Basket of Kisses was honored to be a part of the Museum of Moving Image Mad Men Finale event. It was thrilling to see Person to Person on the big screen, with over two hundred devoted fans. Unfortunately, it meant that I was unable to deliver my usual review, although I trust the team of Anne & Jim with my very life. It also meant that I watched Person to Person without taking notes or hitting “pause,” which was kind of wonderful. I’m choosing to write this without going back and rewatching, (so, no “quote of the week” or other details I’d get during note-taking). Sitting over a midnight dinner with my sister, Professor Spouse, and two friends was inspiring, and I want to speak directly from that inspiration.
Don is not alone.
Anna Draper (points to the World card) : This is the one.
Don Draper/Dick Whitman : Who’s she?
Anna Draper: Shes the soul of the world. She’s in a very important spot here. This is you; what you are bringing to the reading. She says you are part of the world. Air, water, every living thing is connected to you.
Don Draper/Dick Whitman: It’s a nice thought.
Anna Draper: It is.
Don Draper/Dick Whitman: What does it mean?
Anna Draper: It means the only thing keeping you from being happy is the belief that you are alone.
Don Draper/Dick Whitman: What if it’s true?
Anna Draper: Then you can change.
Don Draper/Dick Whitman: People don’t change.
Anna Draper: I think she stands for wisdom. Once you live, you learn things.
Mad Men episode 2.12: The Mountain King
The only thing keeping you from being happy is the belief that you are alone.
Why was this episode named Person to Person? I mean, yes, Don placed two person-to-person calls; we heard the phrase twice. But I think the entire episode hearkens back to this quote from The Mountain King—for Don, obviously, but for virtually every other principal as well.
We have watched Don Draper over a decade of his life, from 1960 to 1970, believe himself to be alone, and be unhappy. “People don’t change”, he says to Anna, meaning “I don’t think I can change.” In his confession to Peggy, he says he’s broken his vows, scandalized his daughter, stolen a man’s name, and done nothing with it. Peggy says “That’s not true”. There was one other time she said that:
Peggy Olson: What happened?
Don Draper: Somebody very important to me died.
Don: The only person in the world who really knew me.
Peggy: That’s not true.
Mad Men episode 4.07: The Suitcase
Peggy is speaking from her connection to Don. Yes someone knows you. Yes you’ve done something with your stolen life. I’m connected to you, she’s saying.
Don will die if he continues to believe he is alone, he will destroy himself slowly, with drink and by dissipating the money in his envelope and giving away his possessions until it’s all gone. He fools himself into believing he has a connection by talking to Sally on the regular, but he knows he’s alone.
I watched him run after Stephanie at Esalen. He ran. It took a little something for him to run fast enough to catch up—why did he do that? Because he had to get her to believe his “move forward” message. It’s a shitty message. He delivered it to two people who subsequently hung themselves. He told it to Peggy and nine years later she’s still thinking about the little boy she left behind. Don needs Stephanie to believe in “move forward,” or he can’t believe it of himself, that “riding the rails” as he’s doing is going to make the pain go away. When she leaves, and he knows his message has failed, he literally can’t move. He falls to the ground and stays there. “I can’t move.” Because even with Peggy reaching out to him, he knows, truly knows, that he is alone.
It’s in this state that he listens to Leonard. Roberta pointed out last night that Don may have been cynically distancing himself from every “seminar” he attended, but he was there, and listening, and it was having an effect below the surface, so that when Leonard spoke, Don’s reaction–which seemed sudden and new–was actually building on something. (And being there, Don was also drying out, so that alcohol wasn’t between him and his ability to feel these feelings.)
Leonard isn’t Don. No one ignores Don because he’s such a non-entity, or fails to make note of his presence. But Leonard described loneliness and the longing for love with such eloquence, that he and Don were one. They were person-to-person. They were connected.
The only thing keeping you from being happy is the belief that you are alone.
In the end, yes, I think Don is happy, or approaching a new kind of ability to connect, to be en-souled. I have been avoiding reading other reviews while writing this, but I’m aware that people are referring to the ending as cynical. I don’t think it is, and I’ll get to that. But I think we should visit Peggy first.
Peggy, like Don, believes herself to be fundamentally alone. She has somehow failed to become a wife or mother, as she always believed she would. She is disconnected from her mother and sister. Her son is “somewhere” and she can’t know more than that. Her three-year relationship collapsed, and she’s never formed a connection with a man that was truly mutual. She had an enjoyable date with a sweet man and immediately distrusted it. Like Don, Peggy doesn’t believe she can be loved.
