Ain't that a kick in the head, as Archie himself never got to say. It's probably too late for a turnaround now with Betts (Damn! Those poor kids! And her lightning-quick dependence on the Rockefeller-handling-belly-feeler obviously spells disaster.)
But it turns out that all along, the rest of the kids at Sterling Cooper were also hankering for Don's approval, aka Daddy's OK -- especially the abused young'uns, like Pete and Peggy. But another fallen-fellow-father-figure, Roger, also craved Don's apology, and to be treated better. Among other good lines, ("Reading us your will? I want the Cadillac,") Roger issues the definitive statement on Don: "You're not good at relationships because you don't value them."
Has the Draperman finally buried his Daddy issues so that he can move on? His day started with oversleeping on the army cot in the very room that his much hated father-in-law occupied until his death. That made him late for his meeting with Connie.
And when Connie told him the news about the sale of the agency, and that he'd be splitting from him ("Happens all the time, that's business"), Don responds bitterly. He accuses Hilton of purposely tying him up so that he could "kick me around, knock me down to size... That's why you called me son."
Indeed, Don's relations with Connie have always been awkward because of his filial rage. The moonshine-soaked flashback for the first time showed the cause of all of his internal combustion. (And speaking of internal combustion, what's with taking the wheat up to Chicago via horse? This was the 1930s. Even the Joads had a broken-down truck.)
Anyway, Don's father was an abusive drunk -- and last season he told Betts that when his father beat him it made him want to kill him. As a result he could never discipline his own kids. We knew Dick Whitman's background was a killer, what with his prostitute mother dying in childbirth, and giving the baby the name Dick as a sick joke. We didn't know that Don's father died right before his eyes, kicked in the head by a horse spooked by lightning.
It was then, at 10, that Don discovered life could change in a heartbeat -- and it hardened his hard-luck heart even more.
I'm sure he had lots of guilt over the death, added to the already Oedipal yearning he carried for his dead mother. That's a psychological brew that would make him inclined not only to change identities, but to want to numb and isolate himself as an adult. As a husband, that translates into drinking and affairs.
So let's get the grim Betts chapter out of the way so we can move on to the really exhilarating stuff -- where the episode knocked it out of the park -- putting the new agency together.
The Dick side really came out in Don's drunken fight with a sleeping Betts in the bedroom. He calls her a "whore" (shades of his own dad) after he finds out from Roger (in a beautifully acted scene in a bar) that his wife was cuckolding him with Henry Francis. This was ugly. It reminded me of the violent scene between Tony and Carmela after she told him she wanted him out of the house. Tony put his arm through a wall, had Carmela by the neck, and told her that she too was complicit -- or at least hardly innocent -- in the life they made together.
Don/Dick makes a similar point. I think down deep he's enraged because he thinks the Main-Line blonde is rejecting his dirt-poor background now that she knows the truth -- that he's not "good enough" for her. I don't think that's the case. After all his cheating and lying, the final thing he came clean on is just too big and overwhelming for her. And who could blame her? (A side issue to get into some other time: her parents hardly seem upper-class to me.)
Anyway, she stands up admirably for herself. ("I didn't break up this family...) Would that she had similar strength in moving on independently with her life. But in those days, being a divorcee was so dreaded that she jumps from the frying pan of Don's pathology to the fire of a master manipulator, Henry. Boy, is he rushing her. First he persuades her to give up all financial settlements with Don ("you don't need what he can provide") and then gets her on a plane to Reno, faster than you can say "Huh?"
There was nothing sadder than that final scene on the plane, with the baby up and fidgety on her lap and the old man asleep next to her.
In what seems an appalling move, she left Sally and Bobby at home (for the whole six weeks, through the holidays, too?) with Carla.
Meanwhile, Don is starting a new life with his work family. (And I even got hints of the finale of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" when they all leave the SC office for the final time and he tries to lock the door.) Then again, that act of kneeling down almost seemed religiously contrite -- and Roger tells him to forget locking up..
But in humbling himself, and making his apologies, it does seem that Don's fired up with a new religion. "I want to work. I want to build something on my own!'' he tells Bert Cooper when trying to sell him on buying back the agency. Later, after he tells Roger, "I was wrong," Sterling says "So you do want to be in advertising after all!"
Don's first interaction with Peggy echoes his unsatisfying talk with Hilton at the opening of the episode. He gives her the rough treatment, and she tells him she's tired of being kicked around: "You expect me to follow you like some nervous poodle?" She turns him down, and calls him out on the carpet. (The carpet that, as it turns out, wasn't cleaned over the weekend.)
Perhaps some of her strength comes from having the offer (and the um, creepy as it seems, love?) from Duck. But besides that, she has always had a preternatural respect for her own talents as a copywriter -- and that will get her far.
Don reconsiders, and visits Peggy at her Manhattan apartment. "You were right," he says. "I've taken you for granted and I've been hard on you because I saw you as an extension of myself, and you're not." He ends by telling her that if she turns him down again, he will "spend the rest of my life trying to hire you." (If only he could have said exactly this to Betty!)
He then tells her something that seems a bit mystical: "Something happened, and the way they saw themselves is gone."
I interpreted that to mean they're fellow survivors; they both came up hard and have secrets, which is a very valuable thing when you're in the image/desire business.
For Pete, he acknowledges his forward thinking (such as it is) on "aeronautics, teenagers, and the Negro market."
The air gets stirred with Joan's presence, and we all had to breathe a sigh of relief and agree with Don when he said, "Joan -- what a good idea!"
The excitement and energy was palpable in the Pierre suite. (By the way, many venerable agencies started just like this -- breaking away from the mother ship and renting a hotel room. Scali McCabe Sloves started with a single client, Volvo, at the Gotham Hotel. The principals of Wells Rich Greene broke away from Jack Tinker, a creative boutique founded by McCann's CEO (they had earlier been at DDB) and also opened an office in a room at the Gotham Hotel.
So Don packs up a Velveeta box, and flees. Will it turn out that any of this was legal? Will Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce be able to succeed? Will Sal come back somehow, despite the reliance on Lucky Strike?
In any case, Weiner could not have concocted a more satisfying start for season 4. As Lane Pryce, the only Brit allowed to develop into more than a caricature, told London upon being sacked: "Very good. Happy Christmas!"