Fix It

 Posted by on April 22, 2014 at 5:21 am  Mad Men, Season 7
Apr 222014

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 9.06.54 PMI want to scream at you for ruining all this. Then you tried to fix it, and there’s no point. – Betty Draper, The Grown-Ups

Don Draper knows how to fix things. In Marriage of Figaro, he singlehandedly built Sally a play house for her birthday. He fixed a rickety chair for Anna when he visited her in California; later, he painted a wall in her home that had water damage and she needed to get a repair service from to fix it. He did these things well, and without much effort.

Don doesn’t even have to love people to fix things for them. In Signal 30, he fixed the wonky faucet in Pete and Trudy’s kitchen — again, quickly and skillfully. 

It took Don one morning (and 53 beers) to build Sally a house.

Don once built Sally a house — in just 53 beers.

In Time Zones, the sliding door to the balcony in Don’s New York penthouse was stuck open. That door is glass and metal: a simple enough thing to fix. But Don, alone in the draft from that stuck-open door, seemed utterly unable to deal with it.

We’ve seen him like this before. Before their dinner party in A Night To Remember, Betty reminded him to fix an electrical outlet in the dining room: he didn’t even get out of bed. An innocent dining-room chair with a loose leg later paid the price for Don’s indolence.

In A Day’s Work, Don finally seems to see his resemblance to that sliding door. When he describes the mess he made at the office to Sally, he admits he stayed in New York to “fix it.” But he doesn’t look hopeful, and perhaps he has little reason to be. Don knows how deeply stuck he is. He also realizes that what really needs fixing is right at that table, in that roadside diner.

I said the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time. – Don

For a man so attuned to the mechanics of desire, Don has never been handy with love. Recall another road trip, in Far Away Places: remember what he did to his dining partner in that roadside diner?

Don tends to avoid the trouble of mending the hearts he breaks (even his own) by simply moving on. When he faces Sally across that diner table and starts to tell the truth, it’s not because he knows what he’s doing.

Don is not good at this. He’s all thumbs. But he can no longer put off fixing it, and this at least is progress.


  26 Responses to “Fix It”

  1. Uncle Max might have expected Dick Whitman to make repairs around the whorehouse to earn his keep. Dick grew up in a whorehouse, do you really think that he grew up understanding romantic love? I don’t! I wonder if Dick had a normal relationship with a girl in high school; I don’t think he did. Dick saw sex as something that was paid for; it didn’t involve love.Anna gave Don/Dick nurturing motherly love for the first time in his life but I wonder if she ever talked to him about romantic love. Don has been looking for romantic love in all his affairs and with both of his wives but I think still struggles with the emotional baggage from the whorehouse.Sally catching Don with Sylvia has put an end to Don’s philandering. Don realizes that he really loves Megan but sadly has lost her. This is why he can fix the window.

    • Good points Bob K and excellent post Anne B. I also doubt Don can have a healthy romantic relationship because he is a victim of not just physical abuse in the form of beatings he was also molested. Teenage boys will joke and talk about hot women and wanting action but for a 12 or 13 year old boy (or whatever age he was) to have a woman old enough to be his mother start out by taking care of him when he was very sick, to sleeping with him, that is molestation. So as a victim of those forms of abuse and verbal abuse throughout his childhood and not having anyone except for his baby brother show him love until Anna, he is really emotionally stunted for really solid reasons. Without some kind of mental health assistance or at least a true friend to sort this out with, I wonder if he can ever “fix” himself. And though he is super unhealthy, given all he has been through it is amazing he functions at the level he does really with just self-medication through the bottle and constant self-loathing.

  2. “Don tends to avoid the trouble of mending the hearts he breaks (even his own) by simply moving on”

    Ah! Sudden realization: That’s what the dine-and-dash joke was about. Don has always run away, or wanted to run away (compare his offer to Rachel. Or leaving Megan at the Howard Johnson’s. And of course the very creation of “Don Draper” from Dick Whitman). He brings it up to Sally, then let’s her know immediately that he’s not running away. Not this time. Not anymore.

  3. I really love that you can follow the trajectory of everything Don has fixed right up to the deck doors. It’s such an elegant connection.

  4. I think Don is just now realizing just how much he has to fix. His entire life, his entire persona, his entire being is based on a lie – really a series of lies. After so many years living that lie, building on it, creating auxiliary lies based on the original one, Don, Dick, whatever his name is, doesn’t know who he is or what he wants. He’s having the standard mid-life crisis – “is that all there is?” He got the money, the status, the power, the beautiful young wife (X2), but it isn’t fulfilling. It doesn’t mean he can have an honest relationship with his wife, even though she knows more about his past than Betty could ever hope, it doesn’t mean he will be a good father (in fact, quite the opposite), but his angst is even more severe because he no longer has any idea who he is on the inside.