I think it’s significant that “the” conversation between Peggy and Stan happened after she got off the phone with Don. Set aside the words, there’s something about him reaching out, trying to break through his aloneness, and then she reaches out to Stan, trying to do the same. That phone conversation was the turning point for both of them. From that conversation, Don went to his encounter with Leonard, and Peggy went to the declaration of love from Stan.
I remarked after The Runaways that Peggy was very appropriate with Ginsberg when he handed her his nipple (arghh). She realized what was happening, spoke kindly and firmly to him, then immediately phoned for help. Peggy knows how to respond to a crisis, and she responded to Don’s crisis with similar sanity. She heard his pain, and reached into herself to meet him, not just with love, but with conviction and strength.
Person to person. Connection to connection. The episode was full of people making small and large connections to one another. Peggy and Pete have no idea why Harry suddenly wants to be buddy-buddy, but she gives him a gift—by saying his own favorite phrase back to him, “A thing like that,” she is reminding him that she really knows him, and that won’t go away.
There are all sorts of greetings in this episode. Joan and Ken, Peggy and Joan, Roger and Joan—lots of people giving one another a fond hello. And there are also connections based on history, on people knowing each other. Pete and Peggy, but also Don and Betty.
Betty: I know….
I said to Roberta, about that quote, that Don and Betty told each other they loved each other. She said they didn’t say it. Sure. But they did.
Maybe Roger, too, has always seen himself as alone. Maybe he pursues young girls because he doesn’t believe there is anyone he can meet eye-to-eye. The only other time we’ve seen Roger with a woman his own age was Annabelle in The Gypsy and the Hobo, and that was a woman from his past—someone he met when they were both young. Marie is Roger’s equal, and she is a challenge, and Roger has never embraced that before, living in an isolated bubble in which he was the only one who mattered, and money would take care of the rest.
Once you live, you learn things.
Not every connection is butterflies and flowers. Joan’s connection with Richard is irrevocably severed, and her offer of partnership to Peggy is rejected. Joan wants a company with two names, and she gets one: Two of her names. Holloway Harris Productions is Joan and Joan. But, while Peggy and Don have committed to work to the detriment of their relationships, Joan has committed to relationships while ignoring the fact that she gets profound satisfaction from work. Joan lived, and learned she needed to work, even though she grew up believing the opposite.
Pete, who was alone only because he was an unappreciative weasel, has learned that having his family matters to him. He’s still selfish, probably still a weasel. People change and they don’t. He’s learned something—not everything.
We’ve always seen Peggy as like Don, in their shared creative fire. They’re also alike in their ability to obsess over work and turn everything into work. Peggy turned her longing for connection and family into a Burger Chef ad. Is that cynical? I don’t think so, because Peggy doesn’t see advertising solely as commerce; she sees it as creativity. She is a writer, as much as if that Burger Chef ad was the Great American Novel, she is pouring her soul into it. When Peggy met Abe, he questioned when she would be a real writer, and she said she already was one. It’s why she turned down Joan’s offer, because writing production scripts wouldn’t satisfy her creativity. As an advertising writer, she gets to reach inside herself and find a longing, and turn that into something.
Don always worked to teach her that; that advertising comes from an inner need:
You are the product. You feeling something.
Don Draper, Mad Men episode 2.01: For Those Who Think Young
You can’t tell people what they want, it has to be what you want.
Don Draper, Mad Men episode 7.06: The Strategy
When I wrote about the tarot reading that Anna gave Don, I said, “Because Don’s self is the World and not, say, the Magician, I see his personal power as intuitive rather than structured; he masters by being rather than by doing.”
Don has spent his career writing about his feelings. Whether it’s nostalgia (The Wheel), the need to keep secrets (5G), feeling knocked out (The Suitcase), or memories of childhood (Waldorf Stories), Don’s work draws on who he is and what he feels. As his life became less and less livable, his ads became less and less appealing—a suicidal ad in The Doorway, a tragic childhood in In Care Of.
So, at the end of Person to Person, when Don “om”s and we see the famous “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” ad, that’s not cynical, to me. That’s Don expressing a new and powerful feeling. Now, for the first time, Don can create an ad about feeling and sharing connection. Person to person.