Don Does Disney: It’s A Small World After All

BY RYAN BYRNES

From milkshakes to wedding rings, this week’s “Mad Men” presented many symbols of a happier time in Don’s past.  (Credit: AMC)

This week’s episode of “Mad Men” presented a taste of Disney, from the mentioning of Peter Pan Peanut Butter to the official (and expensive) conclusion of an always-doomed marriage born in Disneyland itself. Don proposed to Megan in the Season 4 finale titled “Tomorrowland,” though justifiably-skeptical viewers always deemed “Fantasyland” a more appropriate birthplace for the marriage. Ironically, it is in the Fantasyland section of the Disneyland theme park where the It’s A Small World ride is located, and in this week’s episode (titled “New Business”), our protagonist Don Draper is consistently reminded that life is indeed a small, small world.

As we move closer to the conclusion of series, things are coming full circle for Don. During “Tomorrowland,” it is Megan’s cool and calm reaction to a milkshake spilled by Bobby that causes Don to view Megan as the anti-Betty; he proposes to her later that night. Flash forward to 1970, and Don is again sharing milkshakes with his sons, but this time on good terms with Betty and instead preparing to finalize his divorce with Megan. On that same trip to Disneyland in Season 4, Don receives the wedding ring bequeathed to him by Anna Draper, which he later offers to Megan. Skip forward again, and Megan is returning that very ring in the divorce attorney’s office (after, of course, getting her $1 million check – things sure have changed since Megan told Don last summer that he didn’t owe her anything).

As Don says au revoir to the French Canadian chapter of his past, he is reminded just how small this world really is, both in terms of his relationships and his life choices. It’s a world that presents him with familiar faces, from elevator run-ins with mistresses of past affairs to attorneys retained for past divorces. But it’s also a world that brings him to similar life crossroads, opportunities to make a change for the better or to make the same mistakes that lead to his current situation. In the moment, it is difficult for him to realize which choice will lead to the better outcome, and which will just lead him back to where he started. As Pete asks Don during their car ride, “You think you’re going to live your life over and do it right, but what if you never get past the beginning again?”

That’s the best I can do to contextualize the odd storyline of Don and Diana the waitress. Don has his job back and has made millions of dollars through the acquisition by McCann. But his greatest life worries – that he never did anything, and that he doesn’t have anyone – are becoming closer to a reality for him. He stares jealously at Betty and Henry in the kitchen with the sons he only sees every other weekend. He doesn’t see his daughter, who is off at boarding school. His divorce from Megan has been long, exhausting and expensive. She later tells him that he is an aging, sloppy, selfish liar, and he does not fight back, because he knows that each one of those accusations is true. Nothing, she says, about Don is real – and he knows it.

So for whatever reason, he sees his chance at having something and someone truly real in a waitress that he finds in a diner and later finds himself with at her crappy apartment. They share their stories of divorce and of children and of grief and of pain. He told her last week that he believes that he knows her, and perhaps that it is because he is assuming that he knows what she needs and that he can provide her with whatever that is. Perhaps he confuses his feelings for Diana with his feelings for Rachel, and his attempt to have something with Diana is merely a way for him to achieve his “life not lived” with the former Ms. Menken.

But just when the episode teetered on the brink of cliché – of Don once again presenting a ring from a former Mrs. Draper to a dark-haired woman he barely knows, and of him naively pursuing a road that he believes will lead him to happily ever after – Diana stops him. “Can’t you see I don’t want anything?” she asks. He tells her he has done this before, and that he is ready to go with her, but she isn’t interested in going there with him, wherever “there” is. He offers her a guidebook of Manhattan and offer to move in and up with him, but she knows that’s an empty bargain. “You’re fooling yourself,” she tells him, “if you think this will make a difference.”

