Don Loves Rachel

 Posted by on March 13, 2008 at 12:56 pm  Characters, Season 1
Mar 132008

It’s all there in their first ‘date’ in Smoke Gets In Your Eyes… She is 28 and has never been married because she’s never been in love. Don laughs this off because in his view, there’s no such thing as love.

And though I believe he has love for Betty, it’s never been that kind of love. So in the ongoing question of why did Don marry Betty,  I really don’t think he saw it as selling out or settling. It is not even a matter of believing in love. Don knows. KNOWS. that this is all that love and marriage are. That other kind of love does not exist it was invented by Mad Men and, ironically, by Hallmark. (It’s ironic because Midge is a freelance artist for the likes of Hallmark. And there it is, again, in the pilot she tells Don that they have just invented Grandmother’s Day.)

You know, we keep talking in here about love. Does Pete love Peggy, does Don love Betty. Here’s one does Joan love Roger? Does Roger love Mona? I think we all struggle because, let’s face it, who the fuck knows what ˜love’ is?

But I do think (and I am once again reminded of the opening credits) that Don has taken a deep fall for Rachel. And for the sake of argument, let’s call that love.

With all my viewings of Marriage of Figaro, I never really took his misery as solely Rachel-based. I knew he likes her, and that she affects him. He is shown gazing at the cuff links that she gave him. But I didn’t consider her the source of his misery that day.

Until the dog.

Until I finally put it together about the dog. At the end of Figaro, Don comes home, hours and hours late, with a big dog for Sally. We never see how he comes to acquiring this full-grown dog. But it takes a lot to buy a dog; it’s not as simple as walking into your local Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company and searching the frozen food section.

Flash back, if you will, to Rachel and Don on the roof of her store. And she is telling Don all about her childhood, and how these big dogs were her closest allies. Don bringing this gift to his own little girl. This tells me that Don went all the way in. This is not just a crush–he is crushed by her. Don is thinking about Rachel as a child, he is with that little girl on the roof. He is thinking about Rachel today, on that roof, laughing at her own childhood. He is with her as she relates back to herself as a child. He is yearning for her as she is now, whole and tragic and somehow not haunted by her losses.

One more thing… this feels eerie and magical to Don. Back on that first ‘date’ over drinks, she tells him that she recognizes that he is a complete outsider in his own world. No one has ever called that out before. And on the roof… well, later we find out that his mother, too, had died giving birth to him. This goes beyond the usual, Wow, you like Chinese food too? Those are tricky moments in the development of a love story (and I mean in the personal development of our own love stories)… those psychic connections, those things that have never been shared… to suddenly have a partner on things that you’d long written off as yours and yours alone. This is a powerful draw.

So yes, for whatever it’s worth, I think he is in love with her.


  29 Responses to “Don Loves Rachel”

  1. I think so too.

  2. Brilliant post.

    I was noticing in The Hobo Code (which I'm recapping now), how deeply affected young bowl-cut Dick (YBD) by his brief relationship with the hobo. The hobo (who is never named) is from New York. Don ends up in New York. The hobo makes YBD "an honorary" (hobo) and YBD becomes a wanderer. The hobo says "escape" and YBD escapes.

    So "my only ally in childhood" has got to deeply, DEEPLY affect Don.

  3. It's also such a romantic post. I love the interpretation of Don getting the dog and also now I totally get why he ran away to the train station in the middle of his daughter's party.

    I do think Joan loves Roger and I think Roger loves Joan AND Mona.

    It's no wonder that Don doesn't believe in love the way Rachel does; he never had love as a child. He doesn't recognize it. As Roberta says, Rachel recognizes something about Don that he thought he had to hide so that he could be loved. There's that wonderful feeling of being truly accepted for who you are that makes one feel truly loved as opposed to being loved for what one embodies (ambition, beauty, etc.) or what one can give (house, prestige, the respect of others, money), etc. See, when someone loves you for your looks or your money or your talent, you always worry that love will be gone when the talent or the money or the beauty is gone. To be truly loved, you are loved IN SPITE of these things, not because of them. You are loved for being the fallible, flawed, annoying human being that you cannot help being. Ironically, that's when you can relax and be your best self.