    Perhaps its because I’m gay and spent a lot of years in the closet (I came out at 33), but I really see what Don has been going through via the lens of the closet. Don, like most gay men of his time, has created the perfect life from the outside, but it’s based on a personality that is not his. Don is a carefully constructed creation – contrast car salesman Don of the early 50s with adman Don of the early 60s. The problem he now faces, a problem I faced when I came out, is “how much of what I do, think, say, believe in, desire, is based on the lie and how much is based on what I really want?” It’s a question that, 14 years later, I’m still figuring out, and my lie was never as big as Don’s.

    I see Don’s bad behavior – the drinking, the womanizing, the bad parenting – as all part of the same problem. He is sublimating who he really is to live this life, and it is slowly killing him, but he clearly retains enough of his basic humanity to have some clue about this, and he’s trying to change (I was very interested in his drinking this last episode; he’s clearly not in AA, but he’s also not abusing alcohol). The question is whether he’ll be able to do anything substantial at this point in his life. It’s interesting that his moment of redemption with Sally came not after he was honest about his deep, dark past, but about his uncertainty, about his failings. Don wasn’t trying to be the persona with Sally at that table.

    I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – the genius of this show, at least as far as Don’s character is concerned, is that Matt Weiner allowed Don’s secret to be known so early in the series. Any other show would have milked at least 4 – 5 seasons out of “will they or won’t they find out the truth?” Weiner dispatched that in a season, with Pete finding out, and has been exploring what it means to live that lie ever since.

    • You just reminded me of Bert said when Pete spilled the beans. “Who cares?” At that point, I was mostly focused on it as a pivotal plot point, but your insight made me realize the underlying answer is “Don cares.”

    • CPT_Doom thank you for sharing your history and giving this honest analysis of Don based on your experience. I’d never thought of it exactly that way, though I have thought about the duality of his existence and the struggle but not in terms of the closet. You have brought a great deal of additional texture to how I look at Don and given me much to chew on.

    • Don would have simply re-invented himself if Bert Cooper would have fired him in season one. He was ready to leave for California without Betty and the kids and wanted Rachel to accompany him. Don could always go back to selling cars or furs and Mad Men would have lasted one season. However, Bert not firing Don has made for six more seasons of Mad Men which is the best show on TV. I also feel that Bert Cooper knows much more about Don Draper than he is letting on over the years and is still the agency’s most powerful person and engineered Don’s exit behind the scenes. He knows a lot about Joan too and had her vote in the partners meeting. He knew about Don Draper being Dick Whitman long before Pete Campbell told Bert about it I think. Bert Cooper is still as sharp as a tack and mean as a jackal and might throw Roger under the bus too. Cutler won’t outfox Bert either.

      • And a terrible bigot. I was disappointed in him

        • I was too. He seemed so far behind the times in last week’s episode; I felt embarrassed for him.

          “People can see her,” he said, of Joan placing Dawn at Reception. This may be what he sees, but to say such a thing to other people?

          Bert of yesteryear would have known better.

  5. When I first saw the “Fix it” headline, what I thought of was Peggy standing helplessly outside her office in this episode yelling at Joan to “fix it!” Don may be ready to start trying to fix things, but Peggy isn’t even going to try.

    I was struck by the relationships Peggy has destroyed, just as Don did. Freddie was always on her side, and she went to him for advice, but as the episode opened, their interaction stunned me. She gave him a very lefthanded compliment for the pitch, and he responded in a way that indicated how disappointed he was with her. I remember how genuine her hug was with Shirley after the awkwardness of Joan and Dawn when MLK was murdered, and that relationship is gone, too. She literally repelled Abe; she gave up on Don (it might have been Peggy who was willing to continue a relationship with him–after all, Anna just about gave him to her). Peggy has no one left, and while she may realize she wants to fix it, it’s clear she has no idea how.

    So if Don and Peggy’s relationship is to be fixed, Don is the one who is going to have to fix it. And I don’t think it’s even on his radar now–there are far too many other relationships Don has to fix (or move beyond without making it a retreat) first. Yet that relationship has been central to the show for six seasons. Is it really just going to be completely absent in season 7?

    Is there a “some things are beyond fixing” message here? Don’s relationship with the agency that was his idea in the first place? Is there a “we have the power to destroy the things we love/need, so we have to carefully choose what we will use our limited energy to fix” message? Clearly, he’s chosen Sally, and that’s a very good choice. At some point, will he choose Peggy?

    • I hope so!

      I think it would be a kindness to Megan to let her go. I really do. But Peggy, like Sally, needs him in a really important way. And he needs Peggy.

      The whole reason he hurt Peggy, was the loss he felt seeing her closeness to Ted. He longed for a comforting hand on his arm (the Crash). He longed for their shared laughter. He wanted Peggy to still ‘feel his existence.’ To steal a line from Pete.

      He needs Peggy so much more than he needs Megan. Megan was an illusion to him, she could never fulfill, and it was unfair.

      It’s not that I think Peggy needs rescuing, it’s just that they have some kind of bond, that broken both suffer.

      If Megan is ket go, she seems like she will thrive. She’s been like a butterfly in a glass jar or something with him.

