Don knows what he wants to say

 Posted by on March 1, 2011 at 7:04 am  Characters, Season 4
Mar 012011

A while back, I realized that Don had not said “What do you want me to say?” once in Season 4. Not once.

Part of re-watching Season 4 was actually to confirm that, and also to see what Don has come up with as a substitute. I noticed towards the end of the season that there seemed to be a lot of variations on “It doesn’t matter,” and I wondered if that was his new theme. Kind of bleak.

Instead, I see a lot of instances where Don says exactly what he wants to say, in moments where, in the past, he’d have used his catchphrase “What do you want me to say?” I also see the bleakness creeping in side-by-side with a new sort of assertiveness, a tension played out, in a weird way, in the Faye/Megan tension.

Let’s dig in deeper:

Public Relations
This one’s bleak, and yet also the beginning of assertion. In regard to the Ad Age interview, Don says “I don’t know what I could have done differently,” and then “It’s done,” and then “Who gives a crap what I say anyway?”

It’s really different for him, if you compare it to his speech patterns of the previous three years.

The Good News
Stephanie: What are you doing?
Don: I don’t know.

The Rejected
There’s an interesting dialogue between Don and Joan:

Joan: Would you be open to Allison returning in a couple of days?
Don: If that’s what she wants.
Joan: Really?
Don: No.

That’s Don dialing back on “What do you want me to say?” First it’s acquiescing to what Allison wants, then it’s no. That’s what I mean by a new sort of assertion.

Waldorf Stories
In response to winning the Clio, Don says he feels “About the same I suppose, it doesn’t make the work any better.”

Faye: Award or no award, you’re still Don Draper.
Don: Whatever that means.

Back to bleakness and fatalism.

The Suitcase
Roger pressing Don to come to dinner is exactly where he’d have said “what do you want me to say?” in the past. Instead, he decisively says “no.”

The Summer Man
In the cab with Faye, Don again expresses exactly what he wants, and this again reads to me like a situation where he might once have said “What do you want me to say?” It would have been accompanied by an excuse, or a shrug, but he doesn’t go there at all.

The Beautiful Girls
Again, in a scene with Faye (at the end, when she’s angry with him), he’s clear and doesn’t equivocate. I think it’s so important that the language shift happens here with a girlfriend; it’s an instance where he’s trying not to make her do all the work of the relationship.

First he says “I’m sorry” to Faye—a moment when he could easily have said “what do you want me to say?” Then he says “It doesn’t matter.” She is about to protest. He says “I mean it.”

Hands and Knees
“What am I supposed to do?” he asks Pete about the Defense issue, but he immediately says “Get rid of it;” he’s not waiting for an answer. He also says “I’ll do what I have to,” which is a pretty intense affirmation that he doesn’t care what someone else wants him to do or say.

Blowing Smoke

Midge: Think my work’s any good?
Don: Does it matter?

This is Don talking about his own work; Don losing Lucky Strike, Don throwing the Clio.

Don telling Faye he’s engaged:

Faye: Who is she?
Don: What’s the difference?

It was this, on the heels of what he said to Midge, that got me reviewing episodes and taking notes. The twin feelings of being a Self! and of being defeated travel throughout the season. I feel that the proposal to Megan is a defeat; he wants her to make him feel good rather than asserting his Self. Especially because some of his most positive assertive language was with Faye. But we’ll see what we see.


  19 Responses to “Don knows what he wants to say”

  1. Hmmmm. A lot of Don’s “What do you want me to say” moments were with Betty, weren’t they? He was basically saying, “I’ll say anything you want to hear, because I don’t feel like arguing or having a deep discussion with you.”

    Dunno about not asserting himself by choosing Megan. Or do you mean “his Self” is not, actually, himself? I’m confused.

  2. I didn’t see His proposal to Megan as a defeat. Rather, I found it to be a surprising assertion of doing what he wanted regadless of what problems it caused with Faye and everyone in the office.

    A defeat would have been a proposal to the young Betty look-alike whose name escapes me now. That would have been easy. Or continuing to just use Megan for an affair. His affairs ultimately caused his divorce, but for a long time it was a way for him to avoid facing the problems in his relationship with Betty.

    The affairs showed weakness because he sought to avoid conflict — “what do you want me to say?” or “whatever.”

    I thought the propsal to Megan was a strong move — I’m going to marry this beautiful young woman who will be an amazing mother to my kids and I don’t care if she is my secretary and some will view that as scandalous or that it will hurt Faye and that might have repercussions in my business life. It’s what I need to do and I’m going to do it, everything else be damned.

