Wanted: The Old Don Draper

BY EMILY VIVIANI

Eight episodes into Season 5, all we want is for Don to get up out of bed and do something. (Credit: AMC)

Why is Don always in bed? Is that a thing*? It really got to me in this week’s episode. Don is always there, napping or fevering or waiting,  and Megan is always bopping in tending to him with her optimism and elocution. “Just taste it!”

I’ve had enough! I want the old Don Draper. I hate the Don whose goofy smiles are extinguished by bewildering elevator shafts of doom. I hate the Don who squabbles over Cool Whip and gets flustered with umbrellas.

I’m not sure if Don’s unhip cause Megan’s too hip, or if he’s just getting old, but it’s almost difficult to believe (considering all the scribbling in steno pads and swimming pool introspection that we saw last season) that this guy is so out of touch not just with the times, but with himself. I feel like I’m watching a play, and the leading man just sprained his knee and forgot all his lines. It’s painful. It’s depressing. Maybe most so in the final scene this week where we watch Don turn off (the Beatles!) and tune out (the world), as Megan drops out (of advertising).

Just two weeks ago, we watched Roger do the opposite, and follow Dr. Leary’s advice and “turn on, tune in, drop out.” It makes sense that the lyrics to this week’s $250,000-closing Beatles track “Tomorrow Never Knows” were inspired by Dr. Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which was directly quoted in “Far Away Places” at Roger’s LSD/couples counseling dinner. But from the looks of it, tomorrow will not be a beautiful day for Don.

This week, Megan – as her father predicted – “spread her legs and [flew] away!” First, she lies to Don about working late at SCDP in order to go to a callback audition for an off-off Broadway play. Then she wakes him up in the middle of the night, sort of Sally-style, and tells him she lied and though she didn’t get the part, she wants to quit advertising to pursue her acting career.

“I felt better failing in that audition than I did when I was succeeding at Heinz,” she says. Don is supportive, but a little confused. The scene ends with a shot nearly identical to the one that ended last season (“I Got You Babe”), with Don awake looking unsure and uncomfortable as Megan snuggles up to him like a baby bird.

The next day Megan heads into the office to tell Pegs & Co. she’s leaving (Ginsberg was hilarious here, I thought), as Don turns into Joan’s office to find out the “protocol” in this situation (Don was tragic here, I thought). “Why don’t we have the girls take her to lunch?” Joan suggests. “I mean she’s not disappearing, is she?” “No, she’s not,” Don replies.

Don walks Megan to the elevator bank, and as the doors of the descending elevator open they share an aggressive goodbye kiss (save it for Grand Central) and decide on…seeing each other at home.  She waves goodbye and the elevator doors close (sort of a curtain-closing effect) and Don pushes the “down” call button to follow her? It’s unclear. The neighboring elevator doors open to an empty shaft, levers, pulleys and nothingness as Megan’s tiny elevator car lowers into the abyss. Don steps back puzzled, looking as though he’s just seen the backstage of something he’d been unaware, was a performance. Is Dick Whitman losing at his own game? Perhaps Joan’s suspicions are correct and there is no “Mrs. Draper,” just Megan Calvet, a pretty young actress in need of a piggy bank. Don’s bewildered expression lingers for the remainder of the episode. It’s unflattering.

Luckily, there’s always Pete Campbell to compare Don to. Campbell brought new weight to each syllable in pathetic this week when he tried to unsuccessfully pursue an affair with his sleazy friend Howard’s wife, Beth. In many ways the fiasco reminded me of Don’s fling with Sally’s teacher, Suzanne, in Season 3 (suburban damsel meets commuter knight), only stupider. Long story short, Beth is a decent actress, who is bored and wants attention and Pete in all his “So-you–don’t –like-my–eyes” naïveté offers himself as the ideal tableau for her overwhelming discontent. The plotline fits nicely alongside Don’s incomprehension of Megan’s artistic indulgence.

This week’s episode,Lady Lazarus,” is titled after Sylvia Path’s poem from 1962 that, in simple terms, is about the her many attempts at suicide (which she considers resurrections) and the men (doctors) that have saved her. It closes with her rising out of the ash like a phoenix to “eat men like air.”

Fairly direct connections can be drawn between the poem and Beth’s character, the reckless, depressed housewife. I wouldn’t be surprised if her head ended up in an oven (“Beth’s a great cook!”). But what about Megan? Maybe I’m being too harsh on the girl. I don’t think she’s suicidal or trying to eat Don like air, but I do think she’s a good actress (like Beth) and she has a plan, and marrying Don (“You’re everything I’d hoped you’d be”) was something like Step One (this week being Step Two). It will be interesting to find out what she has planned for Step Three. Until then, I would love to see Don GET UP OUT OF BED and recognize that when you give a young girl the choice between baked beans and Broadway, Megan said it best: “Some things never change.”

*Things: curious similarities strung between episodesMy lil’ list of Season 5 things:

Everything’s okay. You’re okay. I’m okay.

Sex/affairs/divorce on the floor

Cars/driving=freedom/danger

Roger always (always!) drinking

Cigarettes=recklessness

Confusion of names.

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Author: R. Byrnes

Ryan is the founder and editor-in-chief of Yi! News.

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