Mad Men recap: Don Draper's long, strange trip
Of all the strange trips we saw Mad Men characters take in Sunday's episode, the most bizarre was reserved for our hero Don Draper -- and considering one of the other characters dropped acid for the first time, that's saying a lot.
Producer Matt Weiner and his writers took the audience on trip of sorts as well, playing with time as the stories of several characters jumped off from the same, fateful moment Draper decided to take his young wife Megan to Howard Johnson's for a workday getaway.
While it is interesting to see how much different their relationship is compared to Draper's first marriage, it also feels odd to see a show with four seasons of prior history suddenly spend so much time on a character we met for an instant over a year and half ago.
Still, it is obvious Megan is no Betty Draper. While first wife Betty tolerated and in some ways needed Don to be his controlling, decisive self, the younger, more independent Megan doesn't handle her husband's last-minute decision to pull her off an important account meeting for a trip to a family restaurant she's never patronized.
You can sense how Weiner relishes putting these characters in even more intimate positions, making us uncomfortable even while showing us new sides to characters we've spent years dissecting. When their visit to the Howard Johnson's in upstate New York blows up after Megan pushes back against Don's insistence she eat their crappy food and pretend to like orange sherbet, she tells him to call his mother.
Longtime fans know that Draper's mother was a 22-year-old prostitute who died giving birth to him, something his stepmother never let him forget and an enduring wound the show seems to unearth at the oddest times. It seems to be the source of the deep hole of insecurity that Draper fills with his false identity and brash manner; Megan pulling that card in a fight was the psychological equivalent of kicking him in the naughty bits.
So Don drives away from the restaurant, feels remorse, goes back to find she's gone and waits for many hours before heading back to their home and having a borderline violent confrontation with her. There's lots of ways to defend this scene -- many couples have hidden lives of extreme emotion, Don's troubled upbringing leads him to abusive behavior when feelings run high, he is acting differently because he loves this woman in a way he never did with Betty.
But this still feels like he's trying a little too hard to show us new sides of Don, a guy we've already gotten to know pretty intimately these past few years. And it also feels like an odd attempt to replace Betty with Megan for the audience -- showing us a wife more in tune with modern sensibilities as an avatar for our modern sensibilities.
Peggy continues her quest to become the new Don, pleasuring a stranger in a movie theater and trying to bully a client into accepting an ad campaign. But times haven't changed quite that much, leaving our Betty still stuck; a liberated woman still pushing to break out of her times.
Roger can only face his life's reality by doing LSD. Kind of amazing that, after dropping acid with his wife's therapist and her high-minded friends, that Roger is the one who keeps his wits about him best.
But most of this feels like window dressing around Don's journey; a tale of a damaged man trying to learn how to love a modern woman without losing his high-powered life.
My money's on the lifestyle.