Mad Men, Season 5
Don's been embracing change all his life.
Photograph by Michael Yarish/AMC.
I love your suggestion, John, that this might be the end of the beginning for Don and Megan, not the beginning of the end. Don’s preference for beginnings has steered his epic love life from one conquest to the next, and in that respect, relationships are like boat trips, too: You don’t cast off thinking about sinking. But if the question that prefaced this season was whether the hidebound staff of Sterling Coop would submit to the tidal changes sweeping the country or resist them, so far they have proved more adaptable than perhaps we’ve given them credit for.
I mean, seriously: Roger Sterling took acid.
Peggy smokes weed and dispenses hand jobs in movie theaters. Joan shows her deadbeat husband the door, opting to go it alone as a single mom. The firm hired Dawn—a token gesture, to be sure, but a micro-step in the right direction.
If anything, Don should be our most likely candidate to embrace, or at least assimilate, societal change. The Dyckmans and the Sterlings can huddle in their country clubs, fretting about the nation they were supposed to inherit. But Don never had any special love for the status quo. Indeed, his whole life is a monument to transformation. (Did you notice, last week, the strange ease with which he referenced the rural poverty of his childhood?)
So I think there’s a chance that you’re right, John, and Don will awaken more quickly than some of his contemporaries to the radical new notion that you shouldn’t be a schmuck to your wife. He has always been a careful observer of the people around him, employing the patented Draper sonar to pulse their fears, aspirations, and feelings about Lucky’s or lipstick. Don may not speak French, but he’s got a firm command of English, so he should have no trouble following the increasingly explicit signals from Megan about what is and is not appropriate. He may well drop the condescension and begin to respect her ambitions in the workplace.
As for fidelity, however, that’s a change too far. I just don’t see it. And hey, just a few more years and the times will catch up with Don, as some married couples begin to explore a range of not-strictly-monogamist scenarios. Which brings us to a potentially significant quandary: How do you orchestrate a key party when everyone arrived in cabs?
One thing we haven’t discussed at length is the appearance of Ginsberg’s father. I don’t know if these two are related by blood, but we now understand where Ginsberg acquired his jokey patter. “I just want to use the photocopy,” Ginsberg Sr. announces when he arrives at the office. After Peggy introduces herself by saying, “I work with Ginsberg,” he replies, “Well, I’m the original.”
What do you two make of Ginsberg’s story about being born in a concentration camp? True? Plausible, at least? Or “impossible,” as Peggy suggests after hearing it? Am I alone in thinking (or perhaps just hoping) that Michael and Peggy might eventually find solace in one another?
Finally, I’ve felt for years now that Bert Cooper was a seriously under-utilized character on Mad Men. In some ways, part of what makes him such an excellent personality is precisely that he’s never around. Or, rather, that he’s always around, in the background, in his stocking feet, doing nothing. Can we intuit from his sudden dressing down of Don and his nasty remark about Peggy that he might begin to take a more active role in the company? It seems like we’re all in agreement with Cooper’s assertion that Don’s “love leave” is finally over. But how seriously should we take that sudden flash of proprietary steel when Cooper tells Don, “This is my business.”
Model T, Model T, Model A, Model T.
Patrick Radden Keefe is is a fellow at the Century Foundation and the author of The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream.