This week on Mad Men, we catch up with Megan and her family. Peggy and Stan deal with a pretentious photographer, Harry Crane tries very hard to be smooth, Diana returns to Don’s orbit, Pete has hilarious golf pants, and much more. It’s time for “New Business”!
As insufferable as Megan was in her interactions with Don, she looks like the poster child for mental health next to her family. When she arrives in New York, she’s determined to be very businesslike in moving her stuff out of the apartment. She wants to show everyone that she is not defined by her failed marriage, especially her mother and sister, both of whom are miserable human beings. We know Marie has been unhappy in her own marriage for years, but prefers to act out and cheat rather than end it, something she makes clear to Megan is reprehensible. Her sister, Marie-France, may or may not be happily married, but she’s a haggard housewife regardless, chain smoking and complaining non-stop. It’s clear that Megan has no intention of becoming either of these women, and one can only wonder why she even wanted them to meet her in New York in the first place.
Her mother, in particular, is a real piece of work. When Megan heads off to lunch with Harry to get leads on new agents (and field the most bumbling attempt at seduction in modern history), Marie unilaterally decides Megan is owed all of the furniture in the apartment. And when she’s way short to pay the movers (since Megan was only planning to take about four pieces and a few boxes), she has the stones to call Roger to get the difference. Of course he can’t refuse her; with the money, or when she kisses him out of nowhere. Sure, he resists for a hot second, but Roger Sterling is not a man known for his ability to turn down sex. Thankfully for us all, Megan walks in on them after they’ve gotten dressed, but are clearly post-coital. Her disgust, combined with the fact that she can’t believe that her mother cleaned Don out and the awkward proposition she just received from Harry Crane, fuel her transformation. I’ve liked Megan more than I’ve disliked her over the years, but it’s unfortunate that this has been her trajectory. She was far too quick to marry Don in the first place, of course, and she probably should have run far and fast after the whole Howard Johnsons incident. It would be great to see if she ever has any further success in acting, especially now that she’s free of financial worries, but it seems like we might have gotten our last glimpse of Don’s third wife.
Peggy and Stan had an interesting week, dealing with the pantsuited and pretentiously named Pima, played by Mimi Rogers. We saw that both of these creatives were driven by their insecurities and need for approval and recognition. Stan did what was apparently much more common 45 years ago than it is today, sleeping with Pima in the darkroom at work. I’m pretty sure HR would have a field day with that type of thing in the modern office, especially since Stan is so open about it with his co-workers. It bursts Peggy’s bubble to know she wasn’t the only one Pima hit on, but it also helps her figure out the photographer is a bit of a hustler. It kills Peggy that she went out of her way give this job to a female, only to have her be a morally bankrupt climber. We all know Peggy’s made some mistakes in the office over the years (namely Pete and Ted) but she is self-aware enough to know they were bad moves, and she’s done a lot to put those missteps in her rear view. As we saw last week, she’s given up a lot for her successful career, and she’s not going to throw it all away by allowing this person in to wreak havoc.
I’m just going to say this about Harry – it breaks my heart when he’s a creeper. I love Harry Crane. I was Harry for Halloween one year! And Rich Sommer seems to be a really sweet guy (check out his board game podcast, Cardboard!), and when Harry is this sleazy, it upsets me right down to my core. But enough for that. I’ve got some deep Don Draper sadness ahead of me.
I honestly didn’t think we were going to see Diana again, but I’ve been thinking about her all week. On the Pop Rocket podcast (the second ‘cast I’ve shilled in two paragraphs), one of the hosts made an offhand remark about how it was irritatingly obvious that she symbolized death and the reaction from the rest of the panel was a collective “Wait. What?” If they’d all agreed, I would have felt like a dope if that was the consensus and I missed it.
I’m not sure how this theory is going to end even as I’m typing it, but here goes. In these last episodes, we’re watching Don’s life over the last six seasons playing out all over again. And not in the sense that he’ making the same mistakes over again. It’s a cycle that’s speeding up. Last week, Rachel made a reappearance of sorts and Diana stepped in to take her role – not the “sex for money in the alley” part, but the intellectual part. She’s reading John Dos Passos on her break, after all. But then, she’s also got a little bit of Midge in her. Don was basically paying her bills while she was his mistress, so you have that financial angle along with the self-destructive touch. This week, as they get closer she’s more emotionally withholding, much like Bobbie Barrett. Next up, can we expect to see Don have to help her with her family a la Suzanne Farrell? Don’s repeating the patterns of his mistresses, and so far it’s all with the same woman. Diana even lost a child, not the same as Megan’s miscarriage but for our purposes here it’s definitely similar.