  3. Mike, we think alike. Don was choosing what he wants and needs, not what is comfortable, by choosing Megan. He could have chosen Jane’s friend Bethany, which would have made Roger happy but would not have left him open to charges of hypocrisy for marrying his secretary after giving Roger a hard time.

    He also must deal with his own and others’ expectations of proper office behavior, especially after Allison loudly berated him and stormed out.

  4. Don repeated “What do you want me to say?” to Betty, Roger, Duck, Peggy, Carlton, and Suzanne, unless I missed some:

    By “Self” I was using shorthand to say a self-determined ego that isn’t merely a product of Dick Whitman hiding in a false Don Draper persona; an authentic self.

    In terms of “defeat,” I was interpreting the parallel language. With Faye his phrasing has been very self-determined, and then, finally, breaking up with Faye, his phrasing was defeated.

    Having abandoned his non-committal catchphrase of the first three seasons, he’s moved into two parallel tracks: Self determination (No, I mean it, Get rid of it) and defeat (does it matter?, what’s the difference?). So my interpretation of the proposal as a defeat was based entirely on which phrases were used when.

    Just food for thought.

  5. @3 Tom B-I think an important difference was that Roger divorced specifically so that he could marry his secretary. Don had already been divorced. Don didn’t break up his family (as they would have said in that era) so he could marry someone else. When Don proposed to Megan, he was single, and had a number of options, such as Bethany or Faye. He chose Megan.

  6. Retrogirl, I agree, the situations are not similar, but there’s still an awkward breach of Don’s workplace rule that he expressed to Peggy.

    Deborah, I can’t categorize the different parts of the character’s personality like that. I think he is getting in touch with his real self, and real wants and needs.

  7. In The Gypsy and the Hobo, in S-3, there’s a shift in what Don says.

    When Betty joins Don in the kitchen, after the initial confrontation at Don’s desk, over the shoebox, its contents & what it all means, he finally says: “Where do you want me to start?”.

    It’s a subtle change, yet jarring, once you catch it.

    I hadn’t even thought about the absence of “What do you want me to say?” in S-4.

  8. I think the self-determination and the defeatism go hand in hand. It’s the dilemma laid out in “Public Relations”: If you’re no longer playing the facile roles society has laid out for you, what are you going to be? Don’s finally ready to embrace a more authentic self, but all too often he feels like his true self is defined by everything he’s not.

    Just look at that first scene in “Public Relations.” The reporter asks, “Who is Don Draper,” and Don asks a version of “What do you want me to say?”: “What do men say when you ask that?” Only now, he’s detached himself from the group — he’s asking what men do, not what he should do. And when the reporter tells him what men say, the only answer Don can give is “I don’t want to do that.”

    So much of the season that follows is about Don discovering that he doesn’t have it so bad — that knowing what you aren’t is as valuable a way to define yourself as knowing what you are. “The Good News” sets up the dilemma in the most personal terms: he thinks he has nothing to offer his dearest friend in her time of need, because he’s nothing to her, an undefined presence, “just a man in a room with a checkbook.” But then “The Rejected” presents the other side of the equation; it’s all about how people form connections based on what they choose not to do, who they choose not to associate with. Rejecting definition becomes a definition in itself.

    Then in the “Chrysanthemum and the Sword,” Don discovers how to wield that power himself. At the end of the episode, he’s literally a man in a room with a checkbook, and he realizes that by telling the Japanese “Here’s my check. I’m not your guy,” he’s finally able to become somebody in their eyes. But he still spends most of the rest of the season walking that tightrope between feeling like he’s finally becoming somebody and feeling like he’s nobody at all.

    It’s only at the very end of the season that he finally makes peace with who he’s going to be — because he finally realizes who he doesn’t want to be. After spending the whole season feeling ambivalent about his work, keeping his children at arm’s length, choosing a girlfriend who rejects conventional domesticity, he realizes that it’s not Don Draper the career man, Don Draper the father, or Don Draper the husband that he really wants to reject — it’s Don Draper the scared little boy in the floor wax commercial. And so the season ends with a final act of rejection: Don dumps Faye, the woman who encouraged him to face his past, for Megan, the woman who doesn’t care who he was because she knows who he can be.

  9. Dev, I love your comment. The “checkbook” connection is great. This is exactly what I’m trying to do — look at speech and what it indicates.

    Faye was right, in those days, men just didn’t stay single. It was inevitable he’d remarry quickly. But I think there was enormous value for Don in coming up from hitting bottom and in doing it on his own; the swimming, the journaling, the slowing things down with Faye. And it does feel to me like proposing to Megan is running from that. I don’t object to Megan as Megan — she’s adorable, what’s not to love? — I object to Don giving up the process of self-discovery that he was doing as a single man.

