Season 4, Episode 13: Californication, Or Blame Canada!
Say what? Please tell me it was all a dream -- that Don got to California, looked into the sun, and that we'll find him in the shower of Anna's bungalow when season 5 starts next fall.
Was it Jane Austen who wrote, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in a possession of an engagement ring from the dead wife of the dead army guy whose identity he stole in Korea will impulsively use it within a week to propose to his delicate cipher of a very young French-Canadian secretary?" Sacre Blech!
Although I loved all the wardrobe detail and the wonderfully nostalgic look at the proto Disney-in-Anaheim family vacation in the mid-1960s, I must admit that I felt dejected after this season closer. While the blitzkrieg engagement makes perfect sense for Don/Dick's psychological profile, it deflated all feminist hope that was brewing with the progression of Peggy and Faye. ("Men are always between marriages," said a resigned Joan, and she's right. And the same stuff happens these days -- although secretaries are called administrative assistants, which is almost an honor. And women are still getting titles without pay increases.)
Don's proposal also makes the series less about advertising, politics, pop culture -- about who we are as a nation, basically-- and more standard soap opera about one character's manic-depressive illness. (Today he would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.) And frankly, that's depressing.
The only thing Don seems to have under control is his spending. Otherwise, during his highs, he's charming, charismatic, and has moments of genius; during his lows, he cycles through bouts of hyper-sexuality and alcoholism. He acts on impulse -- from changing identities, jumping into affairs and putting an ad in the Times without consulting his partners, to asking Megan to marry him.
He's always trying to recreate the perfect family -- and find the mother -- that he never had. And while that's a noble instinct, in the real world it results in chaos.
Parallel bedroom scenes juxtapose Don's relationships with Faye (not great mother material, so now she's a martyr) and the little doe Megan. In the opening, he's sleeping and Faye's all dressed and all business. With Megan, it's the reverse.
And when he's naked and sleepy, Don expresses his anxieties to Faye, who actually knows his secret. Miss Ph.D. gives him insightful advice: "Get your head out of the sand about the past," she says. "If you resolve some of that you might be more comfortable about everything." Don says, "Then what?" And she gives him the truth: "Then you're stuck trying to be a person like the rest of us."
But he's just like the rest of us in that he's afraid of -- and would rather not do -- the hard work of resolving his past. That's one tough slog, and who really wants to face it? In the meantime, he's drowning, to employ a word he once used with Faye while begging for leads. He also needs help with his domestic life, and help with his kids, and Megan is a very pretty, if temporary, buoy.
Though he tells him to "enjoy the harvest/plant some seeds," Don's lawyer/financial adviser also seems to be a major seed-planter himself. He was the first to hope that Don was "schtupping" Megan. Now he tells Don he ought to enjoy going home to a "steak on the table."
Called "Tomorrowland," the episode was really more like "Yesterday." It showed that Don and Betty are really more alike than they care to admit. They both act on impulse, like teenagers: with her hair-trigger temper, in a fury over seeing the semi-teenaged Glen return to her house, Betty fires Carla, which could have terrible repercussions. Her grown-up husband tells her as much. (His marriage proposal was as rash as Don's, it turns out, and perhaps will have similar results.)
Betty regresses, while wearing that drab 1950s shirtwaist dress with crinolines. (She had a similar sartorial setback when she went to the doctor to discover she was pregnant with Gene.) Like a drama-queen adolescent who thinks everybody's picking on her, she goes to cry on Sally's girlhood bed. (Reminiscent of the stay in her own maiden bedroom where she and Don conceived Gene.)
Then Betty dries her tears, and moves into default/manipulator mode, using the only power that she thinks she has, as femme fatale. She sets up a scene with a box, and waits for Don in the kitchen. But he's already used his own regressive/default programming to move on, in marrying the secretary/babysitter. (Interesting that Sally mentioned Mary Poppins the week before!)
Somewhere inside himself, Don knows this. In fact, it was all in the rather weak double talk/gobbledygook he presented to the American Cancer Society : "In my heart it was an impulse. I knew what I needed to do to move forward." And then there was something about reaching adolescents: "They're mourning their childhood more than accepting the future."
So who the hell is Miss Calvet anyway, to paraphrase Roger? Yes, she's wonderful with the children. And she and Don look like a perfect advertisement together, maybe even better than Don and Betty. (What with the French name and the dark bouffant do and model good looks, is Calvet supposed to suggest Bouvier?)
Perhaps merely being in California makes Don wig out. And that goes double now that Anna is no longer there. You remember the trip in season 2, when he disappeared for a while and hung out at the pool with the Euro-grifters. (One of whom was a single dad with two kids.)
I knew the jig was up when li'l Megan came to introduce her cleavage -- er, actress friend -- to Don on her way out. The dress had an open triangle in the front. And it was as if Don got caught in the Bermuda triangle. He became a moody, love-lorn, lit-up idiot after that, and started stalking his prey. She called the kids "mes animaux" -- French for "animals." He called them "little roosters." (I'll leave out the cock of the walk for now. But it did creep me out that he left the kids alone in the room next door while he slept with Miss C. Surely it would have been better for them if he'd stayed in the room with the TV on.)
Anyway, what kind of fishy story was that about who her friend really was? (And I hate to gloat, but I called it on the teeth.)
And also on Joan's pregnancy. She might have made a private bargain with the devil. But in the work place, once again, Joan is right: Don will make his fiancée a copywriter. And that will create even more havoc in an agency that is already falling apart.
In that all-important milkshake scene that demonstrates to Don that Megan, with her preternatural calm, is the one, Bobby ( who's finally developed a cute personality) mentions that a snake has legs. Something about that scene in the garment district with Art Garten of Topaz suggested to me a snake in the garden.
The pantyhose account is Peggy's baby, and she sells the garmentos successfully on the idea of a "single" pair (as opposed to single payer, the answer to our health care troubles.). But again, there's a snag -- the announcement gets trumped by Don's engagement. ("Bad for business. Good for you.")
The fact that she and Joan can commiserate about what's happening in the office, and not treat each other like the enemy, is encouraging, and shows growth for Peggy. Last week, if you recall, Peggy also reached out to Faye, as fellow working women who ought to have coffee or a drink together.
There were also Disney character overtones. Like the evil stepmother in Snow White, Betty says she had to fire Carla because she was "poisoning the well." The Topaz guy says "She wasn't Cinderella, and where was she going?"
And of course there was Don's von Trapp family reference. The hills are alive. Joan's especially are getting bigger. She will soon be pushing a baby carriage instead of the mail cart.
Shut the door. Major growing pains ahead.
I want to thank you, readers and commenters, for making this another exquisite season of "Mad Men" analysis. What did you guys think of the ending? And where do you think Weiner will take us next fall?