    • Shirley is a new character this season. Peggy’s genuine hug was with Phyllis.

    • I kind of wonder if Freddy Rumsen might be the dark horse here. In “The Other Woman,” as a friend and mentor to Peggy, he gave her a solid nudge to get out of SCDP. She needed to be talked into taking that step, even though she knew it was time. Surely he’d be telling her the same thing now — maybe with a little irritation that she couldn’t see for herself that it was time to get moving again. She’s nowhere near her best self now. Might want to bring somebody else into the conversation who’s looking for a change. Maybe right around Easter time.

  6. I’m glad you wrote about this. It has always haunted me how he so gallantly fixed Anna’s chair, after having ignored Betty’s request for help. He can be so generous and helpful, so that when he withholds it, it’s so cruel.

    Your write up made me think: I think that Don always deeply believed his fixed his old awful life by taking over Don Draper’s identity. (And it was his only way that it was possible for him to do so) Not only did he escape war, he escaped that family, and it felt like that woman on the train was the first woman to give him romantic interest that wasn’t dirty or tainted, so he was immediately rewarded for being Don Draper and not Dick Whitman.

    It feels as if the entire show has been a long painful process of learning that that switch didn’t fix anything. In fact it made it much, much worse, but it was hidden by all the rewards he kept receiving. And like CPT_doom eloquently put, he has not recognized what he, Dick Whitman, did to bring about his successes or rewards, the parts of him that have worth and are lovable, and that are creative and positive.

    And because it seemed to work so well, when his bad actions caused bad consequences or shame, running and hiding in some form was his go to ‘fix.’ Or even not just bad actions, but unacceptable emotions. Not understanding that normal isn’t perfect and exciting, but can be boring at times. People so often blamed Betty for his philandering, but there’s nothing to suggest that it wasn’t anything but boredom and familiarity. Or like with Midge, so much tied to work stress and insecurity.

    That it still hadn’t fully sunk in, even by his car ride with Sally, when he practically blames Betty for his lying, shows that he may still need some painful kicks in the head to fully get this lesson. Unless he fully realized it when Sally said “I love you.” When she got out of the car. Can his broken heart put the two and two together? His honesty and apology* made the difference? Fixed the broken bond?

    He did say that he was in New York because he wanted to ‘stay and fix things.’ But I was unsure if that was true, because it had seemed to me he was staying in NY to hide the fact of his leave. Or kinda true, because he wanted to fix it, but fix it before anyone found out…

    And like another person said, here, Don didn’t have to run to California, because Megan already did. I think he wants to hide from her, in many ways, still.

    I really, really want him to have put all the pieces together at this point, though.

    *he apologized, or said he sorry Sally had to see that (about the roommates mother, but in a way it can doubke as seeing Sylvia, the harder apology he wants to make but can’t put into words.

    • I see it this way too: Don is staying near the office to conceal his suspension from the firm. He depends on Dawn’s regular dispatches from SC&P not just because he expects to return, but because he still owns what happens there. If things go badly, he’ll have to fix that, too.

      I think that “fixing it before anyone finds out” is probably Don’s best hope right now.

  7. @Melville…wonderful insight about Don’s dine and dash prank! I also found his handling of money in this episode revealed the positive evolution of his character. Dawn did not want to accept money for keeping Don updated about the goings on at the agency. Don has a hard time accepting nurturing and genuine loyalty or camaraderie. Money, at this point in his life, comes easily and plentifully. Yet, he understands the value of it to those around him who do not have as much of it as he does. Being generous with money is Don Draper’s way of “paying” for all that he is unable or unwilling to give to the women in his life in terms of time, emotional investment, respect and nurturing. But it’s never really a fair trade because the exchange is unbalanced. These women are not the prostitutes of his youth and the money he gives them holds no value for him. The exchanges are usually costly to the women in some way, yet practically free to Don. As he is learning, karma will have it’s due. Karmic Debts can’t repaid with worldly coin.

    Perhaps this difficult lesson is finally sinking in. Don backs off his attempt to hand Dawn a wad of cash. He does insist of giving her something, but it appears he pulls a bill or two out of the stack. The smaller amount is likely just the true cost of her cab fare. He doesn’t insist, sneak it into her purse or throw it in her face. He listens to what she is saying to him and ends his attempt to use money to feel they are even. He doesn’t reject the camaraderie and care Dawn is giving him by doing the task because she cares for him and genuinely wants to.

    Finally, in the Diner Scene Don ceremoniously puts the two dimes in front of Sally she needs to call her friends at school. He isn’t going to hand them over until she listens to what he has to say to her. The amount or the need for the money wasn’t as loaded as we usually see. Still, those two dimes are important. He is finally attempting to deal in the currency the people in his life want and need from him. Communication, Honesty, Warmth, and most importantly for Sally, who has been starved for warmth and nurturing from two self-centered, aloof parents; someone who can understand her well enough to recognize her needs and fulfill them without being asked to. The simple joy of the patty melt you didn’t know you wanted and the person who saw you needed it and made sure you got it.

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