You're right, Julia, there's more fueling Don than an unstoppable libido, and I agree that his many conquests may be driven by a desire to try on different selves. He's like Walter Mitty —if Walter Mitty were a sex addict.
But while the dalliances may mean nothing because Don is just addicted to "fluid identities," I don't think that would bring much comfort to Betty. Don's a complicated horn dog, no question. But he's still a horn dog—the end result is the same. And as for his misanthropy, I think that's the whole reason he keeps, er, donning these new identities: He's trying to find something he can actually believe in.
Don wants to believe in the conventions of marriage and family and middle-class life. He grew up outside that system—and aspiring to it. Through an act of imposture, he's finally arrived and gotten everything he always dreamed of, but now he realizes that it's all fake: Betty knows next to nothing about him, he has misgivings about his job, and he can't go home and hang out with his kids without the fortification of a stiff drink.
You really think Don seemed "at home" in California, Julia? I just watched those episodes again over the weekend, and he seemed anything but to me. The California interlude was Don glimpsing a life in which you completely shed convention—in which you can be a nomad, travel the world, have no attachments, sleep with anyone, feel no responsibility to spouses or children, and just sort of glide along on a cloud of sex and glamour. It was Don's misanthropy taken to its logical extreme. And it was too much for him. It was like staring at the sun. So he scampered back to Ossining and found Betty by the stables, because however imperfect that situation may be, it still feels like home.
Speaking of Ossining, one note on Gramps: Let's not overstate Don's generosity in taking the old guy in. Remember that even when all is peaceful in the Draper residence, Don himself is rarely home. (When Betty kicked Don out last season, she remarked that day to day, life around the house wasn't actually that different from when he was living there.) No doubt Don will play the martyr on this and market the new arrangement as some sort of beau geste. But the only one who will really feel the imposition is Betty.
Man, this Penn Station thing must still have me pissed. I've got no sympathy for Don this week.
On the maypole and the grass, our readers have come to the rescue once again with plausible interpretations. Several people point out that Don touching the lawn might be a visual echo of the lovely moment in the previous episode where he tells Betty to imagine she's at the beach and reaching down to touch the cool patch of sand under her chair.
But given my short temper for Don today, I'm going with a more common sense explanation offered by sigmond: "He was reaching for his glass and couldn't find it because he didn't want to take his eyes off of the girl he was looking at. He was drunk, like always."