Don was talking about the New York Times letter, but he could just as well be talking about another impulsive decision he made near the end of the episode. With just as little thought as he gave when making himself a pariah to the entire tobacco industry, Don decided to propose to his secretary Megan Calvet. But he's not the only one making rash decisions as Betty suddenly fires long-time housekeeper Carla accidentally setting in motion the events that led to this unexpected coupling. Although, we can also blame God for taking Ida Blankenship from us which brought Megan to Don's desk in the first place. Whatever the cause, many things had to fall in place (including Sally, scooped up by Megan during her visit to the SCDP offices) for those two to come together as Don takes his first post-divorce step towards building a new life.
The theme of the episode seems to be that the past is past and while the present is important, what matters most is the future. Everyone is looking forward. It's seen in Joan's unexpected pregnancy (revealed near the end), Topaz pantyhose's decision to hire Sterling Cooper, Betty's complete break with Ossining in favor of a new life in Rye, Pete's courting of Dow, Stephanie taking time off from college, and even Ken's focus on long term marital harmony. But mostly, in Don saying goodbye to the house he bought Anna, goodbye to the house he shared with Betty, and saying hello to a new life with a woman he barely knows.
There is so much moving forward in this episode. Joan has been promoted to director of agency operations, which is all title and no more money for now. But, still, it shows how important she is to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and how they don't want to lose her. Peggy is moving out of Don's shadow andmaking contributions to the firm on her own two Topaz-pantyhose covered legs. Glen knows that in a few short years he'll be able to drive up to see Sally. And the firm itself is moving forward, courting Dow as it looks to fill the huge hole left by Lucky Strike. It's pretty darn clear why the episode was titled after the part of Disneyland that was designed to imagine what the future would hold.
The episode starts with Don in bed with Faye Miller and she reluctantly says goodbye to him as he's heading for a long weekend with the kids in California. They're going to settle up Anna Draper's house and symbolically close the book on that chapter of Don's life and while there he plans to work some and play some, with a planned trip to Disneyland capping the weekend. Carla was going to accompany the Draper children and help out Don, but Betty's hotheaded decision to fire her over Betty's unresolved issues with Glen left Don in the lurch.
Maria Von Trapp, aka Megan the toothy secretary, to the rescue. After letting Don know that finding a professional to help watch the kids this weekend is a Sisyphean task (thus creating the "good help is hard to find" saying), she manages to get herself invited to come to California, all expenses paid, plus a bonus, plus free time, plus whatever else she wants, wink wink. Of course, Megan is fabulous with the kids, teaching them some French lullaby that gets Gene to fall asleep and when Don comes back after a day of meetings he's greeted by this picture perfect moment.
If Don wasn't already smitten by the comely Canuck, this did the trick. He is falling for this idealization of the perfect woman, the perfect mother. So young, beautiful, vivacious, she is the physical manifestation of the ideal future. As the weekend goes on, Don falls more and more in love. He looks as smitten as he did when he told Anna, back in Ep. 2.12 The Mountain King, that he was going to propose to a young, beautiful, vivacious Betty Hofstadt. Don may have told us repeatedly that he doesn't believe in love, but he does and he's been looking for it. Some (Freudians) might say he's looking for the maternal love he never had and thus any woman he sees as the perfect mother fulfills that need. Faye didn't fit the mold; Megan does.
All year long, Don has been trying to be a better person. He's tried regulating his drinking. He's tried exercising. He's tried keeping a diary. He's tried dating a mature, stable, intellectual woman. He has even tried telling the (partial) truth about himself. But all these steps are part of Don running away from the past that continues to haunt him and not coming to grips with who he is and accepting that person. At the core, there is still that "sick feeling in the pit of my stomach" that nothing so far has relieved. When he looks at Megan, he sees newness, he sees moving forward, he sees someone who is happy and uncomplicated. He sees a path that he believes will finally lead to happiness.
Betty is also looking for happiness with her "fresh start" with her new husband in their new home, without her old housekeeper/nanny. Betty is as impulsive as Don and using Carla as a scapegoat when she can't deal with the specter of Glen Bishop in her life. Henry is long-suffering but not quiet and he goes toe-to-toe with Betty, challenging her decision to fire Carla. But, in the end, Betty gets her way. Henry tries to be the voice of reason and tells his wife that there's no such thing as a fresh start. But she can't hear it any more than Don can, 3,000 miles away. Henry's right, as the saying goes - wherever you go, there you are. Betty can try and run away from her problems, as Don is trying as well, but they'll follow you wherever you go.
Betty feels alone, she has no one on her side she tells Henry. All she wants is someone to agree with her, whether she's right or not. But he's not interested in her self-pity. Betty is lost. She is leaving the home where she raised her kids and as much as she hates Don and wanted the divorce, something has kept her in that house and something has kept her from moving forward. But despite her hesitation, she is moving forward - everything is packed and the house is an empty shell. And that only highlights Betty's deep sadness.