    And Don recognizes in some way that Rachel accepts that part of him that filled everyone else with shame. She accepts his "outsider" status not only bc she's an outsider herself but bc she doesn't hate that about herself. She's a Jew in a WASP's world, she's an outsider, she knows it and while she's willing to play within that reality, she doesn't let that define the way she looks at herself. This is what grounds Rachel as a person.

  4. Here's something else that this post made me think about: How frustrated Don is that Betty is not happy. He gives her everything, how could she need a psychiatrist?

    Bc in Don's paradigm of love, to be a good husband is all a matter of having a checklist of things you can provide. For me the show is a parallel examination of our current reality. So, for instance, I see all the traps that these characters get into as explorations of the way modern paradigms of love and happiness trap us, 21st Century viewers. Haven't well had our little lists of what we want in a man? Isn't that kind of laundry list what internet dating is about? And the thing about Don's confusion is that it's analogous to our confusion when the embodiment of our wish lists doesn't make us happy. He spent his childhood pining for someone like Betty and yet he feels safest with someone like Rachel, someone that he wouldn't have encountered back on the farm where he grew up.

  5. Another thing I find interesting about these two is that Rachel felt comfortable enough with Don to tell him her entire life story within the scope of, what, two or three meetings? She reveals a little that night when they're having drinks, then tells him a great deal when he visits her at the store, and by the time they have tea in "Babylon," she's pretty much laid it out for him. I doubt Betty has ever revealed so much about herself to Don–or if she has, I don't get the sense that he listened…much.

  6. Don listens to Betty, and what he hears is an interconnected and enmeshed family. He can't relate and he's afraid. That's not what he hears from Rachel. She talks about herself, not much about her father and sister.

  7. "She accepts his “outsider” status not only bc she’s an outsider herself but bc she doesn’t hate that about herself."

    As the great Jack Nicholson once said, "Acceptance is key."

    Really, though, this is a brilliant observation, Eme, because the parallels between Don and Rachel are what are supposed to clue we the viewers into their kinship.

    So here's what we observe:

    Rachel: motherless outsider who doesn't let society dictate what role she should play (not married, career-oriented);

    Don: motherless outsider who COMPLETELY buys into societal expectations (perfect wife, career, social status, etc.).

    Rachel's less-than-perfect past spurred her to greater achievement. Don's is a burden that weighs him down and short-circuits his fight/flight response.

  8. From Eme:

    See, when someone loves you for your looks or your money or your talent, you always worry that love will be gone when the talent or the money or the beauty is gone.

    Great point. And let’s remember that Don, as confident (okay, cocky) as he is with clients, is secretly petrified that it will all go away, each time he runs dry. (i.e., Lucky Strike.) And also, I suspect that he doesn’t know quite how handsome he is. He knows he doesn’t have a problem with picking up women, but think he chalks it up more to luck. Remember, he did not receive any praise or acknowledgement from his family. Ever. Adam doesn’t count :- )

    And Loo:

    I doubt Betty has ever revealed so much about herself to Don–or if she has, I don’t get the sense that he listened…much.

    Don shuts Betty down, assigning pride as the reason. People shouldn’t talk about themselves. (remember Ladies Room.)

    But the real reason that Don doesn’t want to hear about Betty is to keep her from expecting to hear about Don. Don has laid down the contract of their marriage… talk about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell!

    Part of love is timing. Don is having flashbacks, so is that why he’s ready to be drawn to a woman with whom he might have honesty? Or maybe it’s Rachel’s presence, her saying what she said to him that very first night that started the whole thing; that sets off the flashbacks. (Nahh… he looked at his purple heart that very day.) This whole season is an unfolding for Don, and Rachel plays a chicken/egg role in that.

