Season 4, Episode 13: Californication, Or Blame Canada!

Don-Megan

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. AndDon-Megan 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."

Don-Betty.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 noDon-Thinking 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.")

Joan-PeggyThe 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?

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23 comments about "Season 4, Episode 13: Californication, Or Blame Canada!".
  1. Richard Brayer from Car-X , October 21, 2010 at 11:51 a.m.

    are we seeing Don change- like Tony Soprano?

    How did that last?

    I think maybe next year we can get down to adverting

  2. Marilyn Casey from MC Public Relations , October 21, 2010 at 1:05 p.m.

    Don/Dick is all facade. Behind the glam is a wasted soul. He knows it; he ain't dumb. But, in many ways, he's everyman ('woman).

  3. Lynn Caffrey from , October 21, 2010 at 1:08 p.m.

    Your blog has been the best thing about this season. The episodes are juicy but your comments are jucier still. It's like the most incisive college class into a classic. I'm so glad a client friend passed it on to me. And I am passing it on to others. Please keep it up.

  4. Jim Palmer from Nonbox , October 21, 2010 at 1:50 p.m.

    I would echo Lynn and thank you Dorothy for wonderful insights into this fascinating world of advertising, stupidity and everything in between. Hope you come back next season. In the meantime, my expectation is that Megan is purely a stop on the tracks of Don's journey to Peggy. Megan surely allows Don to confirm his desire to have someone more suited to the family part of his life, but it can't last (and won't since I sure don't think season 5 will be the show's last). Ultimately, in the final season (6? 7?), Don will wind up with Peggy, who as you point out continues to grow and develop. Next season I predict more involvement from Roger. Slattery is a key part of the cast, and he's been way too quiet lately.
    See you in August!

  5. Jon Bouman from Tipping Point Media , October 21, 2010 at 1:57 p.m.

    Great writing, Dorothy! I always look forward to this blog after each episode.

  6. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine , October 21, 2010 at 3:55 p.m.

    Agree with @Lynn! Love your reviews. I thought the finale was just abysmal -So much hope for Don to grow up and marry Faye - and so much of a letdown - "cipher" Megan, exactly. This is a character that doesn't interest me at all. I am concerned, however, that Faye is a bit too much like that woman that Tony Soprano met in the psychologist office (the car sales woman) who ended up killing herself over Tony. SO tough on the outside - turned out to be a total mess. Let's hope not.

  7. David Sanders from Omaha World-Herald , October 21, 2010 at 4:29 p.m.


    My favorite quote from this season:

    "I'm leaving. Would somebody please give me my shoes?"

  8. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , October 21, 2010 at 5:28 p.m.

    The writers seem to have set the stage for a focus on families next season (or an examination of what's laughingly called "work-life balance"). Consider:

    • Sally and Bobby are newly orphaned with the firing of Carla, although they gain a Mom with Megan, who thankfully understands and likes children and is close to her own large family.

    • Nearing or in her mid-30s ("geriatric" Dorothy said?), Joan faces what many of us think will be single parenthood. She's sort of an anti-Mom outwardly, but her natural efficiency and intuitive understanding of others might equip her to be a pretty good mother.

    • Trudy seems poised to become all about Tammy, which might make Pete feel excluded (or super pressured to provide that house in Greenwich). Interesting that Ken distinguishes between his "real life" (fiancee Cynthia) and his work life. I also like that he gives Peggy her due. Ken's been growing up when no one was watching.

    • Lane suddenly has his family back with him in New York -- did his father cane Rebecca into returning or is she there by choice? Will we ever meet Lane's son?

    • Henry's probably thinking his mother was right about Betty. I'm thinking he and Faye would be a good match. Great professional credentials, good looks, at ease with powerful people, unafraid of straight talk, and no kids or expectation of any. I hope they'll meet.

    As for Don and Peggy, I can't see them as lovers, but all the things they have in common will keep them close. Peggy's initiative in going after the Topaz business is just the start of her taking the lead at work and I can't imagine she'll be content writing copy forever. She should earn her stripes as a creative director soon and may find herself mentoring Megan, who might turn out to REALLY want to do what Don and "Miss Olson" do and be proficient at it -- she's full of surprises.

    I like Don when goes to California because it's always life-changing for him. The proposal to Megan seemed impetuous, but if marrying her buys him time feeling like the better self he wants to be and provides his children with another layer of affection and acceptance, then I'm all for it. (And he's not bipolar -- that's a very black, scary disease that would have produced at least one suicide attempt by now.)

