The pleasures Peggy takes from advertising – an industry which shortly after gifting her Hokusai’s erotic masterpiece Roger describes in almost monstrous (octopoidal!) terms – are anything but vanilla
‘This business doesn’t have feelings: you get bought, you get sold, you get fired. If the account moves, you move. Even of your name’s on the damn door, you should know better than to get attached to some walls.’
Most people, most women, would probably run a mile from something so transparently horrible: the sexism, the aggression, the indifference. But Peggy is able to perform the magic trick of transforming all the dross into gold. To understand how naturally this comes to her we need look no further than her immediate response to Roger’s doom and gloom.
“Well hopefully I’ll have that problem some day.”
To Peggy’s mind her fear is “exciting”, the often terrible problems she faces “challenging”, and as she says, she needs this stuff. It’s what gets her out of bed in the morning. It’s revealing that almost all the exchanges between Roger and Peggy this episode, not just the one detailed above, repeat this cycle of misery and cynicism which somehow over the course of their conversation resolve themselves as pleasure and hope. Even more so that the end result is this:
I understand that there’s an end of the world absurdity to the Roger and Peggy double act’s curtain call this episode, but Weiner’s reaching for more than that. To both of them, often considered the most childlike of all Mad Men’s principles, SC&P was a playground, even if they could be forgiven for failing to notice it at the time. And that’s what this scene, with Roger leading with an elegiac but carnivalesque tune and Peggy slipping frictionless across the office floor, is really speaking to. How much they loved the place, and how, like kids playing in the blitz torn London streets, ultimately they made the hostile world of advertising their own. Their antics are as much about their past as where they are now – about who they were as much as where they’re likely end up: Roger, the wisecracking but waning patriarch, the old order on the outs since the 60s started, and Peggy the eternal new girl, the creative spirit of youth weaving in an out, dancing really, between what we realise is not wreckage but SC&P exploded and unpacked, deconstructed right down to its essentials. This number has been going since Mad Men began, only here it is being made explicit.
There’s something of the Situationists’ detournement about all this too, an expression of an irreverent and punkish attitude which up until the point Peggy saunters in through their doors, a cigarette dangling from her lips and painting in hand, McCann has been sorely lacking. And it makes sense that we dissolve to white. Just as the Situationists in their derives made up new names for the streets they aimlessly stalked, so too, we hope, shall Peggy rewrite the roadmap for the corporate environment through which she travels. One thing’s for certain, people like her were responsible for the advertising world’s industry wide shake-up in the 1970s.
Before she gets to the great octopus itself however, she’ll have to contend with its young, McCann’s mostly male staff, and it’s on this personal level that Peggy will initially make her mark. What will these people, who have no inkling of the subtext Cooper and Peggy instinctively slather across it, make of Roger’s present (which btw – and I can’t believe no-one’s noticed this – depending on whether Hokusai is recognised in Mad Men’s universe makes her a very rich person indeed)? I imagine the prevailing view will be that Peggy is perverse, definitely creative. But in the end the painting’s octopuses and masochistic overtones aren’t really the point, rather, simply, that Peggy, a woman of all things, digs sex. Or to whittle it down to the basics, Peggy will disturb the all male higher ups at her new office because she’s a woman possessed of any desire at all, which is to say that she’s a flesh and blood person. At this point in time, and especially at a place like McCann, there’s nothing more countercultural than that.
The painting’s original owner, Bert Cooper (quoted in the title of this piece), could only envision a man imagining the Fisherman’s Wife’s ecstasy because in the early 1960s the concept of female pleasure was still a sexual and ideological revolution away. Still, though, as a Randian he would have applauded the self interest and agency Peggy demonstrates this episode. In fact if he knew her better – at all! – he would have applauded Peggy full stop. Peggy is often spoken of as Don’s protege, and before it all turned sour I think it’s fair to say that Bert saw his relationship with Don in a similar light. To demonstrate this Bert gave Don a copy of Atlas Shrugged, the bible of so many self made men and women, but in the end he found the solidarity he initially felt he shared with Don to be false. In contrast, Peggy, who has some way to go before she experiences anything like the ennui Don felt at the top of his game, has yet to let the spirit of Cooper down, and I think he would view this symbolic passing of the torch in a more than favourable light. Cooper was no feminist, none of them are, but he’d know his painting was in the right hands.
This is one of the stories, mirrored by Betty’s decision to study psychology, that Mad Men wanted to tell, the story of the cultural shift in the 1960s which saw women transition from object (the dreamt of) to subject (the dreamer). Miraculously, like a dog sitting up and playing the piano, it turns out the woman in the centre of the frame wasn’t conceived of by anyone but herself.
