Mad Men recap: Don Draper begins the slow road back to redemption
Mad Men mastermind Matthew Weiner always takes his time. so it is no surprise that Sunday's episode, The Summer Man, featured our antihero Don Draper taking a good loooong while to climb out of the hole he's dug himself over the beginning of this season.
Along the way, we learned more about Don Draper/Dick Whitman that perhaps we ever knew before -- thanks to a controversial (among some fans, judging by Twitter) decision to include Draper's thoughts through voice over.
Here's what surprised me (even if we had been told this before):
That Draper/Whitman didn't graduate high school.
That Draper, who appears to be a master of control and discipline in his office, feels like he's never been able to control his emotions.
That the master of the 30-second soundbite doesn't feel comfortable writing long (I could give a few lessons, I know).
That he's drawn to women who surprise him, echo him and just might understand him.
In the way you might rip an old band aid off a wound that needs air, the death of Draper's first wife Anna seems to have shocked our listing hero into making better decisions. He's considering every drink he takes and refusing some; he's turning down sex with a woman he's desired for a while, because he wants more from her; he's putting himself in an uncomfortable situation to see his son, enduring the anger of his ex-wife's new husband to keep his children in his life.
My favorite scene from Sunday's show -- aside from the showcase moments for Christina Hendricks' underused office manager Joan Harris -- was the moment Draper took the young girl he was occasionally seeing to a restaurant that his -ex-wife Betty also visited with her new husband. in that moment, the audience and Don realized that the young girl was simply another version of Betty -- young, well-heeled, emotionally needy and totally unequipped to deal with him beyond his socially acceptable facade.
But the firm's office psychologist Dr. Faye Miller is another matter. She's having her own romantic troubles at the show's start -- clearly understands Draper in the way she initially put off his advances and surprises him as a professional woman who ably navigates her unorthodox role in Madison Avenue's clubby environs.
Small wonder he's taking his time with her, refusing to have a one night stand that goes nowhere. She's his last, best hope for a romantic partner who might truly understand him -- if he can cultivate some of the personal discipline he so artfully fakes in his work life.
The show spent just enough time with Joan to remind us what an enigma she is, vulnerable to a jerk of a husband and privately devastated by the vulgar disrespect of a freelance illustrator in the office, she lashes out at Peggy for firing the guy when he goes too far -- refusing to allow that canning a sexually harassing jerk on the creative team is kind of Peggy's job.
The struggle to find new, healthier roles is a constant on Mad Men. The open question is whether Draper can restrain his demons long enough to find a new one for himself.