All the chaos around USgamer‘s launch has caused me to drop the ball on these Mad Men write-ups I’ve been doing. I’m sure most people don’t care, or are in fact quite happy about that, but I need to write about things besides video games occasionally or else my brain will harden and shrivel to the size of a tiny walnut. Actually, as tonight will be the final episode of the penultimate season, I should probably train my sights on something else soon anyway. Maybe I can describe in detail my current quest to perfect making cheese sandwiches and fried eggs. I’d never made them until a couple of weeks ago and getting them just right is harder than I expected, you know?
The two most recent episodes of Mad Men run together in my mind — partly because we watched them back-to-back last week as a result of E3, but also because they’re closely linked in so many other ways. And where a month of story time has typically transpired between this season’s episodes, the space between these two appeared to be more a matter of days. I suppose it makes sense that time compresses and events come to a head as the show builds toward whatever plot twist or new status quo is coming in the season finale.
I had this loopy idea that Don Draper’s pervasive death wish throughout this sixth season was leading to him dying at the end of the season with the show’s final season dealing with the aftermath, but aside from being viewership suicide, that idea has faded after “Favors.” It’s much worse for Don to be alive, as he continues losing control of his life. Everyone is growing and changing around him, while he lives in an arrested state. And it makes sense: Don Draper isn’t a real person. He’s a persona Dick Whitman created to hide from himself and his past. He can’t change, because Don Draper is actually dead and Dick is simply playing a part. And he’s not even playing it as well as he used to; his true aw-shucks Midwestern accent keeps peeping through his slick ad-man person more and more frequently.
Don’s charade is thrown into sharp relief by the disappointingly dramatic saga of Bob Benson, who turns out not to simply be a sincerely nice guy but in fact another Dick Whitman on the run from his past. Don hasn’t changed a whit (as it were) from the series’ pilot, still wearing the same suits and drinking the same mediocre whiskey and relying on the same gift for funneling his secret dismay at his own lies and failings in order to bring compelling sincerity to his ad copy; yet his would-be rival from the beginning, Pete Campbell, has changed. He’s still a pompous, whiny, blue-blood twerp — the same “grubby little pimp” as ever — but he’s older now, cannier. Experienced enough to realize that there’s no value in outing Bob’s lies to the world but rather in keeping him close, under his thumb, the way Burt Cooper did when Campbell tried to out Don in a moment of rash attempted extortion.
Of course, Pete is still a twerp. He rushes to take on the Chevy contract when Ken Cosgrove ends up with a face full of buckshot in a hunting accident, clutching that stupid rifle he bought way back in the show’s second episode. You can almost see him patting himself on the back over his great career move and, finally, a chance to be a man by shooting things with manly men… only to have his gawky secretary laugh at the inadequate power of his little low-caliber rifle. I guess Mad Men hasn’t grown either, huh? It’ll still take every opportunity it can to emasculate Campbell.
Likewise, Don’s personal stagnation also contrasts with the growth of his daughters, one literal, one figurative. Where Sally and Peggy once looked up to him, they despise him now for his selfishness and unfaithfulness. Caught in the midst of a sexual peccadillo by Sally even as he uses Peggy and Ted Chaough’s unrequited longing for each other as a lever to embarrass them in front of a client, his hypocrisy seemingly knows no bounds. He lives a lie in front of his wife every night, yet flips the channel in disgust when he happens to come across her image acting a character’s part on an afternoon soap.
There’s a reckoning due soon as Don’s tower of lies inevitably topples. After years of coasting through life with someone else’s identity, sleeping with every woman besides the one he’s married to, and making a fortune off tricking people into buying products they don’t need, I’m fascinated to see what that comeuppance will be. Or maybe the unexpected twist will be that he doesn’t get what’s coming to him, and he can glide through the rest of his life wearing a borrowed life and an unfashionable suit. Often, in real life, the bad guys win.