So I was listening to Matt Weiner’s audio commentary on A Little Kiss, and he talks about the white carpet in the Draper apartment as a metaphor. Once he said it, I started thinking through all the ways that works, and came up with much more than he actually stated.
Start with Matt’s idea, and what is explicitly said in the episode: Don and Megan’s life is beautiful, bringing work people into their home sullies it. So, her beautiful white carpet is ruined after the party.
But it’s so much more than that. The fantasy of married life is pristine and beautiful, but the reality of walking around in it is dirtier. Megan thinks they both want the carpet, which she emphatically states is beautiful. Don just said yes to make her happy, which says so much about how he communicates.
Don knows that beauty is an artifice. If you really listen to him explaining how hard it is to photograph a white carpet, you’re hearing the guy who said “What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons.” Don sees the construction of advertising, and seeing that, cannot truly fall in love with something that is packaged that way.
Megan, young, sees beauty and is passionate about it. Don, cynical, wants to please Megan in order to partake in that passion, but he cynically knows the carpet will get dirty, the beauty won’t last. The carpet is their work relationship, it’s their marriage (which I think will last, but not in the fantasy form, which is what a pristine white carpet is), it’s the fantasy of happily ever after. The carpet is also Don’s ability to buy something and thereby keep Megan happy; it’s her gilded cage which, by the end of the season, she is leaving for her own happiness (again, I don’t think she’s leaving Don, I mean having a separate career and a separate identity).