    Speaking of which -- Roger commit suicide? Lord, no. He may be infantile to an extreme, but he's also resilient. I think Betty's the one to keep an eye on in that department.

    My final thought on next season: I hope to see Connie again. He rivets my attention and I love how he messes with Don.

    Thanks, Dorothy, for a great season of review and analysis. Yours is the best Mad Men column I've found anywhere. I hope you'll eventually reveal who you are and what you do when you're not watching or writing about Mad Men. Inquiring minds want to know.

  9. Shelli Strand from STRAND Marketing, Inc. , October 21, 2010 at 5:50 p.m.

    Dorothy, your Mad Men analysis is fantastic. Your historical analysis and thoughtful review from the perspective of someone in the industry makes every one of your posts come alive! I may miss your blog as much as I'll miss SCDP et al off season.

    One theme I thought was decidedly more modern than I've seen ... the "I have another life" theme throughout this episode.

    The assertions from both Ken and Lane that they are putting family first, if but for a moment, seemed almost out of character, or is it because everyone's getting fed up with the grind? Then Joan's quote, what was it, something about 'this is why I don't base all my satisfaction on this place'. And Peggy's response - "that's bullshit"

    Peggy response showed compassion, insight and brutal honesty about the difficulty in balancing a career in client service with a real life. Or maybe better said - the extent to which you define yourself with your work. - but did they even talk this way back then? Likely not the guys. Pete's reaction when his secretary told him he had a baby girl "Well, shall we go?" was probably, sadly, more like it.

    Though I have no doubt that Joan would be torn. She is who she is because of her drive and ability to succeed in industry. She was a trail blazer for her time, and it sets her apart. But now it seems she's keeping a little bit of Joan for herself. Go girl!

    I do hope you come back next season Dorothy!!

  10. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , October 21, 2010 at 6:19 p.m.

    First things first:
    Dorothy Parker's secret identity. Isabel Paterson, of course.
    Next season: Roger makes comeback.
    Carla has to be re-hired because Henry is working for Lindsay/Rockefeller.
    The time leap has to follow the kid's ages. So at least 18 months bringing us to 1968 and Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and Nixon vs Humphrey.
    The agency has to thrive; the show is more fun when the group shows competence. The best episode for me this year was Don and Peggy working late together; the worst episode the last one. If Don is Tony Soprano, is Roger, Silvio? Cooper, Junior? Faye, Melfi? Or Peggy, Melfi?
    And now that your secret identity has been revealed, Dorothy, maybe you can continue this blog either focusing on just this show as it concludes contract negotiations and begins scripting---or burgeon out to other media-driven shows, such as Smallville or The View.

  11. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , October 22, 2010 at 9:04 a.m.

    No, Tom. Our Dorothy is much younger. And alive.

    Wouldn't it be interesting if Henry and Don work together next season (or work against each other)? Both are in the business of influencing perception and we did see Henry reading Don's piece in the Times with pretty avid interest. Henry intrigues me.

  12. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , October 22, 2010 at 9:36 a.m.

    @Cynthia
    Henry is more nuts than Betty or Don. He is attracted to a pregnant woman at a party and puts the usual move on her: he goes over and strokes her belly like any Henry Juan would do. Then in the post-natal period, he backs off assuming a married woman should make the second move. Then he flies to Reno and lives with her for the three month residency requirement during the period when adultery was the only allowable divorceable issue in NY courts. He returns, puts up with his Mother's overbearing disses and remains in Don's house in Ossining, "mowing Don's lawn," so to speak, and dreaming of a house in Rye where he can live in peace with his love and three kids who have more sense than their parents especially baby Gene who eats pasta instead of hot dogs, the cuisine of choice from Betty's cookbook. Politically, he seems attracted to Lindsay which makes cosmetic sense as he appeared to be the three-piece suit of the moment, a Republican JFK, until he actually took office and proved to be the quintessential professional candidate cum amateur officeholder and a totally empty suit.
    As for Isabel Paterson who writes this column from the heareafter, read these words from John Chamberlain, author of "A Life In The Printed Word." >>>Indeed it was three women--Mrs.Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand--who, with scornful side glances at the male business community, had decided to rekindle a faith in an older American philosophy. And none of them was a Ph.d."

  13. Thomas Siebert from WOLFGANG SOLO: Strategic Communications & Benevolent Propaganda , October 22, 2010 at 10:06 a.m.

    Great year of criticism "Dorothy," very much improved my viewing experience. Hilarious headline today, too.

    But to the guy who said Roger had an off year -- are you kidding? He had most of the best lines all year long! Right down to the finale's "Who the hell is that?"