  10. I don’t know; I’ve always believed “If something is too good to be true, it usually is.” Megan is just too perfect, the way Henry Francis was too perfect last season. Now, maybe Megan will help Don grow as a person, the way Henry is helping Betty to (finally!!) grow up and take responsibility, but right now, I think Megan is just a bit too eager to please, just a bit too willing to be what Don wants her to be. Will that continue when her engagement ring is replaced with a wedding ring? Or will she turn on Don when she finds out that the coveted brass ring is fool’s gold?

    If next season was the last season (as originally projected), I’d say that Megan is working with Chao to bring Don down (if she was willing), or about to turn state’s evidence in exchange for a lesser sentence (if she was not). But I doubt there’s going to be any “happily ever after” for them.

  11. I wonder whether Don has given up the process of self-discovery.

    Given the year he had and realizing how he doesn’t want to feel, why wouldn’t his self-discovery continue as an engaged or married man as he searches for how he wants to feel?

    There are two scenes in “Tomorrowland” where Don is sitting on the edge of a bed looking pensive (the hotel in Cali and his apartment) that lead up to his proposal to Megan. And then there is the last scene, after he is engaged, where he is thoughtfully looking out the window.

    Leading up to the proposal Don tells Megan, “I feel like myself when I’m with you, but the way I always wanted to feel.”

    Could Don continue the journey of self-discovery by focusing on the type of person he wants to be with a woman who, as Dev F put it “..doesn’t care who he was because she knows who he can be”?

    Yeah….maybe for a few episodes into Season 5 until he has an affair with Betty!

  12. I agree with B.J. that eventually Megan will prove “too good to be true.” Don did rush into marriage with her and treally hardly knows her. But that’s part of what will make will make sesson 5 — if it happens — interesting to follow.

  13. Deborah, I completely agree with you that Don’s proposal to Megan is a defeat because they really don’t know each other at all. That’s a defeat because Don spent the entire season working toward knowing himself more deeply and (perhaps for the first time) allowing another person, Faye, to know the real him (the Dick Whitman underneath), and then at the end of the season he threw that all away and proposed to Megan because she made him feel good.

  14. Its great to see the really smart kids are back, cause this discussion is over my head. Dev, just tremendous. Don showed some ‘defeat’ when his work wife Peggy, found out and said “Wow”. Don said something that seemed almost defensive like, ‘I know what you’re thinking, and I’ll be alright’. Don doesn’t seem sure at all, and his choice of words betrays his insecurity. Insecurity, that may have its root at the fact that maybe DD realizes that he wasn’t ‘assertive’, in reacting to his needs, and in proposing chose a ”want’. Obtw; if Don and Betty get horizontal next season I am out of here!

  15. I definitely agree that Don’s decision to reject Faye and marry Megan is bittersweet at best. No doubt we’re supposed to mourn the loss of the Don who could have been — the man who learned to be happy sleeping alone, who didn’t care that his girlfriend wasn’t a domestic goddess, who seemed just on the verge of finally working through his childhood issues with her help. It wouldn’t be a meaningful rejection if Don weren’t giving up something precious — the way Peggy gave up her son, or Pete gave up his dreams of a more “authentic” life.

    But crucially, I think, Don hasn’t given up everything he learned. He’s still watching his drinking. He’s still still writing up his thoughts at home — though now they’re a daring scheme to save the company instead of his personal confessions. He’s still swimming — though now it’s to spend time with his kids instead of to be alone with his thoughts. He may not be the Summer Man anymore, but bits and pieces of that summer are still inside of him; he’s rejected it, but he hasn’t reversed it.

    There’s a reason why the season is bookended by two different relationships between Don and one of his secretaries — the first disastrous, the second almost too good to be true. It’s to show that despite how much he might seem to have regressed, he’s actually come quite a long way over the course of the year. Megan isn’t just more tolerant of Don’s failings than Allison was; she’s actually seen him try to overcome them in a way Allison never did. Where Allison saw a sloppy drunk, Megan saw a man trying to control his addictions. Where Allison was horrified that Don couldn’t even write a recommendation to show his gratitude, Megan was impressed that he wrote that New York Times ad to save the company.

    That’s such a striking contrast — between the boozy sad-sack who failed to articulate more about himself than “My life right now is very . . .” and the sober go-getter who composed a bold statement of purpose for himself and put it in the newspaper for all to see.