She is right. Who is Don to offer anyone any type of guidance? And as Don learns in the next scene, when he returns to his expensive but empty Upper East Side apartment, now missing examples of his wealth and Megan’s touch, his invitation was just as hollow as Diana perceived it to be. Diana also tells Don that she can’t be with him because she doesn’t want to feel anything other than the feeling she has of missing her daughter. Don makes her forget her daughter, and that’s something she won’t allow herself to do.

And hopefully, that is something Don won’t let himself do either. Rather than repeating the mistake of his past by always trying to find happiness in starting something new, Don needs to move forward by building on whatever it is that he has. Don’s daughter, Sally, has been the most glaring omission through the season’s first two episodes, and the show needs to correct that. With Megan flying back to L.A. a million dollars richer and Betty seemingly happy with her life with Henry, Sally is the one (young) woman in Don’s life that offers him the best chance at what he is looking for. With 87 episodes in the books and only five yet to come, viewers do not have the patience or emotional capital available to spend on Don looking for happiness between spread legs in dark alleys behind diners. They know his best chance at being happy is driving up to the boarding school to see Sally, taking his daughter to dinner and joking about skipping out on the check.

When Don and Betty inform their children during the Season 3 finale that they are divorcing, Don tells Sally “I will always come home.” Don has put his daughter through hell since then, but it’s finally time for Don to follow through on that promise. It is, perhaps, the show’s only chance to have a feel-good ending fit for a Disney story.

Notes:

– This week’s episode was directed by Michael Uppendahl, who has now directed 11 episodes of the series. He directed Season 5’s “The Codfish Ball”, in which Megan’s family visits New York and Roger and Marie first meet. There are many similarities between that episode and tonight’s, including copious French subtitles and mass boredom for the many viewers who have no interest in Megan and her family.

– In addition to milkshakes, wedding rings and Disneyland, there are many tips of the cap to the West Coast in this episode. Meredith and Harry discuss how tiring it is to travel to and from LA. Diana makes reference to possibly moving to San Francisco. Most noticeably, the dress Megan wears to her lunch with Harry is the same she wore when picking up Don at LAX last season – perhaps a symbol of how her life in Hollywood has not progressed much over the past year.

– The “Manson family” reference made by Don’s secretary could have been a nod to the popular internet theory that Megan was Sharon Tate or a similar victim of the killers in late 1960s Los Angeles.

– Roger makes reference to not being invited to golf with Derby Foods because Burt Peterson is head of the account at McCann. Roger has fired Bert twice – first in the Season 3 premiere, and then again after the SCDP merger with CGC in Season 6 – so it’s understandable why there is some bad blood there.

– Betty says she’s thinking of enrolling at Fairfield for a masters degree in psychology. She spent much of Season 1 seeing a psychiatrist and even spent a few sessions with Sally’s child psychiatrist in Season 4. For what it’s worth, she got her undergrad degree in anthropology at Bryn Mawr, but presumably didn’t use it much since she went into modeling after college.

– Don was likely not thrilled with the idea of golfing with clients, as the country club life has never been one he has been comfortable in. In Season 2, he leaves Betty and the kids at a Memorial Day luncheon at a Westchester County club. In Season 3, he is disgusted by Roger and Jane’s Derby Day party. Jim Cutler taunted Don last year by calling Don “a football player in a suit,” but the series has never given much indication that Don is any type of athlete.

– In sports news, it’s clear this week that Don has kept Lane Pryce’s Mets pennant, as it is hanging in Don’s corner office. By skipping from July 1969 to April 1970, the series skipped over the Mets’ 1969 World Series title of the Orioles. Don also makes reference to the New York Jets, when Megan tells him the cost of the movers. In 1970, the Jets were preparing for their first season in the NFL, which had just merged with the AFL.

– The show gave so much screen time to art director Stan Rizzo that I thought they were setting him up to be fired or leave the agency, much like how they portrayed Ken Cosgrove last week. Stan is a favorite character, but his departure would pave the clearest path for the one original character who hasn’t been seen since his Season 3 dismissal: Sal Romano.

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Author: R. Byrnes

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

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