  9. A huge Rachel fan here! It's the superior acting skills of Maggie Siff! What's so great about Rachel's character is that she explores how a woman can be glamorous, sexy, powerful yet retain a hint of vulnerability.

    When Rachel and Don initally had drinks, I knew they'd eventually hit the sheets. Scintillating chemistry between the pair! Loved how she called him out on getting in trouble with his boss and being an outsider. And loved how he (and all the men in the eatery) watched her walk away as she exited the place.

    Damn you, Mad Men writers fro creating such fantastic characters!! ;-P

  10. Roberta – even though Don looks at his Purple Heart in Smoke, I think it was because it fell while he was changing shirts (?), not sure.

    If I remember correctly, didn't Mr. Weiner say that shot was inserted late into the script because AMC wanted to reference it earlier than he did?

    My opinion is that despite the hint, he really isn't affected enough to have flashbacks until 5G when Adam comes calling … this is what brings it all to the fore.

    Prior to Adam's visit, he's blissfully repressed it all.

  11. Dan, I think that what Weiner said was that it was not in the original pilot script, but I didn't get the impression that he added it due to any pressure. I think that by the time they shot the episode, he had more fully fleshed out the season and added it as foreshadowing. But you're probably right that it was more accidental and less gazey.

    But I think it was triggered pre-Adam. It was the guy on the train at the beginning of Marriage of Figaro that rattled Don's… rattles.

  12. If there was ever a moment when "rattled his cage" is appropriate, this is it. Don is in a cage.

  13. "And let’s remember that Don, as confident (okay, cocky) as he is with clients, is secretly petrified that it will all go away, each time he runs dry. (i.e., Lucky Strike.)"

    He has the kind of job in which he's constantly tested. Plus, every talented person in the world knows that he's going to have off days and that there are others who are just as good or better. He thrives under pressure and he inadvertently picks situations in which he's always competing with other men.

    The other reason he's always petrified is that he's an impostor. Or rather: he thinks he's an impostor. He doesn't realize he has become the real Don Draper. That's the reason he can't talk openly to Betty (and, let's ask ourselves the question that's always in the back of Don's mind: would Betty have fallen for Dick Whitman? Would she still love Don if she knew he was once Dick?)

  14. I think Betty could have loved him even with his past, as long as he ended up as Don Draper. I don't think she would have married him if he had remained Dick, any more than she would have married Adam.

    There is a definite caste system at work. I mean, what kind of woman answers her own phone? One who is at home when it rings? 😉

    I don't know why I've never warmed to Rachel. Maybe I found the dog thing a little heavy handed as loving animals is a shortcut to make the audience understand someone is a good person. I'm not saying that alone was a problem, just that I can't seem to engage with the character.

    I do like her better than Midge. 🙂

  15. Yeah, I never really warmed to Midge.

    The big question… will either of these women be back in Season Two? Inquiring Lipps want to know.

  16. Possibly Rachel comes back. The Midge shove-off seemed too definitive.

    Remember that they were most likely written before they knew if there would be a S2, so there was an imperative to wrap things up.

    I would guess that Rachel could re-enter the picture following her trip if they wanted to reintroduce her. She's very plaintive.

    Just threw that last line in so I could conclude the definitive – imperative – plaintive troika.

  17. I'm intrigued to see where Matt Weiner takes their storyline next season. I can't imagine that Maggie Siff won't be back as Rachel, but it's interesting that she never appears at any of the public talks and forums that they have about the show. I hope that doesn't mean she's off the series. There's such great chemistry between Don and Rachel, but also the Rachel character is needed to reflect Don back onto himself. They're really kind of mirror images of each other…except Rachel does Don better than he does himself.

