Dead Duck Walking

 Posted by on May 17, 2015 at 1:46 pm  Characters, Mad Men
May 172015

Last week we picked up a rock, made a wish, and heaved it at the old abandoned Weiner house. The sound of shattering glass in the dark made us smile. I can’t say this was prophetic; Deb said that. That’s good enough for me.

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.

In 1970 the American landscape is littered with shell-shocked veterans. The Milk and Honey Trail shows them to us, from Don’s coterie in the Heartland to Duck in Manhattan.

Duck being very menacing

Duck being very menacing

Duck has slipped several rungs on his career ladder. When we met him he was the savior of Sterling Cooper, the man brought in to replace the absent Don. He mismanaged his position, one bad decision at a time, until his drunken consent to the merger of SC and PPL killed the agency. He’d already lost his marriage and kids to drinking, and professed to love only his dog. But we all see how damaged he is the night he sets Chauncey loose into the street.

We see him now, head-hunting advertising executives for commission. He’s a threadbare loner, cadging drinks at nine in the morning to make it through another crappy day. He’s close to the edge, like a squirrel that’s a pound short of nuts in December. He begs Pete for help on his Learjet deal so he can “make it through the winter.” Is Duck a loser, or the walking wounded?

People with PTSD are guided by hypervigilance – the constant scanning of the environment for threats – and impulsivity. When Pete tells Duck, “You’re being very menacing right now,” he’s right: we see Duck’s desperation to survive. When Duck tells Pete, “I’ve been there – it doesn’t last long,” he speaks from this desperation. Every problem, no matter how small or large, threatens his survival.

Back in Alva, Oklahoma, we meet everyone who everybody in town who’s a Vet and likes drinking. The Legion is holding a fundraiser for Al Bettendorf, whose kitchen burned down.

“The kitchen. The most expensive room.” (Also the one with the stove in it. — Ed.)

We witness the American Legion meeting, with its drunk group therapy session, as an honest confrontation and unburdening of fear and shame, a scene infused

Andy lurks in the background

Andy lurks in the background

in beauty. It could’ve been an VA meeting except with bourbon instead of a shrink. “Don, you’re not allowed to say ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ in this place … You’re among friends.”

Max Gail is Floyd, the World War II-addled vet who can’t remember where Don served. (“Were you in Europe, Don?”) He slurs his way through his personal horror story about murdering four starving German soldiers. “You do what you have to do to come home,” Del intones, not for the first time. The Legionnaires create an environment for Don to talk about the shame he carried back from Korea. And that’s when we finally see Don Draper open up; his confession unburdens him. With all of them briefly free of their demons, rapping their hands on the table like true Knickerbockers, they perform an improvised version of “Over There.” Don joins in, a changed man.

In New York, Duck remains trapped in his anguish and fear. But Don smiles as he sits on the bench of the bus stop after giving away his Cadillac. At each moment, Don Draper owns fewer possessions, less guilt. We see him lighter and freer.

“I know we seem like fine people, but I’ve been a little dishonest"

“I know we seem like fine people, but I’ve been a little dishonest”

Other thoughts:

  • Deb said she loved seeing “Duck in the credits, and amazing to see his complex performance, pulling in the entire past of this character: Both drunk and competent, both desperate and combative, he’s aged into a kind of Duck quintessence.” A Duck confit, if you will.
  • Veteran Del informs Don, “I know we seem like fine people, but I’ve been a little dishonest” at the beginning of the fundraiser. It’ll get worse.
  • Whenever I watch Mad Men I am reminded of the Yeats poem, The Second Coming:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”

In this episode we see the Caddy break down, the television shorts out, and the Coke machine is busted. Don fixes a typewriter. Betty is falling apart from the inside.

