Megan knows about Dick Whitman.
Say what you will about this episode, discuss the meaning and the symbolism and the complexity and whatever else you like, but it all boils down to just one thing.
Megan knows about Dick Whitman.
At the end of Season 4, the Surprise Marriage Proposal prompted an awful lot of people to say that Don would never have married Faye, because Faye knew his secret. I may be the only writer on Mad Men in all of cyberspace who didn’t say, when Don revealed Dick-in-a-Box to Faye, “Well, that’s over.” Honestly, I felt kind of stupid, like all the other writers had more insight than me. But I still couldn’t bring myself to say it. It felt too simple, too much of an equation: This, then that, and therefore…and that’s not Matthew Weiner’s style.
So just a wee little bit, I feel vindicated. (A wee bit? Like Pete looking out a big window!)
In Episode 4.10, Don said to Faye, “I’m tired of running,” and told her his secret. Then he said, “Now I think that’s over.” And now? Now he’s decided it was a good idea. He really was tired of running, really was relieved when he thought it was all over, and despite his terror that day, despite his hand being forced, it seems it has become a decision. Eight months later we see him living the results.
For those of you keeping score, A Little Kiss* takes place May 30 through June 6, 1966, seven months after the Season 4 finale, Tomorrowland.
About Megan, Don says to Peggy, “You don’t know her at all.” It almost doesn’t matter why he says it; what matters is that he really does know his second wife, as he never knew Betty. And Megan knows Dick Whitman. She has a lot to learn about her husband, and she made a real miscalculation with the party, but he’s given her the means to know more: something he never gave to Betty until she forced his hand.
Looking at the broader themes of this episode, let’s start with babies. There are an awful lot of babies in this episode: Tammy Campbell is just off-screen, Kevin Harris gets passed around, Gene Draper is with his siblings (I guess now that Don has a wife, he’s not afraid of having the baby along with the older kids), and there’s a hint that Megan is next (Joan says it outright, plus Megan feels inexplicably sick—maybe it’s morning sickness, maybe it’s foreshadowing, maybe it’s just a hangover—we’ll have to wait and see). Does it symbolize renewal? Rebirth? Is it Mattew Weiner winking at the audience since his series is “reborn”? We’ll have to wait and see, but the motif is plain enough.
Thematically, we’re looking at the interplay of work and domesticity. Consider: The Drapers come to work together, leave together, and finally, the show ends with a discussion of that intersection. Joan, coming to work with a baby, also provides a clear illustration of home and work intermixed. The visual references (couples at work, babies at work) open the door for a wide-ranging exploration. Joan misses work, and she doesn’t even have the language to express that. She tells her mother she wants to go back to work because “I don’t want to break my promise.” Like Peggy, I’m inclined to say “bullshit.” She wants to go back to work because it’s interesting, and diaper rash just isn’t. I’ve been there, honey.
Don is happy at home and nice to clients, while Pete is frustrated at home and surly at work, even in response to success. Lane and Rebecca are unhappy at home, and Lane is lost at work, missing Joan (who is something like his “work wife,” in the most positive sense of that phrase), fantasizing about having something, or someone, different. He refuses to allow money to be spent on pranks at work (but is overruled) and refuses to allow his wife to write checks (and isn’t). Roger is miserable at home and increasingly meaningless at work. He’s trying to buy his way out of emptiness. (He should try actually working and see if that’s satisfying, but I may be asking too much.)
Two quotes encapsulate this theme: Trudy says to Pete, “This becomes a home the minute you walk through that door.” Later, Lane says to Joan, “It’s home but it’s not everything.” In truth, both work and home need to be satisfying, and when one is broken, it drags down the other.
Matt Weiner likes to start us in the middle, teasing the audience into catching up. By making the party the centerpiece of everything, the episode accomplishes so much. It plays on the theme, as coworkers interact in a home environment. It sets a lot of the conflicts of the era: It’s 1966, Megan is in a mini-dress. Look around the party and you can see the beginning of the “Generation Gap;” more than in past decades, people are dividing into age-specific groups (“key demographics,” Harry might say), and you can see it in the clothes, makeup, and dance styles. And it re-introduces most of the key players and their current situations. We hit the ground running, which is fun, without the structural tedium a re-introduction could have in weaker hands.
Rebecca: “Don’t forget to get the name of Megan’s real estate agent.”
Lane: “Yes dear.”
Rebecca: “And her decorator.”
Because that’s what makes a happy home. Rebecca wants a piece of that happy marriage and that exciting life, and she’s hoping the surfaces will somehow provide it. Lane is going for the surface too, falling for a picture in a wallet. Do you think we ever meet Dolores? I bet we don’t, but that Lane has an affair with someone else. Dolores is like the mechanic that Betty encounters at the beginning of Season 2; the beginning of a sexual experiment, not its culmination. (Infidelity of a different magnitude than what Lane did while his wife was out of the country and when he believed his marriage was over.)
I haven’t even talked about Pete. He is an inflamed cyst of dissatisfaction right now, and is also Don Draper minus ten years (and a lot of charm). He doesn’t like the suburbs, he doesn’t like the way Trudy has changed post-baby, and nothing satisfies, not even winning. Pete gets the client, he gets the bigger office, he even gets to successfully prank Roger, but none of it is the same as feeling good.
By the end of Season 3, it was hard to remember that Pete was very much the villain of Season 1, but after A Little Kiss, I feel confident that Pete Campbell’s Bitchface will have plenty of material. My goodness, what a petulant little brat. Talk about “love to hate”!
There are a lot more subjects worth exploring in these two hours. In a little over a thousand words, I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface, and I’ll be writing a lot more about this episode on my own site.
- The racial subplot is going to become very important. I predict a new cast member, hired as a result of this improbable prank. Tanner Colby wrote a recent article in Slate about race, Mad Men, and Madison Avenue. He got the year wrong, but I think he got the trajectory right. Predictions?
- Speaking of getting the year wrong, most people did. I’ve been saying since Season 2 that things won’t continue to skip too far ahead, because Matt Weiner loves the sixties and doesn’t want to see their end too soon.
- A lot of money changed hands in a lot of different ways, and serves as a secondary motif, after babies and domestic life.
- At this moment, I have no idea what the title means. Thoughts?
- Don Draper is so sexually complex. I can’t even.
- No Betty this week. Don’t forget they were working around January Jones’s pregnancy.
*For the sake of cohesiveness, I’m treating A Little Kiss Part 1 and A Little Kiss Part 2 as a single episode.
(Originally published at Indiewire Press Play.)