And later when she’s done with octopus, you just might meet her around the boardroom table, licking her lips.
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 24th, 2015
“Why don’t you tell me all of your dreams, so I can shit on them?”
From Peggy’s vantage point, further up the corporate ladder than she could have ever expected to go but with dizzying heights still to scale, she can barely conceive of someone who has stopped dead at the top with no idea what he wants.
What was The Forecast about? The future and what it might bring, our present and where we’ve ended up, and our pasts which may or may not determine both of them. Are we slaves to our histories, or are we capable of change? A question always dangling, like a Lucky Strike, from Mad Men’s lips, but now more urgent than ever. Because the engine driving Don Draper really is running down, and he’s got to figure things out sharpish if doesn’t want to wind up bitter and alone.
This week Mad Men was rotten with young people, they were everywhere, and, it turned out, found in surprising places. From where Don’s standing of course, they’re all young. Not just the actual kids, Sally, Glen, Bobby, Gene, Paula, Maureen, (Phew!), Carol, Sarah and Yolanda, but Pete, Peggy, Mathis and Ed too. All just babies with their lives still ahead of them, their dreams there for the taking. What happens though, when you’ve realised all your dreams? This is something Don wrestles with all the way through The Forecast, all these young people and their parochial little struggles to achieve…what exactly? The approval of some stuffed shirts from a biscuit company? That’s important? The look on Don’s face throughout the impromptu emergency hallway meeting between him, Pete and Peggy was hilarious. In fact every inch of him spoke of how completely trifling and ridiculous he found this apparently life or death struggle. The sheer absurdity of Peggy’s underlings referred to as her “men” as if they were fighting in a war.
The Forecast’s totem ad campaign sums Don’s point of view up perfectly. Because, like the show this week, its focus is on kids, this time millions of them, and how Nabisco can transfer the fickle little buggers’ loyalties from one brand of sweet treats to another – their new Peter Pan cookie. That’s how the world looks to Don presently: a sea of peter pans caught up in a web of trivial concerns as nutritious and fulfilling as a candy bar. Who cares if they prefer This to That? It’s all the same, all our experiences the same, just a sugary distraction from life’s lack of meaning, and death. There has to be something more, surely? However to Peggy et al their lives are meaningful. Most of them don’t have a safety net weaved out of millions of dollars to cushion their fall should they screw up, and they don’t yet know about the yawning void waiting for them beyond the horizon if they succeed. Right now that horizon is a long way off and the problem of getting everything you want is, to them, laughable, borderline offensive even. So when Mathis walks into Don’s office looking for advice after upsetting Nabisco’s representatives, he and Don are in very different places; and the advice when it comes reflects this. Don can’t take Mathis’s problem seriously, he can’t take any of this stuff seriously anymore, and his lack of engagement results in disaster.
Only not for Mathis, not really.
Well kind of really, it does after all see him not just losing an account but his actual job. Which to him is undoubtedly huge – only that’s my point. Mathis walks into Don’s office knowing he’s going to get fired, not because of what happened with Nabisco, but because he’s going to let Don have it. It’s an exchange which for all Don’s macho posturing and talk about what it means to have “character”, Mathis totally owns. Precisely because all of this does mean so much to him, and he has his say anyway knowing full well what the outcome will be; the definition of character if ever there was one. In contrast, all that Don takes away from the moment of exercising his power is the demeaning experience of being dragged down into the muck of a situation he couldn’t give two shits about. Only a few days before he was amused by Pete and his melodramatic threats to axe Peggy’s creative team, and it’s an irony that won’t be lost on him. What really stings though, the worst thing of all, is the knowledge that whatever happens to Mathis, the agony of losing one job and then the ecstasy of finding a new one, his life will continue to matter, whereas Don’s will remain senseless and absurd.
The Forecast is full of young people showing character actually. Sometimes it’s misguided of course, like when Glen makes his move on Betty, and when Sarah tries the same thing with Don (I cracked up when she thanked him for dinner – as if they’d just been on a date!). Other times shockingly on point. Yolanda and Courtney’s career mindedness springs to mind, as does Maureen’s refusal to take any shit from Joan. Wherever these youngsters applied it though, the same rock solid sense of themselves and what they wanted was there. The same bravery. It doesn’t matter that they don’t know their limits yet, it’s still a lesson Don could learn a lot from. He has to show some character too.