You know what that repetitive cycle is? It’s a carousel.
Now that I think about it, the episode ends with Don returning to an empty home, just like he did in that episode. And former flame Sylvia Rosen makes an appearance in the flesh. Is Faye Miller turning up next week?
Beyond that, I’m not sure what to make of Diane. She seems disconnected, which I’m sure is a choice. Elizabeth Reaser is a very good actress and that isn’t her usual style. Whether that’s who the character is or if it’s meant to make it easier for Don and the viewer to project his past loves onto her, I don’t know. I tend to think it’s the former, because Mad Men has always been so good at allowing even minor characters to have inner lives. Nobody exists just to be a symbol of something.
Her last scene in the episode is devastating. She sends Don away because he makes her happy enough to forget the daughter who died. Wow. And then he leaves and she’s staring at that bottle because in Mad Men there’s fun drinking and sad drinking and when the one becomes the other, it’s a nightmare.
There’s a moment I love in that scene (besides Reaser and Jon Hamm just killing it). She asks Don if he wants to know why her husband and daughter are in Racine. The answer is “no”, because Dick Whitman is not going to make you explain your past. But also, it’s almost breaking the fourth wall because there are only five episodes left and there’s not time to start examining the backstory of a new character. No time for questions!
Megan frustrates me to no end. I like that the “Previously….” segment has a tearful Megan assuring Don that he doesn’t owe her anything. Well, that certainly changed. She casually demands money and is put out that she even has to ask. And then, when he gives her a literal million dollars – think about that, he makes her a millionaire with one check – all it does is irritate her. Oh, she takes the check. She’s not making a moral stand or anything, but there’s nothing he can do that will make her happy. That’s not the Megan we saw last season.
And I’ll admit, Don is not good at being a husband. He cheated on her, he went through dark times. But that’s not why they got divorced. That was a unilateral decision on her part because he pretended he was still going to the office instead of moving to LA and then a three-way didn’t fix their problems. I’m not saying she wasn’t justified in leaving. But her sudden about-face seems unwarranted.
I guess I’m a little uncharitable in that I write that off as Megan suddenly learning that life is tough and she can’t provide for herself anymore. We still don’t know if she’s supposed to be a good actress or not. Watching an actor play a character who is acting, it isn’t clear whether they’re doing it well. At this point, I think I have to conclude that she isn’t. There’s a reason she’s not getting work. She may have burned bridges at To Have and to Hold, but I think the real problem is that she was very good at something which she gave up to follow a dream that she didn’t have the ability to achieve.
Also, there’s this thing that can happen in a breakup. You can end on good terms and agree to be friends, but if somebody starts to think that they wasted their time, it turns into resentment. Of course, you take something with you from every relationship and you let it inform you as a person, one way or the other. But if Megan starts to see that as time she could have devoted to a relationship that wasn’t going to fail, then she’s going to be more and more resentful of Don and the time he stole. It makes me like Megan a lot less, because it’s an unpleasant way to live life. That said, we actually don’t know what happened in the year between episodes. She could be completely justified and then I’ll feel bad about all of this.
Not much of Pete Campbell this week, but his scenes were gold. “You’re going to rent pants?!” It’s entirely possible, though, that I’ve never felt less sympathy for him than when he complained about how hard it is to be single. Frigging Pete, man. And of course, Betty’s claim that she was getting a Master’s Degree in psychology was a great line. How they resisted doing a spit take, I’ll never know. And that went straight to Henry finishing Don’s milkshake, surrounded by his family. That’s pretty cold.
And I have to say that the scene with Roger’s two secretaries was great. I kind of hope that Roger gets an additional secretary every week until the end.
Next week it looks like we’re going to see more from Pete and Joan, which should be great. Hopefully we get to see Ken being a terrible client and maybe not any more of Harry being the sleaziest dude.