Spoiler Alert Thursday: Mad Men, “Tomorrowland”

This season opened with the reporter from Advertising Age asking who is the real Don Draper, and it closes having gotten not much forwarder on the question.

For now, Don seems to have abandoned the journey towards redemption and self-knowledge that dominated so much of this season.  In this episode, Faye tells Don that becoming a whole person is within his grasp.  He could confront his desertion head-on, and put himself right with the government and himself.  It won’t be easy, but she’ll help him.  And if anyone can help Don, it’s Faye — she’s an adult, an equal and an ally.  She knows all about Don’s secret and is willing to stand by him while he does whatever he can to fix it.

I don’t think Faye’s offer tempts Don for even a moment.  How can a long, hard, unromantic slog towards sober adulthood compete with the fantasy vision of Megan, lovely and suntanned, tending his flock like a French-Canadian Fräulein Maria?  (Which would make him the heroic, tragic Captain, and poor Faye, who gets nervous around children, the cold Baroness.)  Megan is twenty-five, which makes her just a few years older than Betty when Betty and Don first got married.  She’s adoring, great with kids, beautiful, young, and — not unimportantly — she knows nothing about Don’s secret past.

The Drapers go to Disneyland in this episode, and Bobby is especially excited about seeing Tomorrowland.  He doesn’t want to ride an elephant, he says, he wants to fly a jet.  But Bobby is just a kid, and Don probably thinks that in a few years he’ll feel differently.  In his pitch to the American Cancer Society, he argues that the American teenager only pretends to want rebellion and revolution.  In truth, teenagers are essentially conservative.  They’re motivated by sentimentality, the fear of getting older, and the fear of death.

But Don is, as ever, talking about himself.  Like Roger just a couple of seasons back, Don is looking at the future and all he can see is that he wants a second shot at the past.  With Faye, Don could have a future — he could move forward into the late Sixties and his early middle age in a modern relationship with a strong, clear-eyed partner.  But Don doesn’t want the late Sixties or a modern relationship or his middle age — he wants his youth and the Fifties back.  He wants to start all over again, with a new old-fashioned marriage to a worshipful young bride who will tend his hearth, take care of his children, and gaze up at him adoringly from where she sits at his feet.

Disneyland Tomorrowland was first built in the mid-Fifties.  It was designed as a monument to Walt Disney’s utopian dream of what, at the time, he imagined the 1980s (!) would look like.  By the mid-Sixties, however, this dream had become outdated, and in 1967 Disney scrapped it altogether and rebuilt it from the ground up.  Tomorrowland gets remodeled every few decades, but now (or, at least, as of the last time I was there) it has a distinctly retro-futurist feel.  Instead of reenvisioning the future with each renovation, Tomorrowland now hearkens backward, and seeks to perfect Walt Disney’s childish fantasy of an imaginary future that was conceived back in 1955.

And that’s kind of how it is with Don.  Back in the Fifties, after Korea and California, Don formed a picture of what his life would look like, and it’s to this picture that he returns now, in 1965.  He doesn’t want to reckon with all the crap that he’s done over the past ten years; he wants a clean slate and a fresh start.  At the end of the episode, when he announces his engagement to the partners and Joan, he looks around the room with a kind of maniacal glint in his eye.  It’s sort of the closest approximation to the bright-eyedness of youth that he can manage anymore.  He’s starting over, and this time, he believes, he’ll get it right.

Predictions for season five:

Don and Megan move into the vacated Ossining house, causing Betty to go insane.

Greg is killed in Vietnam, saving Joan the awkwardness of having to convince her doctor husband that humans gestate for eleven months.  No, actually this is such a no-brainer that I’ll go ahead and predict the opposite — Greg comes back and finds that Joan has given birth to a tiny, perfectly proportionate miniature of Roger Sterling, right down to his neatly trimmed white hair and penchant for quippy remarks.

Betty breaks up with Henry and runs off, in a mid-season shocker, with Glenn.  (Then she dumps him two episodes later when he doesn’t make quarterback.)

We’ll have a new Bobby for sure — this one’s Lifeclock has been blinking red since like five episodes ago.

Your thoughts?

(Cross posted at The Weblog)

8 thoughts on “Spoiler Alert Thursday: Mad Men, “Tomorrowland”

  1. I appreciate that they addressed Megan’s HUGE teeth head-on.

    Looking at what you say Don wants out of the marriage, I’m going to make another prediction: Don won’t promote Megan to copywriter, and it will cause considerable tension in their relationship. She’ll wind up having the feminist awakening we always hoped for from Betty.

  2. I’ve enjoyed this series of posts. Best line from this last episode is when Faye, the psychologist, diagnoses Don: “I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things.”

    Your analysis of Disney’s Tomorrowland as actually nostalgic rather than futuristic is spot-on. It strikes me that Don wants to continue to live in Neverland–and that, in fact, he and Walt Disney aren’t so different. They both sell “dreams” of a sort.

  3. I more or less agreed with you analysis of Don’s inability to assume responsibility for his life and the nostalgia for his youth, but I think that precisely addresses the issue you opened the article with:

    “This season opened with the reporter from Advertising Age asking who is the real Don Draper, and it closes having gotten not much forwarder on the question.”

    The “real Don Draper,” so far as he’s been portrayed over the course of the last few episodes (and especially in this episode), is someone who consistently balks at every opportunity to truly change their life, to address their past head on and move foward despite it.

  4. another prediction: Don won’t promote Megan to copywriter, and it will cause considerable tension in their relationship.

    On the other hand, it would be interesting if Don does promote Megan. He might do it — one of the things he loves about her is that it’s like her stated ambition in life to further Don’s own goals. Plus she’d be like Papa’s clever little pet. She might even be competent at it, although not as good as Peggy, and of course Peggy would resent Megan for basically having slept her way into her job instead of having to fight for every inch the way that Peggy did. Also, Peggy would be completely disgusted with Don, who will get all enthusiastic about some little thing that Megan has done, when it’s not even that good of an idea, or at best, totally obvious and not a big deal.

    But eventually, Megan becomes better at her job and starts to form her own opinions, and finds herself in disagreement with Don. Maybe what happens is that Peggy and Don have a standoff on the direction of a particular campaign, and Megan finds that she can’t in good conscience side with Don, who is totally out-of-touch and being pigheaded and obstinate about it. Don is totally infuriated by her defection, but by this time he’s sleeping with the kids’ cute new nanny and probably the new receptionist as well (she has small, perfect teeth), and Megan is defiant. That’s when we have Megan’s feminist awakening. In my fantasy, this somehow culminates with Megan, Betty and Peggy pitching rotten fruit at Don. Joan watches them from a distance, smoking. She laughs and laughs.

  5. It occurred to me earlier on in the episode, when Don sleeps with Megan, that there was an interesting reversal of his previous pattern: his official, “public” relationship was with an independent woman of roughly his own age, while his affair is with a younger woman who was (even more explicitly than Betty) his subordinate. Of course, by the end of the episode, this reversal is itself overturned.

    I vaguely wonder (although the episode didn’t particularly seem to bring attention to this) if his encounter with Midge last week has anything to do with this – the fantasy of a relationship with an equal that he seemed to be motivating in his affairs in previous seasons undermined by Midge’s desparate dependency, so he decides to give up on his attempt at self-transformation and produce a new version of the old status quo.

  6. A question of interpretation: Earlier in the episode, Don mentions that he takes the youth’s music to be driven by sentimentality, and then of course the episode closes with he and his new love in bed to “I Got You Babe.” Is Don’s engagement to be seen as a repetition of his past? Or is it to be taken as his participation in the new generation by dint of sentimentality?

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