You know how it is. You get to a certain point in your life and you have a plan. You know exactly what the destination is so you’ve marked out every step of your route. Man, it might’ve taken you long to figure it out but you finally did it and, I gotta hand it to you, it feels good. You feel good. So good, in fact, you might be a little smug. You have a PLAN. From here on in you are SET, baby, set.
Don, Joan and Lane are people with plans. Certainly at the beginning of last Sunday’s episode, they probably all had a little mental drawing of it. And then, of course, the unexpected happens.
Don, who probably had the ultimate long-term plan, is now face to face with a situation for which he failed to draw up a contingency program. While he might be very good at improvising a whole advertising campaign, he’s not the kind to roll with life’s punches. He breaks downs and panics. I always admire Hamm’s ability to pull off Don’s contradictions; he’s quite convincing at showing a man who’s both cool under pressure in business and a total mess when it comes to emotions. As many have already pointed out, that panic attack was utterly believable. But he’s built his life on a lie of such tremendous magnitude that sooner or later his life is apt to self-destruct.
Lane appears utterly liberated from his previous life. He now seems more settled with his divorce and more assured about what he wants. What’s more he looks like he’s ready to take a big gluttonous bite out of his slice of the pie. And then Dad comes into town and strikes him down. His fresh new life is over before it even began.
Joan hadn’t even begun drawing up her plan when she found out she was pregnant with the wrong man’s baby. Again. And suddenly she had to face the prospect of having a third abortion, after she had already voiced her doubts about her fertility.
While all three are expert at putting up a calm face, each one is facing a plan breaking down precisely because they refuse to face reality. Joan refuses to face her very real disappointment about her husband and what marriage with such a man entails. As much as I love Joan and as much of a realist as she purportedly is, she’s still holding on to the idea of marriage as her lifeline. Her husband may love her but he regularly makes life-altering decisions without consulting her until it’s too late.
For some reason I can’t fathom Lane thought that his abusive alcoholic Dad would suddenly transform into a tolerant, supportive father. He felt empowered and so he must’ve built up some fantasy in his mind about his father suddenly accepting him as his own person. Why else would he insist on inviting him to have dinner with him and Toni? What kept Lane from punching this abusive man back when he was 17? Lane refuses to stand up for himself. How can he be strong enough to have a real interracial relationship? An abusive person never voluntarily gives up control over you. You have to take back your own power on your own terms. It’s your responsibility, really.
Of course we’ve all talked about Don’s ultimate refusal since the very beginning: his refusal to accept who he really is and the fact that it’s precisely where he comes from that made him who he is. It is not Don Draper who gave Dick Whitman the life he built, it’s Dick Whitman who created everything Don Draper enjoys. The resourcefulness, the ability to think on his feet, the persuasive charm — Dick developed those because he needed to survive that harsh upbringing. But he’s still ashamed of where he came from. In fact, he’s rigged it all so that the lies add further to his shame.
Basically, as cheesy as it sounds, they’re all seeing their plans come undone because they’ve refused to face reality. It’s only by facing reality that you truly earn the life you deserve. And so it’s apt that these characters are reflecting the larger lies that America had to face during the 60s: the role of men and women as well as the legacy of slavery and segregation. It’s a little too neat, a bit too easy but isn’t it how it really plays out in life? On a small and very personal scale?