While Betty lies down in Sally's bare bed, Don is bedding his secretary. He hasn't stopped thinking about her since they got to California and he looks for an excuse to go see her, not realizing that he doesn't need an excuse - she wants what he wants. This episode we see super nanny Megan, dressed up for the Whisky-a-Go-Go Megan, bathing beauty Megan, and sexy Megan, as if the producers were trying as hard to seduce us to fall in love with her as she was working on seducing Don. It didn't work for me, but your mileage may vary.
The next day, Don, Megan and the kids are having lunch and during a fight, Sally spills her milkshake. Instead of screaming at her, like Betty would (and somehow make it all about how everyone is out to get Betty), Megan just calmly wiped up the mess. Don, who's been searching for this picture perfect life, is drawn to this loving, nurturing Disney-princess like character. He pops the question and gives her the engagement ring he just received from Anna's niece Stephanie. Megan is excited but not blindsided as she felt that something was happening between them. They are deliriously happy and come back to New York to share their deliriously happy news.
At the same time, Peggy gets some great news of her own. She successfully landed the first new account at SCDP since the Lucky Strike exodus. She jumps into Ken's arms in excitement and the two head off to soak in all the accolades for their big success. Only, Peggy finds out that her news has been upstaged by Don's news of his engagement. Hard-working, nose to the grindstone Peggy, is second best, behind the lithe beauty with the engagement ring. It was not the celebration she had hoped for.
Peggy wants to ask Don as million questions, or maybe just one. Why? Why Megan, why so soon? But she doesn't. "She's very beautiful," is what she does say, as if this alone explains Don's rush to get married. Don doesn't help matters by telling Peggy how much Megan reminds him of her and how much Megan admires Peggy. While their relationship may be strictly platonic, Peggy can't help but notice that it was clearly not because of his aversion to mixing business with pleasure as he claimed in Ep. 4.07 The Suitcase. He wasn't attracted to Peggy and was to Megan, there is no other way to spin it.
She and Joan have a good laugh over the absurdity of it all. Joan has seen it all before, as her own paramour Roger married a secretary not that long ago. There are women who work hard and those who get swept off their feet. Joan tells Peggy that Megan will probably become a copywriter as he's not about to be married to his secretary. And there nothing Peggy can do about it but smile and do her work. And maybe find pleasure outside of work?
But Peggy is not the only one of Don's women who will be less than thrilled to learn of Don's engagement. Just a few days ago, he was laying in bed with Faye Miller and talking about missing each other and seeing each other when he returned from California. A lifetime later, he's back, engaged to another. How will she not feel completely betrayed and embarrassed? The answer is, she will. Even knowing that Don is Don - a liar, a cheat, a scoundrel - she still managed to let herself fall for him and, worse, trust him. Meanwhile, he was creating a new fantasy world that did not include her. She's hurt, of course, but not too hurt to spit out a little truth on her way out, telling Don, "I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things." Don probably doesn't recall the madly in love grinning idiot he was when he planned to propose to Betty and doesn't see that this idyllic fantasy he has of life with Megan is unrealistic and built on a flimsy foundation. He's in LOOOOOVE, who has time for rational thought?
We find out at the end that Joan has her own good news, and we're not talking about her no-pay raise promotion. Joan is pregnant. She didn't go through with the abortion as she led Roger to believe and has convinced Greg that she's carrying his child. They're a happy couple and Joan seems content on maintaining the ruse.
Speaking of ruses, Betty pretends she doesn't know that Don is coming by the old house and she checks her make up just before he comes in. She just had to see him one more time in the house they shared. Don tells her his big news and Betty, who is after all is happily remarried herself, seems taken aback. Maybe had she not fired Carla everything would be different, maybe he'd still be unattached and drawn to her. She waited for Don (not long after having a fight with Henry), looking beautiful, and went out of her way to let him know that not everything in her life was perfect. Perhaps she was reaching out to Don in this moment. But instead of reciprocating in the sort of fashion that might result in a fourth child, Don tells Betty the news of his engagement.
Dispelling any doubt that Don was on her mind, Betty quickly summons the name "Bethany Van Nuys" and asks if that is the lucky lady. But, no, Don has dipped his quill in the company ink, he tells her. She's surprised, maybe hurt? It's okay for her to get on with her life, but not for Don. Betty needs to be admired, adored, and when she's not - when Glen wants to be friends with Sally or Don remarries - she feels diminished.
And what does Don feel? He looks happy with his fresh start. But is he, will he continue to be? Can he find happiness? Can he hold onto it?
Don: I have this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Faye: Listen, maybe it's not all about work. Maybe that sick feeling might go away if you take your head out of the sand about the past.
Don: You know it's not that simple.
Faye: Of course it isn't, and you don't have to do it alone. But if you resolve some of that, you might be more comfortable with everything.
Don: And then what happens?
Faye: And then you're stuck trying to be a person like the rest of us.
Don: It was an impulse, because I knew what I needed to do to move forward.
Joan: Well, it's almost an honor.
Don: The truth is, they're mourning for their childhood more than they're anticipating their future, because they don't know it yet, but they don't want to die.
