The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the endless skies
A lot of ink has being spent trying to puzzle out whose face Roberta Flack’s song refers to. Everyone is right. Here’s something else to think about.
It’s Don’s beautiful face, and the singer is Dick.
A lot of times the relationship between Don and Dick is described in oppositional terms. When will Dick take over? Don’s keeping Dick down!, etc. I know, I’ve been guilty of that stuff myself. Often it’s the most useful way to talk about their relationship. Don, after all, has been drowning his alter ego’s voice out for years. Now that Don’s on his last legs however, I think maybe it’s time to reflect on just what Don has meant to Dick.
Don was Dick’s way out of poverty, his route to New York and into advertising. Don gave Dick the confidence to approach women who under any other circumstances would have dismissed him as little more than a tramp. Don made Dick, for a short time, the master of everything. He was pure possibility, and he gave Dick the universe. Just like in the song.
Their relationship may be on the outs right now, but Dick was in love with Don for a very long time.
It’s okay to mourn.
*Freddie Rumsen, Time Zones
April 24th, 2015
There’s a lot of talk right now about how season 7.2′s Don Draper is Dick Whitman. All sorts of evidence has been cited, from Don telling stories about the past to his abject failures in areas where he once excelled. None of this is Dick’s doing however.
Matt Weiner, in more than one interview now, has said that the “engine driving the show is running down”. What he means by this is actually pretty simple. Just substitute the words ‘the show’ in the quote for ‘Don Draper’. The point isn’t the content of Don’s performance, whether he succeeds or fails at what he does – it’s that he’s still doing what he does, just badly. In the end the fiction Dick Whitman created, and he couldn’t have possibly known this at the time because Don unlocked the world for him, had limits. Don was a machine built for success, and once he’s achieved that success – the beautiful wife, the job – he has nowhere else to go. Think of Mad Men as an act in three parts, Matt Weiner does (a probably slightly misremembered quote: “A Mad Men sequel? To me seasons 4,5,6 are the sequel!”). The first act tells the story of a man with an apparently perfect life which comes undone because it doesn’t meet the needs of the people involved. The second act is about that man repeating the same mistake all over again because he hasn’t got to the bottom of what his needs really are and because this time things look different enough that he’s momentarily fooled into thinking he might be getting somewhere. Season 7, then, the final act, is where he finally moves on.
He can’t do that, though, until he’s certain his previous strategies won’t work and Don is no longer fit for purpose (We’ve known for ages, at least since a Tale of Two Cities, however that’s not the point!). So what we get at the start of seven is a last ditch attempt, a sped up version of everything that has come before – a superdose of business, money, sex and a relationship which failed before it even started. We know all this is Don because it’s his modus operandi. As I say above, this is what he does, what he was made for. It’s only when he stops doing this stuff – like in previous seasons when he went to California to visit Anna, a woman with whom he was actually friends, and to use a more recent example, midway through season 7 when he helped Peggy get to a point where she could realistically replace him – that we see Dick coming through.
Dick is close to the surface now, he’s nearly finished running his tests. When he’s ready to turn Don off and take over we’ll know about it. It won’t be ambiguous at all. Has it ever been?
April 12th, 2015
“He loves to tell tales about how poor he was. But he’s not anymore.”
The anecdote about Uncle Mac and the toaster which as good as opens Severance counts as the second time a season premier has hit us with the sucker punch of Don opening up about his past. Caught by surprise it’s easy for us, the viewers, to miss what was said. Not that people didn’t pick up on the substitution of “boarders” for “prostitutes”, Mad Men’s fans are too skilled at close analysis for that, but I think many of us may have overlooked the meaning of this scene – exactly why Don is telling stories like this in the first place. Because it’s the form not the content that matters.
And the form is a joke, a shaggy dog story designed to please the women around him, to draw them in, the end goal sex or at the very least seduction. It may be a tale drawing from Don’s experiences in the brothel he grew up in, but it is a highly selective, rigorously edited, narrativised version of those experiences with all the painful bits left out. Compare the peals of laughter at his punchline and general intimacy of the scene with the last time Don decided to bare all in front of a room full of strangers.
The scenes are the polar opposite of each other. In In Care Of Don is compelled to speak by deep grief and alienation, whereas in Severance everything is calculated and rehearsed. Roger’s response (quoted above) tells us that this is one of many tales Don’s now spinning about his prehistory, and possibly one he’s heard before around similar tables, hemmed in by a clutch of other equally forgettable, beautiful women.
Don’s motivations, I admit, may well be more complex than I have allowed. By bringing it to bay in the form of a joke, he may be exhibiting a desire to control his past, a past which has historically always been a volatile place, erupting here there and everywhere with disastrous consequences. Don may also have become addicted to the adrenal hit that comes with sharing, the light headed “relief” he describes to Lane after catching SC&P’s doomed Finance Officer in the act of embezzling from the company. He may just want to apply the corrective of laughter to the tragedy of those years, and who can blame him? Frankly it’s probably all of the above.
What it isn’t, however, is confession. When all’s said and done we know Don’s past can’t be contained or managed, rather it has to be deeply felt and understood if he’s ever to truly, in the words of one of his famous catchphrases, “move on”. What Don’s getting here is the thrill of sharing with none of the danger, none of the emotion so vital to the healing process. His new life, all that money and freedom from responsibility to a partner, has turned even his traumatic childhood into a playground. It isn’t though, and I hope somewhere in his need to repeatedly touch on the wellspring of his pain there’s a subconscious recognition of this fact. That despite appearances Dick Whitman, repressed for too long, still wants to get out from under Don Draper’s thumb and announce himself to the world.
*William, In Care Of
May 15th, 2014
One thing that disappointed me about the commentary surrounding Time Zones was a general unwillingness on behalf of most critics to get stuck into not just Freddy’s pitch but the first scene generally. I understood why well enough, it was a depressing episode and seasoned fans have been well trained to mistrust the surface glamour of Mad Men’s premiers, which in the normal course of things turns to crap after the first half hour. But in the end that didn’t cut it for me, for two reasons. Firstly, because the opening pitch so often serves as the key to unlocking a season’s trajectory, and secondly, because Freddy’s first words, a confident and joyous starting gun on a gloomy story, were designed to nag.
“I want you to listen carefully. This is the beginning of something.”
The idea that these words heralded the beginning of the final season and nothing else seemed unlikely. Because, come on everyone, this is the final season. Every detail is important.
Initially the main effect of this nagging, this jarringly incongruous celebratory voice echoing across the ruins cheering the new day, was to force me to re-evaluate many of the scenes and plot beats most reviewers took for granted were evidence that things will never go right for Don. Then it got me thinking about the downward spiral of the season more generally, eventually concluding that this, like Don’s descent in six which led to that beautiful final scene, was probably a good thing too. I was listening, I was paying attention, and it occurred to me that the Something Terrible Don drew down with that first ad pitch in The Doorway probably wasn’t through with him yet. Megan leaving him to pursue her career in California and his getting fired was only the start of it. Things needed to get about as bad as they could before the pendulum would swing the other way.
Quite simply, I realised this season is about nothing less than the destruction of Don Draper.