In spring of 1967, is there anyone in the Mad Men universe who feels well?
Don has a toothache, and worse. Pete has a bad case of doom-and-gloom. Megan can’t get out of bed.
Beth Dawes is also ill, but she’s been down this road before. She alone knows what to do. “It works,” she promises Pete, after describing her own prescription: electroshock therapy.
I imagine this does work, and I’ll bet it’s wonderful. What could be better for our friends on Mad Men than forgetting? What else would help Don forget the parallel deaths of his brother and colleague? What other remedy is there for Pete’s longings, the (now all-male) creative team’s lack of spark, Megan’s disappointment, Joanie’s sadness?
What isn’t working, it’s clear, is money. “Every day I open the mail and there’s more,” Joan complains to Don. She misses her friend, and can feel nothing but rage at “this profit,” blooming in the wake of his suicide.
Don – a man with deep knowledge of what money can’t do – tries to balance the windfall. This doesn’t work, either: Lane’s widow accepts his payout with something far short of gratitude. “I hope you feel better,” she says, soothing and sardonic at once. It is Don’s own conscience he’s working to clear, not hers.
As hard as comfort is to find, diagnosis isn’t a problem. Not that the patient always wants to hear it: “You are chasing a phantom,” Marie informs Megan. “Not every little girl can do what they want. The world cannot support that many ballerinas.” Megan protests – “You’re supposed to be encouraging!” – but her mother holds the line. “This is what happens when you have the artistic temperament but you are not an artist,” she tells Don, translating her daughter to the man who loves her.
Don is in pain himself when he hears those words. What he kept thinking would go away – a bad tooth – doesn’t. And that’s the good news. “It’s not your tooth that’s rotten,” says the ghost of Adam to Don: a simple statement of fact. Adam, forever beyond the reach of pain and love, doesn’t have to care what happens next.
If you are Don at this moment, what would you do for the peace Beth finds in forgetting? What would you do to be able to lose the memory of turning away not one but two people in dire human need? If you’re Joan, what would you do to forget the loss of your confidant — or what you did to secure your promotion? If you’re Megan, how far might you go to be able to exchange your childhood dream for simple married bliss?
“It’s going to be different after. It always is,” Beth tells Pete, and in the end she’s right. It’s grey, it’s loss, it’s nothing; but to a person in pain, the grey nothing feels better. Afterward, Pete can see it in Beth’s face: the calm of a person who does not remember the depth of her own rage at her life.
For Pete, finally seeing the life he has built as “some temporary bandage on a permanent wound,” I am sure Beth’s sunny oblivion stings like nothing else.