We’re not done being mad about the latest episode of Mad Men, Basketcases. Both the lovely husband (White T Jim B) and I still have notes:
- On what Sterling Cooper and Partners meant to the show, and us;
- On Don’s obsession with Waitress Die;
- On the eternal Mad Men question (why does Don Draper cheat?); and
- On the possible fate of the nameless hippie who took a seat in Don’s Cadillac.
WTJB: Let’s start with Sterling Cooper and Partners.
AB: I loved SC&P. Megan Draper met her future stepdaughter there; Ida Blankenship and Lane Pryce died there; Peggy and Don pulled a brutal and beautiful all-nighter there. Pete Campbell got punched in the face and fell down the stairs at SC&P; Joanie led a Christmas conga line in a red dress, and later threw an airplane at Meredith. Ken Cosgrove tap-danced in its hallway, and Don and Peggy slow-danced to “My Way.”
WTJB: It was Shangri-La.
Lost Horizon (1933), a novel by James Hilton, describes Shangri-La as a remote mountain paradise:
Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise, and particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia – a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world. The people who live at Shangri-La are almost immortal, living years beyond the normal lifespan and only very slowly aging in appearance. … If they leave the valley, they age quickly and die. (Wikipedia)
But I’ll come back to this. Go on with your gloomy-waitress rant!
AB: All the other women we’ve seen with Don have had one thing in common: they’re warmer that he is, more optimistic, positive. Each of them is a life force, a soul — even if, in Midge’s case, that soul later becomes a liability.
Waitress Die is suicidal. She is a death force. And I understand that Don’s attraction to her is an attraction to that. I just want Mad Men to be alive until the moment we lose it — and these reminders of her disrupt that life, drag it down. She’s not a character: she’s a narrative device. Why is he wasting time on her? Still?
WTJB: Anne B., with those lovely gams of yours, you must have heard of Occam’s Razor?
One of the great unsolved mysteries is why so many women continue to ascribe such complex motivations to Don Draper’s sex life. “He screws this one woman and then just a couple days later, he’s doing it again with a completely different one! He must be battling existential angst!”
AB: So loving him isn’t the worst way to get to him?
WTJB: “What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons.”
Among the men I know, there is a sort of koan: Q: Why does a dog lick his genitals? A: Because he can. That is Don’s motivation. He can.
AB: So he’s not chasing women because he fears death?
WTJB: Maybe he’s looking for his keys in there?
Seriously: Don went through death and it broke him. He spent the night in a foxhole with a dead man. Don has PTSD, Roger probably does too; Pete and Harry don’t, which is partly why they will never fit into that circle. Even Duck was damaged enough to belong to the destroyed-psyches club; these are literally the Mad Men.
AB: About that destroyed psyche: What if the hitchhiking hippie is Don Draper’s next mark?
The morning after Lost Horizon, it hit me: Don is going to roll that hippie, take his ID, and slip into another life.
He’s done this before, almost. In The Jet Set, Don gets spooked in an aerospace convention, and slips away — without warning Pete, picking up his things, or saying a word to anyone — with a young woman named Joy.
In Palm Springs, he hangs out with Joy’s slippery people for a while, and seems quite comfortable with them — until a pair of young children arrive. Don sees in the boy’s silence echoes of who he once was, who he’s lost, and who he might leave behind. When he goes back to Betty, I think he goes back for his kids.
In Lost Horizon, I think Don got spooked again in the box-lunch beer meeting. He goes to Betty’s house, but she doesn’t need him anymore, and neither do the kids. It’s not just that he can’t find anything he likes, in the 1970 New York City of McCann and his unfurnished flat; it’s that nothing in that place needs him.
Why wouldn’t Don move again? Into a completely different life?
WTJB: I don’t think Don is spooked, but I do see him get that feeling of “this room doesn’t need me.” And that was a sorry-looking lunch. The outcome of that beer pitch was not going to change one iota due to Don’s presence. Same with Betty and Sally: their lives are all set. They’re waiting for him to hit the road. So that’s what he does.
Don is adept at throwing his cards in and playing a new deal. He was dealt a bad hand at birth; that’s where he learned it.
I’m more concerned for Roger. His arrogance has always come from being lead dog. And now? Not only is he too lazy to go to battle for Joan, he doesn’t even have an initial on the letterhead. What room needs him now?
The Shangri-La of Roger’s (and our) Lost Horizon was in the offices of SC&P. Think of that final display of art. Bert’s erotic Japanese art and priceless Rothko were somehow still there. Roger’s music, Peggy’s dance on skates: no one will ever forget that place, Roger least of all.
Roger knows he is extraneous now, even more so than Don. If anyone goes out the window I think it will be him, maybe with a couple tabs of LSD in him. He knows how lucky he was to find Shangri-La, and he knows what happens now: he will age and die.
AB: I hear there’s still some lighter fluid in Don’s old office. Want me to go get it?
WTJB: Nah. As Roger would say: “I’m not there yet.”
NOTE: This post has been edited: to correct the spelling of Shangri-La, and to remove a *perfectly lovely* reference to pot-influenced singing that actually took place at Sterling Cooper. (Thanks, Deb.)