NOTE: The first part of this post contains spoilers for the Mad Men Season 4 finale, so if you still need to watch it or, alternatively, don’t care about the show, please skip down to the bottom of the post with this week’s picks.
Before we get to this week’s picks, I had to throw down some Mad Men thoughts since my head is still spinning after that season finale. Putting aside the fact that Joan didn’t go through with the abortion of her baby with Roger and Betty’s Christine O’Donnell-esque firing of Carla, the stunner was obviously Don sudden marriage proposal to Megan after basically only spending a couple of days together and dumping Faye in the process. I initially had a visceral negative reaction to that development, not because it has anything to do with Don’s actual choice (which I’ll go into great detail in a moment), but it just didn’t seem to flow in a series that’s been built upon long character arcs before having dramatic payoffs. (See the interaction between Peggy and Joan after Don announces his engagement as the ultimate example of a scene that was years in the making.)
After thinking about it for awhile, though, the episode has grown on me and, ultimately, the sudden engagement really does fit into Don Draper’s (or Dick Whitman’s) character. There was a scene earlier this season where Don described his process to creating great ad campaigns – he bangs his head against the wall again and again until something suddenly clicks. His entire life has been based on decisions where he acts upon the proverbial light bulb going off in his head, whether it’s generating a slogan, buying the New York Times ad in last week’s episode or choosing to marry someone that seems to be perfect on the surface. In that sense, spending a few nights with his Maria Von Trapp clone secretary and then proposing is right in line with Don’s normal thought process.
One school of thought on Don’s choice of Megan over Faye that seems to be popular with Mad Men fans is that Don is both running from his past (yet again) and he can’t handle someone that’s his equal. The argument there is that Faye wasn’t going to let Don get away from confronting his Dick Whitman life head-on and her professional stature, if not intimidating, certainly would mean that she wouldn’t be a Stepford wife in the suburbs.
I actually have a very different view on this – it felt to me like Don is actually at peace with his Don/Dick identity issues for the first time (which in part made Faye’s role as quasi-therapist not as relevant anymore). Don hasn’t told Megan about his Dick Whitman past like he did with Faye, but at least in how everything was presented, I don’t think that (a) Don will necessarily hide that information from Megan and (b) Megan would care about it if/when she finds that out. Frankly, Don has spent this entire season confronting his past – what he needed to do was to move on.
Anna posthumously giving Don her engagement ring was effectively blessing him to move forward. Of course, I didn’t think he’d use that ring that quickly. Faye’s prediction from the second episode of the season that Don would be married within a year ended up being extremely dead-on, only the problem for her is that she won’t be the recipient. Now, it appears that the majority of Mad Men fans believed that Faye was the “right” woman for Don as a highly educated and professional woman that could dig deep into his tricked-out psyche. However, Faye was looking to tackle and fix Don’s Dick Whitman issues (with her comment at the beginning of the episode that he needed to get his head out of the sand with the past), where what Don was looking for was a way to move on as described above.
This gets us to Megan. Maybe it’s because I’ve turned into a sappy bowl of Jell-O after my first year of fatherhood, but I knew that Megan would end up with Don the moment that she picked up Sally off the office floor several episodes ago. It turned out that Faye was absolutely having an “audition” when she spent time with Sally and proved to be not only merely uncomfortable around kids, but so painfully and comically awful with them that she openly admitted it to him. Let’s face it – when your ex-wife is a prime candidate to go after your family with a Sharon Stone ice pick and your 10-year old daughter is seeing a childhood shrink largely because of it, not being good with kids is ultimately going to be a relationship deal-breaker no matter how much outsiders might think you need to be with a strongly independent and challenging partner. To me, that was a pretty simple choice and very understandable for Don – as a father of 15-month old twins, I honestly wouldn’t be able to go on with a Faye-type if I were in his shoes.
Faye’s shortcomings in that area were exacerbated by Megan’s easy-going French-speaking natural manner with children. The milkshake spilling scene was an instantly iconic moment of the series, where Don and the kids were shell shocked that Megan didn’t have a Betty-type explosion and calmly wiped everything up. It was as if though the Draper family was so conditioned to instant shrieking in response to any small mistake or indiscretion that they didn’t realize that you could actually approach a problem in a civilized manner. Don isn’t ever going to be a Father of the Year, but he ultimately cares about his kids greatly (and said so at several points this season, including to Faye in the workplace kitchen scene in the second episode), and I think the milkshake spilling moment was what sealed the deal with him and Megan.
