Mad Men, Season 5

The Honeymoon's Over for Don and Megan.
Talking television.
April 23 2012 2:32 PM

Mad Men, Season 5

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Could this battle make Don and Megan stronger?

Don Draper (Jon Hamm).

Michael Yarish/AMC.

Also in Slate, read David Haglund's interview with John Slattery, who plays Roger Sterling on Mad Men.

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

I waited till the end of the credits, but no sign of Dave Algonquin. I thought Ginsberg’s “I’m a Martian” riff had his fingerprints all over it.

One of the pleasures of Mad Men has always been its unpredictability—it’s a fool’s errand trying to guess how the plot will twist—but that unpredictability has reached new heights this season. It’s no longer merely a question of story—now it’s a question of form, too. “Mystery Date” incorporated elements of horror, “Signal 30” culminated in a hilarious comic set-piece, and, as you guys have noted, last night’s episode dabbled in noir and the psychedelic while also experimenting with chronology. When I tune in on Sunday, I’m not just wondering what’s going to happen, I’m wondering how’s it going to happen—what mode will the series operate in tonight? Mad Men has taken formal leaps in the past—e.g., “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency,” or Betty’s maternity ward experience—but this season it seems as if the writers have set themselves the goal of exploring new formal territory every week. It’s another way in which each Mad Men episode is a destination in itself, not merely a stop along the way. Not a HoJo’s, in other words.

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Like you guys, I was haunted by Megan’s “Every time we fight, it just diminishes this whole thing” line. That’s a grim view of marriage: Each fight chips away at the bond, until it’s severed? I agree, Patrick, that it seems the honeymoon has ended in Plattsburgh. Don’s flashback to his happier drive home after the trip to Anaheim—when the honeymoon effectively began—suggests as much. It was a nice touch that Don was whistling the ever-so-innocent “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in the flashback—between Peggy blazing that Norwegian Wood and Roger dropping acid we’re now firmly in a new era, for the Beatles and for our beloved ad execs.

That glimpse of the Disneyland trip reminded me of a moment from last season that came on the heels of that fateful vacation. When Don calls Faye Miller to announce his engagement and break things off, she accuses him of only liking “the beginning of things.” That struck me as a very accurate insight into Don. At the outset of a relationship—be it with Rachel Menken, or the school teacher from Season 3, or Megan last season—he behaves like a schoolboy nursing his first crush. But soon enough he grows bored or disillusioned, and it’s on to the next one. Don loves the thrill of the chase, which is another reason his reunion with Megan last night was so brilliantly conceived: It was a literal chase through his well-appointed apartment, but one that showed that the figurative chase is over. Having apprehended his prey, Don doesn’t devour her (as he did in the premiere, after the wrestling match on the rug), but clings to her fearfully as she delivers that terrible line.

I’ll be curious, though, to see if Megan’s dim view of her marriage comes to pass. I think we’ve all been impressed thus far with her ability to handle Don—with her understanding of his kinks and foibles and with her willingness to stick up for herself, as she did last night. Is it possible that, contra Megan’s pronouncement, this fight will only make their bond stronger? That Don will recognize that Megan has real ambition at the office, beyond looking pretty sitting behind his desk? That he’s no longer with a woman who will countenance nasty behavior like abandoning your wife in a motel parking lot? When he arrived home, Don was clearly angry, embarrassed, and not nearly as contrite as he might have been, but the first emotion to flash on his face when he saw the door was chained from inside was relief. And by the end of the scene he was clinging to Megan like a man who had learned a lesson. Am I crazy to think that this might be the end of the beginning for Don and Megan, but not the beginning of the end?

The truth is relative,
John

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