    And in addition to the bits of pieces of the New Don that survived the rejection, there’s also everything Don gained by choosing not to focus on self-improvement and self-sufficiency. As I’ve mention before, I see the California diner scene in “Tomorrowland” as Don’s reimagining of his much-celebrated GloCoat ad. Suddenly, he’s not the little cowboy trapped and afraid and in need of a glowing maternal rescuer — his children are, terrified that a spilled milkshake is a hanging offense. He chooses not to be the frightened boy Faye insisted he was; he decides to be the father instead.

    And while Don might have become a better person had he chosen Faye’s path instead, I suspect that Sally, Bobby, and Gene will be better off with the Don of tomorrow.

  16. Matt Weiner has often said that people seemed hard-wired to repeat their behavior patterns over and over, ‘Reset to Master’. I wonder if Don choosing to marry is ironically enough a move away from his old patterns. True, men of that era were expected to always have a better half, but Don is a lone wolf away from the pack. He likes to think of himself as out of the box, and has great distaste for being , or thought of as ordinary. When Faye gave him her prediction, he visibly winced and scowled at her audacity to think that she had the finger on him like he was one of her hapless subjects. Don wants to be free in every sense. Most importantly, that includes not doing what society expects of him. Faye represented some kind of oppression, if I may use the expression. Follow my lead, do A, B, and C, add 2 helpings of Dick Whitman and voila! With Megan he will be the master of his fate. Betty gave him what he thought a vagabond like him needed in order to step into polite society. Credibility, status, and what he thought of as stability. But, he was playing the role he was expected to play. Not his rules. “I feel like myself, but the way I always wanted to feel”. Megan, can accept him for whatever he may think he is, no restrictions or expectations. Don can be whatever incarnation of Dick or Don and finally not care one iota about keeping up appearances. Joanie may always repeat the mistake of frittering away her life on undeserving men, and Peggy is forever fighting the uphill battle to prove her worth(you know Draper knocked her up, and 9 lbs and 8 oz later she’s a copywriter) but Don is not gonna reset to master. He will be the man of the future, not his past, and for the moment Megan can come along for the ride.

    • Dev, again, nice parallels uncovered. The parallel secretaries I’d seen, but the parallel swimming is interesting. It could be reintegration rather than escape. (Again, I’m trying to read the clues in the text, rather than simply talking about the characters as people whom we know.)

      tilden, people either cycle, or they spiral. A spiral looks a lot like a cycle, except you really are getting better, even as you appear to double back. We all keep being ourselves. Don shows evidence of spiraling; he falls into old habits, yet he imposes a new sense of self-worth on them.

      And to repeat myself, a huge, huge sign of that is the dropping of his catchphrase. Listen, the writers really didn’t give him eleven repetitions of it in three seasons, and then drop it entirely, accidentally.

      “What do you want me to say?” and “What do you want to hear?” Are statements that ‘I am not really here, I am a chameleon created by responding to you.’ They are Don as Batman, he is all secret identity and no authenticity. And significantly, Don doesn’t continue with this catchphrase through the end of S3. Nope, the last time we hear him say it is in The Gypsy and the Hobo. Dropping the catchphrase is something that happened concurrent with his confession.

      And not only has he abandoned the catchphrase in S4, he’s also got a new way of dealing with his past. Sure, he can’t deal honestly in the way that Faye advises, but he also confesses to Faye, and tells Peggy he was a farm boy, and even admits to Megan that the ring isn’t quite “family.”

      It’s a spiral, definitely, with some bad behavior, sure, but also a new way of relating to the world.

  17. I interpreted Don’s use of “What do you want me to say?” as avoiding confrontation with Betty. Despite his cheating, they were living as man and wife, and it may have been an effot to keep the shreds of his marriage together rather than fight all the time. Now, Betty is out of the picture, and Don can say exactly what he wants to say.

    I have been wondering since the season ended if Megan actually knows more about his origins than we have been shown thus far. She had access to his personnel records, and if she was in love with him, she undoubtedly did some subtle investigating of her own on the side. (What woman doesn’t?)

    It would be interesting to envision a scene in which Don “confesses” his Dick Whitman identity to Megan, only to have her say, “I knew all that.”

  18. Brenda, agree on his motive re Betty.

    Don’t see how Megan could find out about his Dick Whitman past, by snooping, unless he kept the shoebox dox and pix somewhere within her grasp. She knew something was very wrong that day he found out about the security clearance form, and she did go the California with him, where he closed on Anna’s house. But not sure what she could piece together from that.

    More to the point, Sally and Bobby heard their dad say, when she asked, “Who’s Dick?” “Well…. that’s me. That’s my nickname, sometimes.” Can you picture Sally or Bobby asking Megan if she calls their dad Dick, and telling that snippet? And then there’s the ring she wears; gotta ask him sometime whose it was…

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