The irony is that while the Nabisco advert does reflect the way Don sees young people, it also reflects the way we see him: a child man addicted to the sweet hit of women and commerce, ranging aimlessly and in circles from one empty thrill to another, never satisfied, never fulfilled. The way out is clear though. If Don’s going to move forward and make sense of the void, he needs to put aside temporary pleasures and open himself up to the possibility of injury once more, if for no other reason than to get him back into his own skin and a world where there are stakes, real pain and real joy. Change isn’t impossible, but it is hard, it entails making decisions. Scariest of all it entails risk. Don can’t imagine a future because he’s scared of change, not because there isn’t one. He’s scared of what his disenchantment with sex, relationships and work means, and the possibility that he might have to re-evaluate his relationship with all these things if he wants more from life than landing a pharmaceutical.
He has to make the jump from dissolution to substance – it’s a leap in the dark and there’s no way of knowing where he will end up. Thankfully Mathis has gone on ahead, lighting the way.
April 18th, 2015
When Betty first brought up her doctor’s recommendation that she should seek psychiatric help, Don was angry. Which is another way of saying he was scared. He couldn’t cope with the idea that the life they’d built together wasn’t enough. But for Betty and Don that life was a prison, and if Betty didn’t find an outlet for her pain, then the next accident to befall her might have had far more serious consequences than the low motion car “crash” which prompted her to seek professional help in the first place. In the end Don saw this too, and acquiesced. It was Betty’s first, even if small and tentative, act of resistance.
At the time though, she was still being buffeted around by forces out of her control, most of them male. By her doctors; by her husband; by her psychiatrist, a textbook sexist freudian who treated her as little more than a hysterical child and who, against all psychiatric ethics, provided Don with detailed notes on every one of her sessions; and by her own emotions, which at that point she was a long way from understanding. She didn’t want to think about any of that stuff.
Until she did.
Betty’s story has really been about her encroaching agency, and now that she’s in a healthy relationship with a man who’s happy for her to have her own life, a career is the obvious final step. In the end the answer to Don’s question, the title of this piece, is the whole of Betty’s life without him. It was Betty speaking up to her psychiatrist about Don’s infidelities, even if she didn’t acknowledge this for years afterwards, that really set her on the road to where she is now. And it was Dr Edna, her daughter’s official and Betty’s not so official psychiatrist, who showed her what a woman could do – a woman who wouldn’t be satisfied working as a travel agent that is! Personally, wherever this story goes, I love that Betty’s considering this move. Why psychology? Because it maps her journey completely, from pawn to player – owned to owner. It’s almost too perfect.
*Don Draper, Ladies Room
April 18th, 2015
Home invasion was a theme this week, what with Pima intruding upon Stan’s darkroom as well as his and Peggy’s deepest fears, Don strongarming Diana’s affections to the point that he was granted access to her private pain palace and Roger hammering the final nail into the coffin of Marie’s marriage. Then there was this:
There was something anxiety inducing about the Calvet girls picking through Don’s apartment. It wasn’t just that it unearthed old ghosts, although it did, at least in this viewer, a flood of memories both good and bad. It was that we didn’t know what they would find. What could they find though? After all, Megan knows all about Don’s past – this isn’t Betty rooting around in his draws in season one. Only somehow it all feels familiar, the same hint of impending disaster in the air.
If there was any doubt about the symbolic nature of Tricia’s wine stain then New Business puts all protestations to bed. Mad Men has a history of using these kinds of devices – remember the tear in Bobby’s wallpaper in The Flood which represented the absence of a stable, ordering father figure? – as metaphors for its character’s concerns. Here the gash-like stain functions in a similar way, standing in for the deep emotional scars inflicted by Don’s childhood. Scars that have never healed and from which there is a direct throughline leading right up to the present day, to Don’s sex mania and an air hostess spilling a drink on his floor. It doesn’t matter that Marie is ignorant of all this, it’s enough that she understands Don as a damaged person who damages those around him – which is all she needs to see this gaping wound for what it is.
Weiner and his staff could have made the stain anything, whisky, a cocktail, whatever, but they chose wine. Wine because it’s a woman’s drink, it’s bacchanalian and permanent. Sex – abandoned, chaotic behaviour – that never washes out. It will be there forever. It has been there forever. The stain is a doorway into Don’s dirty private life, which he never gave up even while married to Marie’s daughter. And it’s sitting there slap bang by her old marital bed, a grisly reminder of just how badly Megan was treated.
At the time though, it was invisible. Nothing was conclusive. Megan, to paraphrase Don in Time Zones, didn’t know… but she knew. A whiff of another woman’s perfume here, a late night disappearance there, too many client meetings – all the stuff that used to plague Betty’s thoughts. But in New Business there’s indelible evidence that someone else has been in Megan’s house. It doesn’t matter who, this woman has worn so many different faces, what matters is she was always there, lurking out of sight.