Roger: So, did you get cancer?
Glen: It's not that big a deal. I say goodbye to people all the time.
Betty: You don't think I know what you're doing? You could be friends with anyone.
Glen: Just 'cause you're sad doesn't mean everybody has to be.
Don's accountant: Enjoy the harvest. Plant some seeds.
Don: You said you didn't have any experience, and you're like Maria von Trapp.
Sally: Who's Dick?
Don: That's me. That's my nickname sometimes.
Don: What are you gonna do?
Stephanie: I don't know. That's the best part, right? Got the rest of my life ahead of me.
So do you.
Betty: I wanted a fresh start, okay? I'm entitled to that.
Henry: There is no fresh start! Lives carry on!
Megan: I don't even want to be an actress.
Don: You don't know anything about me.
Megan: But I do. I know that you have a good heart, and I know that you're always trying to be better.
Don: We all try. We don't always make it. I've done a lot of things.
Megan: I know who you are now.
Don: I don't know what it is about you, but I feel like myself when I'm with you, but the way I always wanted to feel.
Don (to Peggy): You know, she reminds me of you. She's got the same spark.
Joan: They're all just between marriages. You know that.
Joan: Well, I learned a long time ago to not get all my satisfaction from this job.
Peggy: That's bullshit.
Faye: I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things.
And he's smiling like a fool, like he's the first man that ever married his secretary.
Harry Crane walking out of his office after hearing the sound of high-heels clacking down the hallway was priceless. So too was his offer - quickly withdrawn - to help with the Topaz account until Peggy informed him that the beautiful model would not be there.
Dow Corning showed some interest in Don and the firm has a possible connection as Ken's future father in law works at Dow. But, unlike Pete, Ken does not want to mix business and her personal life and so he balks at being part of any sales pitch to the company. And there you have it. Ken, whose priority is his home and family and not the firm, Pete who would do just about anything for SCDP.
For all their butting heads, Pete is Don's biggest cheerleader. "They were eating out of his hand," he says after the American Cancer Society meeting. His enthusiasm during the meeting was palpable as well and while it's his job to sell clients on creative, he seems to really believe that Don can talk his way into or out of anything.
Don calls Faye someone who's "been very important to me," the same phrase he uses when referring to his close, non-romantic relationship with Anna Draper. To be fair, there wasn't really all that much heat between them and the naughtiness of sleeping with a co-worker may have been what attracted Don to Faye in the first place.
The show left us to believe that Joan had gone through with the abortion, especially as she told Roger she had taken care of things in Ep. 4.10 Hands and Knees. But Joan exercised her choice to keep the baby and raise it as Greg's. Greg's a doctor, how good can he possibly be at math? ;)
Back in Ep. 2.09 Six Month Leave Roger similarly decided he "had to move forward" and decided to leave his wife for Jane the very young secretary. Back then Don was insulting Roger for going after someone so young (and, in fairness to Don, Roger was married at the time, not divorced) and now three years later, Don is doing a bit of cradle robbing as well.
Megan accepts Don's proposal knowing that she was the girl he was cheating on Faye with. What does that say about their future? Is she so confident that she blames the girl for Don's cheating ways, is she one of those girls who is going to fix the bad boy? For as "perfect" as we're supposed to see her, Megan is marrying someone with a spotty history, who clearly has a drinking problem, and who has been serially unfaithful. Does she think she can fix that all with a French lullaby?
Songs: "I Got You Babe," by Sonny and Cher
Spoilers (don't read until you're caught up on the series):
The meeting with representatives from the American Cancer Society included an executive from Dow Chemicals and in Ep. 5.12 Commissions and Fees Don goes in to pitch Dow (in the guise of Ken Cosgrove's father-in-law).
Peggy's friend brought over a friend of hers, Carolyn, who said, "Joyce witnessed my nervous breakdown at Howard Johnson's today." Maybe this is foreshadowing because Don's new wife Megan does end up having a blowup with Don at a Howard Johnson in Ep. 5.06 Far Away Places.
Peggy was right about Joan. Her statement that she learned not to get all her satisfaction from work was not true as, in the end, Joan was happiest when she was working.
So Megan was clear in this episode. She didn't care what her friend said about her teeth because she didn't want to be an actress. Which explains her quitting her job at the agency despite being a natural and pursuing, on two coasts, acting. Of course, her agent had one idea that could help her prospects. Fix those teeth.
Stephanie does not go back to school, but instead drops out, eventually getting pregnant with some dude's kid and then handing off the kid because she was too much a free spirit to raise her own child. Stephanie ends up even more directionless and sad than Don (if that's possible). While here she gives him Anna's ring (a nice token of their close relationship), by the end of the series she's asking Don why he is forcing himself into the Draper family and why he won't, you guessed it, move forward.
Topaz continues to be a client of Peggy's and their desire in Ep. 7.08 Severance to compete with L'Eggs ends up indirectly putting Don on a path to enlightenment (he reaches out to Rachel, then obsesses on her lookalike the sad waitress, which leads him to parts West and his series finale epiphany).