    I love the scene where Daddy Menken is talking about the Tsarist Ministry, and Rachel laughingly tries to feign ignorance. She knows he's talking about Don's skill as a master manipulator, but she also knows he's talking about her. The way he looks back at her when she says she has no idea what he's talking about…it's like he wants to say (lovingly, of course) "Bitch, please. You wrote the fucking manual." She gets what she wants–whether she's renaming dogs until the end of time, or hiring a new advertising agency, or ending a conversation through the sheer finality of stubbing out her cigarette. It's what she wants. "The customer is ALWAYS right."

    Unlike Don who spends a lot of time proclaiming that he knows exactly what he wants, Rachel actually GETS what she wants–and from the very beginning, that's been Don. The way she was making eyes at him that night they had drinks, then the not-so-subtle flirtation at Sterling Cooper. The first time I saw "Marriage of Figaro" my jaw dropped when she gave him those cufflinks. Such an intimate gift for a woman to give a man. True, they were a novelty item, but they're still very personal. They're male jewelry, after all. And she didn't just gift them–she actually cuffed him…then stared at him for about 1500 hours, LOL. Talk about marking your man. She knew exactly what she wanted, and was, as Don noted to her father in the meeting at Sterling Cooper, "willing to pay for it."

    They both need each other, if only to see their flaws more clearly. That's the only way they can grow as people (and also develop as characters). They're so well suited to each other that no one else in their realm can do that for them. In that sense, they are soul mates.

  18. By the way, that kiss is SO hot.

  19. It would be a very BIG mistake if Rachel/Maggie Siff were not to return to Mad Men. She has to be there, just to mess with Don's head….

  20. I hope nobody takes this the wrong way, but there is something rather drag queen about Rachel Mencken. Yes, women had lots of leeway to be drag queens back then. Yes, it's the hair and the period outfits, but it's also that drag queen sense of display and making an entrance. Don, with his stylized identity, is taken with her sense of style and presentation–she can get away with being a little over the top in some of those outfits! And hullabaloo is right about the mark your man assertiveness. Quel drag!

  21. Not a stretch, Max. She is, lest we forget, compared with Joan Crawford.

  22. Oh my god, I totally missed the Joan Crawford comparison. What episode is that in?

  23. Max, it's indirect, but in Babylon Betty and Don discuss Joan Crawford and Don makes it clear he digs her eyebrows.

    Later in the episode, when we see Rachel again, you can't help but notice that she has killer, dragqueen eyebrows.

  24. One of the reasons why I love the Rachel character is because she is woman who gets what she wants! Instead of using sex a la Joan or Barbie Doll beauty like Betty, she uses her brain. (Granted, she was thinking with her "ovaries" by sleeping with Don! And I can't blame her!)

    Even though Maggie Siff's very pretty, IMO, I can see where the "drag" comparison comes from. When Rachel's on screen, her hair is always the biggest and highest!

  25. Yes, but what does *Sal* think of Rachel? That's the real Joan Crawford litmus test..

  26. You know, I was just thinking that you could turn Rachel's return into a whole new series–a spin-off from Mad Men, where she seeks out a Jewish ad agency after all, just to get away from Don. It could be called Mad Mensch and the men would all compete to out-nebbish each other. It would be one Woody Allen joke after another.

    Someone hire me–I'm a genius!

  27. Yes, that drag queen sense of display and assertiveness! It's the big hats, the big hair, the big cigarette holder–all of which command immediate attention. She probably has to be that way: a Jewish woman trying to navigate a WASP man's world–she's playing with the big boys, so she's gotta be bigger and better than them. To Maggie Siff's credit, though, she is playing her character with remarkable restraint. The clothes alone could push her into camp territory. But she's playing Rachel with amazing subtlety–so much so that you don't realize how forceful the character really is. I don't think it's a coincidence that Siff actually resembles Joan Crawford. Weiner and Co. probably wanted someone in that role to be a young prototype for Crawford's Best of Everything character.

  28. […] July 3, 2008 Marriage of Rachel Posted by Deborah Lipp under Season 1 Episodes | Tags: Don Draper, Marriage of Figaro, Rachel Menken, the American Dream |   Roberta said it first: Don loves Rachel. […]

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