  • How does Don have a sport coat and all those changes of clothes in that Sears paper bag?
  • The last two episodes have had some mooo-ving scenes: Don walks out of a meeting with roast beef sandwiches. Pete’s client remarks, “That may be the best steak I’ve ever had.” Sharon offers a roast when Don arrives hungry at the motel. Del says, “There’s barbecue” at the Legion.
  • “Banking is a road, and you just stay on it . . . I don’t buy or sell anything, I just distribute. And it’s never up to me.” – totally off-topic, but I work at a bank and . . . hurtful.
  • Later, Floyd Yellow Pages-whips Don in the hotel room. Why is that Alva phone book so big?
  • Don says to Andy, “If you keep it, you’ll have to become somebody else, and it’s not what you think it is.” He could’ve added, “Ask me how I know.”
  • Does anyone else think Duck looks like a bargain-basement Mitt Romney?
  • This clip inspired this post (the working title was “Dead Duck Walken”). Enjoy.
  • And to the wonderful, generous Deb Lipp: thank you for making room for me in the Basket. I’ve loved every moment of the Mad Men recaps but it is all down to you. There’s a story about Henry Ford making a donation to a hospital in Ireland with the stipulation that they put an inscription over the entrance,  “I was a stranger and you took me in.” I now know how this feels.

  18 Responses to “Dead Duck Walking”

  1. Don wears the suit he had on the day he left McCann to the VFW party, minus the tie. He must have gone to Sears after hitting the road to buy the casual clothes he has.

    I have been feeling sad for the last few days, actually depressed today. I am so grateful to Deborah and Roberta and all the contributors here. You have greatly enhanced my experience of Mad Men through the years. Thank you all.

    • And remember the hobo in the Hobo Code who spoke with young Dick Whitman wore a suit too though it was dirty and tattered. Abigail said she would boil. Maybe the hobo like Don just walked out of his life in the middle of a business meeting too.
      I am also very sad about it all ending and grateful for this blog so I know I’m not the only one who feels this way about a TV show! I’m holding out hope that one day Matt Weiner will do another series and we will all meet back here again.

  2. This is really good…

  3. Coincidentally, honorably discharged veterans could wear a lapel button on their civilian clothes to indicate their veteran status. It was known as “The Ruptured Duck.”

    • I have my dads along with his combat ribbons. He didn’t wear it, he said everybody who deserved it had one and so what was the point?

  4. “Does anyone think…bargain-basement Mitt Romney”/ Yes, I noticed that too.

  5. Like you, I was happy to see Mark Moses again before the finale. I first noticed him in Platoon as Lt. Wolfe, the hapless louie straight out of ROTC trying to hold together his men and not having the first clue. Duck provides a nice bracket for Mr. Moses and I’m glad we can see his contribution.

  6. It only took a week, but I just remembered that the name of that Oklahoma town is also the middle name of the prolific inventor, who gave us the incandescent lightbulb – Thomas Alva Edison.

    Given the events that have unfolded in the episode, it would appear that it was the place where the proverbial light has come on for Don.

    • I thought of Tony Alva, one of the original Z-Boys and legend of Dogtown. That wasn’t a lightbulb – just the bong.

      • I thought “Alva” might be the word for “dawn” in Italian or Portuguese. In Spanish it’s “alba.” But no luck. But I did learn that Edison was Canadian. So I’ve got that going for me.

        Which is nice.

  7. Another duck connection: Cold Duck, an inexpensive sparkling wine, favored by vets and others, who’ve hit the skids. Also, “Cold Duck Time,” a cut on the jazz album, “Swiss Movement,” by Les McCann and Eddie Harris. The album also contains the classic, “Compared To What,” which for my money, could be the official anthem of the late 1960s.

  8. The phone book, another commenter said the phone book was designed by the arts department for “southwest Oklahoma”. I had pointed out that small towns often had a phone book that had 2-3 counties grouped together. In my little town (5,000) we have a phone book that has 4 counties, and it is still small.

  9. I would say ptsd doesn’t make ppl scared over their survival. Being in the military does that. You are trained to live on the edge. Worried about surviving. Then when you enter combat, somehow that training changes u into the monster u become.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.