Let’s also not forget that Don himself has never had a mother figure and his relationship with his father was short, abusive and tragic, so he has his own parental needs. Faye was fantastic at assessing Don’s issues – pegging his need to get married from the get-go and telling him that he “only likes the beginnings of things” in their break-up phone call – but there wasn’t ever any empathy from her, which is what he has never received in his entire his life (as shown in his broken childhood and marriage with Betty) with the exception of Anna.
Ken mentioned in this episode that he keeps his personal life separate from his professional life, alluding to what we call a “balanced” lifestyle today. Well, Megan is the personification of “balance” to Don – spectacular with children (unlike Betty), young and beautiful but with a self-recognized physical flaw with her teeth that humanizes her (also unlike Betty, whose standard, as noted at the end of this episode, will always be “perfection”), and educated enough to understand Don’s work even better than some of his peers (as only she and Peggy understood the New York Times ad was about “I dumped her/she didn’t dump me”) yet being deferential in a way that she wouldn’t upstage Don (unlike Faye). In Don’s mind, Megan = Anna + romance. At least that’s how Megan has been portrayed up to this point, which is part of the mystery. Based on what we know, Megan was the right choice for Don compared to Faye, but the catch is that there’s probably a whole lot we don’t know about Megan. As Roger hilariously asked after Don’s announcement, “Who the hell is that?!” The audience is asking the same thing and I’m sure that’s a topic that’s going to be explored deeply next season.
There were three positive signs about Don that left me feeling hopeful that this would all work out (even though happiness is a feeling that doesn’t last very long on this show). First, he answered Sally’s question about who was Dick in California about as honestly he could to two young kids on vacation to Disneyland. There are other times and places where Don could fully explain his Dick Whitman background without having his kids emotionally crushed every time that they saw Mickey Mouse for the rest of their lives. Second, Don immediately recanted his story to Megan that Anna’s ring was a family heirloom and explained that it was from a person very close to him. Third, it was very clear that Don was upfront with Megan about his relationship with Faye, as Megan was the one that prodded him to tell Faye about the engagement news and that it wouldn’t get any easier by waiting. Those were three instances where Don would’ve flat-out lied not too long ago, so this indicated that he has indeed grown as an adult over this past season. Can he keep it up or is he going to end up reverting back to the serial philanderer next year?
My gut feeling is that the show is probably going to move away from Don’s personal issues next season and focus much more on the women: Megan’s background and flaws (if there are any), Joan dealing with motherhood (with or without her doltish husband that’s in Vietnam), Peggy continuing to deal with a world that still rewards women getting the MRS degree more than concrete professional accomplishments, Sally adjusting to a new home and stepmother, and, probably most importantly, Betty confronting the prospect of another marriage going down in shambles and witnessing her kids grow way more attached to Megan than her.
Mad Men has such compelling character development that I could write a whole lot more words on just the Don/Megan/Faye dynamic (much less the others on the show), but let’s move onto this week’s picks before this turns into a 10,000 word book (with home teams in CAPS and odds from Bodog via Yahoo!):
- UCLA Bruins (+26) over OREGON – Oregon has to slow down, right? This could set up as a dangerous “look-ahead” game, as well, with the Ducks playing USC next week.
- ILLINOIS (-13.5) over Indiana – I’ll be taking the twins to their first football game on Homecoming Weekend in Champaign. The Illini really aren’t half bad. I can’t say the same about the Hoosiers.
- LOUISVILLE (-1) over Connecticut – Louisville should’ve covered last week at home against a better Cincinnati team. I think they’re winning outright on Saturday.
Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 1-2
Illini Games for the Season: 3-2
Overall Season: 7-13-1
- BEARS (-2.5) over Redskins - Ugh. This is going to be a fugly game. I do think the Bears are going to be able to move the ball against this Washington defense, so they should benefit from that in combination with the home field.
- FALCONS (-3) over Bengals – If I were assigning confidence points to these picks, this is the one I feel most strongly about. So, expect the Bengals to run away with a 30-point upset win.
- Giants (+3.5) over COWBOYS – I haven’t been very consistently right on many things this season, but one thing that I do feel comfortable about is always taking the points against Dallas. That team is truly terrible.
Frank the Tank’s NFL Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 2-1
Bears Games for the Season: 3-3
Overall Season: 9-9
Once again, feel free to use this post as an open thread for the weekend’s games and non-expansion college sports news. If you want to talk about conference realignment in general, please continue the discussion on the Through the Wire post. Have a great weekend!
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