What was the purpose of Don running into Sylvia and Arnie Rosen in the elevator in Mad Men episode 7.09, New Business? Obviously, in an episode that seems very much about recycling the past, another visit from an ex of Don’s underlines that the past is always with him. But I think a second purpose is to remind us what a shitty husband Don was.
Any number of people (Basketcases and otherwise) have pointed out that Megan behaved rather petulantly in this episode, complaining that Don ruined her life and undermined her career. It’s true she’s unhappy in her career for reasons that have nothing to do with Don, and that her anger, when she finally sat down with Don, was as much or more at her mother and Harry, with Don taking the brunt. And it’s true, too, that she wanted to paint herself as the innocent wounded party, up to and including wearing solid white. It’s easy, then, to get mad at Megan and feel for Don, who wrote a hefty check in an effort to appear to be a good and contrite guy.
Don didn’t ruin Megan’s life, but he did break her heart. She loved him deeply and sincerely, and when she tells him he’s a liar, it’s deeply felt. Sylvia is there to remind us of Don’s cheating, in an episode where it would otherwise be far too easy to give him all our sympathy.
Don proposed to Megan in October of 1965, and they married soon after. Having been married for just two years, Don is already having an on-going affair with a neighbor (Sylvia) by December 1967. Six months later (June 1968), he sleeps with Betty.
By November of 1968, just around their third anniversary, their marriage is already a shambles. He offers to move to California, she quits her job, and then he changes his mind. It’s at that moment we saw she was truly heartbroken. But then he lies to her for four months about his job. For four months he flies back and forth to California, telling Megan he has to leave to go back to a job he doesn’t really have.
She has every reason to be angry.