Don’s nightmare in Mystery Date ended with him murdering his dream lover, another home invader, and depositing her under the bed. He was that afraid of his old, wild nature returning. But at last the blood has trickled out, the crime scene laid bare, the criminal exposed.
At the end of New Business his apartment, his life, is gutted.
Only the stain remains.
*Marie Calvet, New Business
April 16th, 2015
Pima Ryan, an emotionally opaque high end photographer with a control freak bent, was entertaining enough without delving into themes or subtexts. Her detached interest in her subjects both on and off camera, almost as though she were looking through the bars at animals in the zoo, was a real pleasure. As was her bland expectation that she should play a larger part in putting together the Cinzano advert for which her work had been commissioned. Most amusing of all though, was the way she set about trying to manipulate her SC&P contacts, Stan and Peggy, into making her a more permanent fixture.
Stan was easy pickings. The character’s ongoing concern that his lack of photography chops will make him redundant was transparent right from the off – and Pima pounced immediately. First by prodding at his anxieties, then by confirming them. Only after this, when he was at his most vulnerable, did she fuck him. Not long afterwards Peggy was subjected to a slight variation on this mind-game, but this time with Pima deploying Peg’s fear of being alone against her. Needless to say it didn’t work. Later, when Peggy caught wind of what happened from a boastful Stan the whole thing backfired, Pima’s seduction techniques called out for what they were, a cheap hustle to get more work, and any possibility of future freelancing was nixed for good. So as I say, all of this made for a very enjoyable 45 minutes, however it was also illuminating. Because Pima’s real textual function apart from highlighting the concerns of Mad Men’s supporting cast, was to hold a candle up to Don’s behaviour, a guy who’s a better hustler than she could ever hope to be.
What makes Don such a good liar? He believes his own bullshit. So when he tracked Diana down, we couldn’t blame her for being taken in. The difference between us and Diana though, is that we’ve seen and heard it all God knows how many times before. The sorrowful looks, the illusion of deep communion he somehow conjures after having spent one night with his mark. All that sad fucking music. Urgh. That music doesn’t mean what Don thinks it means, because its not about the beautiful tragedy of two lost souls finding each other, not anymore. It’s about hopelessness. The worrying prospect that Don will never find a way out of his cycle, a stream of relationships doomed to fail before they start, all because he can’t relate to his lovers as living, breathing people. Which is why Megan and Sylvia feature in this episode of course, to remind us where Diana and Don will wind up if by some outside chance they make a go of it.
It’s really interesting actually, to see what time can do to Don’s old tricks. Even though at the time many people saw Don’s proposal to Megan for what it was, me included, at least back then the scenes between the two of them felt romantic, albeit in an adolescent way. Now there’s very little charge whatsoever. Don’s as eloquent as he ever was, his words perfectly timed, the content ostensibly moving, but when he tells Diana she “isn’t the first thing to come along”, that he’s “ready”, we know there’s nothing underneath. Nothing but the cheap hustle of, in Megan’s words, “a ghoul” looking to feed off a new prospect – just as Pima fed off Stan and Peggy.
Both Don and Pima put on a good show, but as Peggy and Megan point out it’s all bluff. Just a suit (which, no, Don doesn’t sleep in!), a swanky apartment and the whiff of soul. There’s the illusion of substance, that there’s something more going on, and oftentimes people fall for it, but… not this time. When Don finally gives Diana some breathing room, the spell wears off and the product is revealed for the tawdry thing it is. Two people in a room sharing what exactly? Some shared pain, some grief. Nothing to build a life on. A quick fuck in the dark, that’s all it was.
*Peggy Olson, New Business
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
April 11th, 2015
At the end of The Phantom Don is approached by a striking brunette on behalf of her friend. Did they just flirt? Was there a full blown threesome? We never find out. Either way, no-one in the audience expected to see the women again. They were obviously bit part characters, who existed for no other reason than to illustrate Don’s state of mind as season five receded from view. And even though many didn’t, I felt exactly the same way about Lee Cabot at the start of season 7. Once Don banished her with the words “I’ve got to get back to work” I knew Lee was out of his life for good, the casting of Neve Campbell a clever device to make the audience feel the same sense of significance Don attached to her before drawing away, the significance Don always attaches to a certain kind of woman. So I have to admit it came as something of a surprise when Tricia, the air hostess who had a tiny roll in Field Trip, came waltzing through Don’s doorway this time around. Only I shouldn’t have been surprised at all, because Tricia illustrates something too.
