Mad Men recap: Masks fall away just in time for Halloween
It feels as if history is bearing down on the characters of Mad Men like a freight train powered with nitroglycerin -- as the writers strip these fumbling posers bare, just before the greatest tragedy in American history is prepared to strike.
At the center of all these revelations, of course, is Don Draper -- forced to admit his true identity to the woman who should know him best. As he reveals that he used to be Dick Whitman -- the son of a whore who turned away his half-brother only to see him kill himself -- wife Betty's eyes reveal the question we're asking at home:
This is uncharted territory explored in a powerful episode dubbed "The Gypsy and The Hobo"; the unexpected crumbling of a facade Don Draper has maintained for a very long time. It was a sucker punch coming just as he was prepared to dive deeper into distraction than ever, preparing to take his new schoolteacher fling on a forbidden getaway while the wife is tussling with her bratty brother (how depressing was it to hear her family lawyer describe how divorce law is so tilted to the man, Betty could lose her kids by leaving Don?)
Other facades were falling as well. Roger Sterling, the irrepressible playboy and skirt chaser, revealed that the heiress to a dog food fortune broke his heart 20 years ago. And now, he's revealed to be truly committed to his new, younger wife -- countering a heartfelt plea from his former flame with the coldest lines I've ever heard from a TV character.
Former flame: "You were the one."
Roger S.: "You weren't."
Amazing to see Sterling, a character who was once so lost, find his emotional footing just as Draper is losing his. Jon Hamm remains one of Tv's most underrated actors as Don Draper, exuding superhuman cool one moment, and gut-churning fear the next.
Other great moments: When the dog food heiress announces her husband died of lung cancer at age 52, just as Draper lights up; when lovely Joan smacks her self-pitying husband in the back of the head with a vase, just as he describes (unknowingly) how her life has slid into a pile of shattered dreams (be honest; if you're following the show, you thought the husband would be doing the smacking); Don Draper finally grieving the death of his half-brother; when a friendly neighbor gives the Draper kids Halloween candy and asks Don the million-dollar question.
"Who are you supposed to be?"
And as viewers are two episodes from the season's end, our characters are weeks away from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
We all, characters and audience, sit poised on the cusp of a serious loss.