Nothing surprises Don Draper more than grief. He’s lost so much, through fate and by design: the life of a man who sheds one identity to assume another must include losses of all kinds. But each time he loses something he really loves, Don Draper is at sea.
Somebody very important to me died. … The only person in the world who really knew me. – Don Draper, ‘The Suitcase’
When Anna died, grief blindsided Don. He fought off the pain for as long as he could, but still it shocked him when it came. In Care Of takes him back to those depths, but this time it’s Sally he’s losing.
Everyone can see it, but Don saw it first. Sally has stopped wearing that necklace with her initials, the one she got in the dark Christmas after the divorce. She has moved away, is acting out; now she’s suspended from school, leaving her mother as heartbroken as her Dad.
She was drunk. She got other girls drunk. I’ve done everything I can think to do. The good is not beating the bad. – Betty to Don Draper, ‘In Care Of’
When the grief comes for Don this time, it is at the worst possible moment. He falls apart in the middle of a pitch to Hershey, whose account may be worth millions.
I dreamt of it: being wanted. … Closest I got to feeling wanted was from a girl, who made me go through her johns’ pockets as they screwed. If I collected more than a dollar she’d buy me a Hershey bar. And I would eat it. Alone, in my room, with great ceremony. Feeling like a normal kid.
It said ‘sweet’ on the package. The only sweet thing in my life. – Don Draper, ‘In Care Of’
He’s not talking about a candy bar. No one loves chocolate that much. No one cries when he talks about it; least of all Don, who’s lived inside the old, bad story of his life for so long it’s lost all of its romance, and most of its power to wound.
He’s describing the terrible brevity of happiness in an unhappy childhood. This man, who has just called a Hershey bar “the currency of affection, the childhood symbol of love,” is aware at last that he’s raising his children in the same poverty he knew as a child. He’s stranding them in a place where they don’t know for sure that they are important, wanted … or loved.
Most of all, he’s talking about Sally: “The only sweet thing in my life.” Don finally sees that the sweetest thing in his life is in danger. All of his children are at risk, but the one most endangered is Sally. No client, no pitch, no meeting is bigger than she is now.
My husband, father-of-two White T Jim B, noticed where the episode title appeared in the season finale. “In Care Of,” he said. “It’s on that envelope to Sally. It reminds Don of his responsibility to her.” Jim keeps a similar reminder close at hand: the bracelet issued by the hospital on the day his younger daughter was born. ALTA BATES MEDICAL CENTER, it says. FATHER.
If we’re lucky, our adult lives offer us many roles. But the moment we become parents, that takes a certain priority. We have to care for those little people. Whatever mistakes we make, whatever troubles we carry or cause, it’s on us to protect them from those things. When we don’t, our troubles become theirs.
There is hope for Sally. In the last scene of Season 6, as Draper father and kids gaze up at the dilapidated place Don called home in his own childhood, her face tells us that (unlike her Dad’s “partners”), she craves this kind of information. Sally may well be open to understanding her life through the lens of her father’s; and for once, Don may be open to giving her what she needs.
Our children are tied to us for life: ours, and theirs. They are indeed the sweetest things in our lives. The fact that Don knows this now is the most hopeful sign for Season 7.