don, snorts. "In advertising?"  She gets mad and counters, "This is supposed to be about my job, not the meaning of life."  Don challenges her.  "So you think those things are unrelated?"  They are related to Don and he can finally admit that.  Happiness and satisfaction at work can lead to personal fulfillment and could even create something of lasting value.  

We got some nice comic relief, and some trolling of those who guessed that the finale would end with Don Draper's death, in Roger's exchange with secretary extraordinaire Meredith:
Roger: Sweetheart, I have some sad news.
Meredith:  Is he dead?
Roger:  Don? No. I don't think so. I think we would have heard about that. ...
Roger: I really thought he'd be back by now.
Meredith: Well, I hope he's in a better place.
Roger:  He's not dead.  Stop saying that.
Meredith:  There are a lot of better places than here.


Don: People just come and go and no one says goodbye? 

Don: I messed everything up.  I’m not the man you think I am.

Peggy:  What did you ever do that was so bad?
Don:  I broke all my vows, I scandalized my child, I took another man's name and made nothing of it. 
Peggy:  That's not true. 

Don:  I'm in a crowd.  I just wanted to hear your voice.  I'll see you soon.  

Leonard: It's like no one cares that I'm gone.  They should love me. Maybe they do. But I don’t even know what it is. You spend your whole life thinking you're not getting it, people aren't giving it to you.  Then you realize they're trying and you don't even know what it is.

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