What Don taking this insignificant blip in his never ending flirtation with all womankind on the floor of his apartment makes abundantly clear, is that right now the guy’s leaving no stone unturned. Just as he’s skyrocketed to the dizzy heights of professional success after being as good as fired by SC&P, so has he made the jump from near total sexual abstinence to full bore satyriasis. Last season I talked about how, for Don, Sylvia represented the last affair, all of his relationship hangups projected onto one woman, but I missed something – the ravenous sexual appetite that has fuelled his story since Mad Men began. Shorn of its romantic trappings, this is what we are looking at right now. He can’t prettify it anymore. Romance, marriage, family, business, none of these things have worked, all that’s left as a last ditch resort is to plug the hole with pure, unadorned sex. It’s desperate, and he’s flailing.
What I find fascinating is how after the deep focus that Sylvia represented everything now seems so diffuse, a parade of sexual partners, like the “cattle call” of girls that Wilkinson Sword can’t decide upon, streaming in and out of Don’s metaphorical bedroom. Four in one forty five minute episode, one blurring into another. Women who dissolve in the sunlight. Ghosts.
It is a haunted episode of course, Severance. It’s haunted by the, until last Sunday, fan favourite for a potential Don Draper related rekindled romance, Rachel Katz, the woman who kicked Don out of her life in season one and who many of us hoped would return after he sorted his shit out, me included. The writing room wasn’t having any of that though; so they killed her. They killed her because life isn’t a rehearsal, they killed her because it’s all romantic bullshit and she isn’t The One anyway. Rachel is, as dream Ted blandly introduces her, just another girl. In the cold light of day their “relationship” was only a symptom of Don’s disease, something even Rachel herself realised, much to her horror, minutes before telling him to fuck off for good, and he has no right whatsoever to be at her funeral. She won’t let him rest though…. none of them will.
It makes sense then that in Severance Don’s most significant sexual encounter is with Diana, a strange composite woman who Don’s sure he’s met but can’t quite place. Yes, she looks like Midge, but only glancingly, and in the end we realise she could be a stand in for any number of brunettes Don’s bedded on and off screen over the last ten years. The point is that she’s meant to be indeterminate, possessed of all this man’s ephemeral sexual liaisons, a haunted Vertigo-esque look to her otherwise sad, forgotten eyes.
Speaking of all things Hitchcockian, Diana puts me in mind of another fictitious woman, who may or may not be a waitress.
Mulholland Drive’s Diane Selwyn not only shares a name and possible profession in common with Severance’s Diana, she also serves a similar function within her respective text. She too is a composite person, containing, in the dream logic of Lynch’s cinema, (at least) two of the film’s other characters – the sprightly ingenue Betty Elms and her glamourous but amnesiac counterpart Camilla Rhodes. By now everyone is familiar with this almost rote analysis of David Lynch’s masterpiece, where all three women’s separability is called into question, and the various, sometimes diverging conclusions that have been reached regarding what this might mean. What many critics agree upon however, is that Diane represents a kind of baseline reality for these collided, mangled personalities. According to this reading, Betty and Camilla are idealised projections, their doomed love affair a hollywoodised mirror image of a far more banal earthbound relationship, which possibly ended in a murder, and in all likelihood suicide.
So this flesh and blood person Don has sex with in an alley somehow, in his mind, flickers between a multimillionaire heiress, a street junkie and who knows who else. She is home to multitudes. But in the end isn’t it telling that all the models and all the glamour reduces down to this one sad fuck, this pathetic attempt at connection (“My name is Don…”) with a woman who’s only doing it because that’s what she’s learned men want when they give you $100? Diana was created for one reason only, so that we might finally understand how abject this all is, Rachel included. She’s Don’s baseline reality, just as Doris, another waitress, was in Waldorf Stories. Don’s perfect woman in the end equates to his least beloved, all functions of the same sex addiction – just moving parts. Casualties of an indiscriminate and morbid lust.
Kenny and Don’s unscheduled meeting in SC&P’S lobby fills him with the idea that his dream of Rachel, like Ken’s talk with his wife and subsequent firing, must hold some deeper meaning. Only it doesn’t. In the end without true human connection, not cheap talk of running away and residing in the sunset forever, it all amounts to a big nothing.
What a gloriously unsentimental storyline this was, the past it referenced fleeting, irrevocable and ultimately desolate. Severance, a lesson in why audiences should never get what they want.
* Ted Chaough, Severance