Mad Men, Season 7, Part 1

Why on Earth Did Don Draper Agree to Return to SC&P?
Talking television.
April 28 2014 12:55 PM

Mad Men, Season 7, Part 1

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Why did Don agree to return to SC&P?

140428_TVC_MMS7Ep3-Don1
Jon Hamm as Don Draper.

Photo courtesy of AMC

Julia, you’re right that the offer Don received from his frenemies at SC&P wasn’t exactly a warm bath of affection. They demanded that he neuter his creativity and take up residence in Lane’s haunted office—reporting to Lou, no less. Lou!? All you need to know about that schlumpy fellow in the muffin-crumbed cardigan is that the nicest thing anyone’s said about Lou so far was Jim Cutler’s bold defense: “Lou is adequate.”

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

Why would Don accept those terms? That envelope from Dave Wooster appeared to contain a very viable alternative option. (I couldn’t help but wonder what became of the insomniac blonde waiting in vain in the top-floor room next to the elevator. I hope something good was in her envelope.) Why would Don turn down the opportunity to work for an agency that courts him, paying tribute to his genius, and instead choose to return to the place where people barely seem to tolerate him? Is that partnership stake worth too much to abandon? Is it a sense of emotional investment in SC&P, wanting to see things through with the company he helped build? Is it the challenge of righting old wrongs and winning over estranged allies like Joan, Peggy, and Bert?

That was a very intentional crosscut from Bobby saving space for Betty on his picnic blanket to Don eating a sad sandwich alone at a conference table. Maybe it was this punitive humiliation that sealed the deal for him. Another case of Don wanting what he can’t have. Dave Wooster was an easy lay—almost literally, given the prostitute thrown into the offer—but SC&P is playing hard to get. Don ticks down the seconds before he re-enters the office with the air of a man who is jittery before a second date. (Or perhaps all those shots of Don’s Omega watch were just a shoehorned product placement? The real-world fruition of Freddy Rumsen’s stylish pitch in Episode 1—“It’s not a timepiece, it’s a conversation piece.”)

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That man-to-man chat about “our girl” between Don and Alan Silver—in which Alan asks Don to put the wraps on Megan’s rogue behavior—reminded me of the calls between Don and Betty’s therapist. Another patriarchal cabal collaborating to tame feminine energy. And it’s that sense of Don acting as her “daddy” that really sets Megan off. I’m not sure her declaration that “this is how it ends” will be final. But I did think it was interesting that even after Don counsels Megan not to act like a “lunatic” and to let rejection roll off her back, he copies her strategy: Don ambushes Roger Sterling at home, the same way Megan ambushed a surprised director. 

Julia, I think January Jones does a spectacular job of conveying Betty’s complete self-absorption. When Betty decides to go on that field trip, it’s not for Bobby’s sake—she’s perfectly content to let the maid help with Bobby’s homework, for example—it’s simply to make herself feel better about her maternal capabilities. Likewise, when she drinks that milk it’s to make herself look cool. At least, the kind of cool that impresses schoolchildren.

Even after Bobby offers to reclaim the bartered-away sandwich, Betty would prefer to wallow in the insult. (No one is better than January Jones at donning black sunglasses, turning away with disdain, and exhaling cigarette smoke.) Even at dinnertime, when Henry gets home, Betty is still rubbing Bobby’s face in his careless error. This day will be revisited, I’m sure, by Bobby in many, many adult visits to a behavioral health specialist.

Willa, how do you assess the coming battle over the heart and soul of SC&P? We’ve got Jim Cutler on one side (always sepulchral in his bearing, and now noting that “we could all learn a lot from the funeral business”), lobbying to fire Don and buy a computer instead, favoring Harry Crane’s unctuous number crunching over what he terms “creative hijinks.” We’ve got Lou thwarting Peggy at every turn. We’ve got Peggy feeling unloved with no Clio accolades, like “the invisible boy” in Ginsberg’s Mountain Dew idea. (Why does she hate Don? I’m not sure even she remembers. She’s just riding a cranky rocket right now, with no particular vector.)

And now Don, back on the scene with visions of his own. Jim may not encounter Don in a hotel hallway with Mary Wells on his lap, as Roger suggested when noting he didn’t want to void Don’s non-compete clause. But will Don be able to capture the kind of advertising magic that allowed Wells to launch her own agency, and eventually win a 1971 Clio for Alka-Seltzer’s “I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing” spot?

I wish it was yesterday,

Seth

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