  14. Moira Mcnally from out of home america , October 22, 2010 at 12:31 p.m.

    I, too, don't see Megan and Don growing old together. Like Faye said, he only "likes things in the beginnings".
    Don thinks he should marry Megan because she fits the 'wife' bill -- he wants the pretty companionship, needs a mother for his kids, somebody to keep house, and somebody to sleep with. Anna's engagement ring fell in his lap at the right time, warmed his heart and propelled him to be impulsive.

    As for Faye, she really fell for Don after being so cool at first, only to get dumped over the phone. But Don will probably go after her again once he tires of Megan's "aw shucks" act. He likes Faye a lot and besides, it's always more exciting when it's illicit. Could be the Megan/Faye showdown...

    Can't wait for next year's entertainment and thank you,
    Dorothy, for making every episode so multi-dimensional.

  15. Terry Powers from , October 22, 2010 at 1:34 p.m.

    Dorothy, THANK YOU. You bring such deep dimension to the show this season that really needed it. Your insight, writing and perspective (not to mention your clearly diligent research) add so much to my viewing f this show.

    To answer your question - I was disappointed in the finale. I understand human emotion and character depth are essential, but some of the soap opera antics are getting worrisome.

    As an aside - The key scene for me was when the milkshake was spilled and Megan's response (not being angry as Betty would have been, and Don was about to be) created the defining moment for Don in seeking the supportive mother AND sex kitten he craves as seen in the California environment (much different and less convoluted than NYC for him). What did you think?

    Being in the business makes me crave more of the inner workings of the agency life, and the Topaz win was very enjoyable setting Peggy up for future greatness. Kinda wish they did more of that, and enhance it with the psyches of the cast, not move into more of the silliness. As someone mentioned, the Sopranos comparison are clearly evident for me in so many ways.

    Thanks, again!

  16. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , October 23, 2010 at 11:04 a.m.

    Now that get a calculator out, I realize 18 months brings us almost to the summer of love in 1967. A great year in which everything on the show should flower.

  17. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , October 23, 2010 at 7:05 p.m.

    Dorothy, thank you ever so much for your shining light. Your insight, your talent have brought many people together and have helped our intellect to keep thinking. Mad Men and all of the characters, who are not all that different from many of those we have known, worked with and know, will be missed terribly, too. This extra long wait between seasons does not bode well.

  18. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , October 28, 2010 at 1:36 p.m.

    Having been out of touch for 2 weeks, it was almost impossible to avoid commentary and talk about Mad Men. But, now that I've seen the episode, WOW!

    I always thought it would be Clemenza (That's referring to Faye for you non-Godfather fans).

    Gotta hand it to Megan, she knew what she wanted all along and got it.

    Gotta hand it to Dorothy Parker. This column was the hardest thing to avoid and now I'm so glad I can read it again. And now I'm going to miss it for 9 months. That will be hard.

    And fucking Don. He must be nuts. But, as with everything on Mad Men, there's always a chance, there's always hope.

    Way out there prediction: We know Don has plenty of money, so he buys a big house in the suburbs. Betty, in a fit of pique again, tells Don that if he doesn't like the way she's doing things, he can have the kids, and he says yes. And he hires Carla. Don has everything he had before, except with Megan. Betty has an empty shell, and goes off the deep end.

  19. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , October 29, 2010 at 10:07 a.m.

    Come to think of it,
    Don has five women throwing themselves at him.
    The heroin addict, the B.I.C., the Siciliana psychologist, the Canadian tooth seductress, and his former wife.
    The eternal hexagon.

  20. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , October 29, 2010 at 1:17 p.m.

    But if you put Don in the center, and add Peggy, then it's a true 6-pointed star, and you have the beginnings of a Satanic cult. Kind of like the business.

  21. Dennis Soapes from Eastlan Ratings , November 1, 2010 at 7:45 p.m.

    If the timeline for the next season starts in 1967, will the iconic fashion statements become wide ties, bell- bottoms, mini-skirts and long hair? Don with sideburns? Betty in Go-Go boots?

  22. thomas hillard , November 22, 2010 at 1:21 a.m.

    Am I the only one who noticed "I got you babe" playing at the end of the episode as Don Falls asleep, right after Faye point's out his ability to stay in one relationship.

    Do we sense a cycle? Perhaps this is a homage to Groundhog Day.

  23. Dana Owen from Ryan Partnership , December 13, 2010 at 5:04 p.m.

    How about the fact that they were drinking wine out of a child's sippy cup at the end? Plays into their struggle to leave their pasts and childhood behind maybe?...