Monday, August 9, 2010

Last Night’s Mad Men

The second Don Draper sets foot in California he goes soft around the edges. Last night we saw him driving in a convertible, the wind blow-drying the slicked-back hair that makes him look like a shark in New York. By the time he steps out of the car at Anna’s house—the widow of the man whose identity he assumed in Korea and the only person he now knows who knew him before he’d perfected the Draper persona—he’s wearing the expression of a golden retriever puppy. Don Draper is gone and Dick Whitman has taken his place.

Until now we’ve seen Dick only as he appears in the tattered photographs locked away in Don’s desk and in his self-dramatizing imagination. It’s only in the presence of Anna, his only friend, that Dick appears in the flesh. Last night, he revealed himself as a guy who wears trite emotions on his sleeve.  I don't know about you, but I was laughing out loud when he told Anna how Betty had broken his heart by not accepting him for who he really is.

Dick and Don aren’t entirely different men. Dick has enough of the Draper libido, for example, not to resist coming on inappropriately to his twenty-year-old niece. But we’ve just seen Don getting carried away by taking advantage of his secretary after a Christmas party before putting her brutally in her place when he gets back to work. Dick surrenders to the same impulse with his niece like Pat Boone stealing a kiss at the county fair. Dick doesn't have Don's luck with women; all he gets for his trouble with his niece is the coldest of cold showers when she tells him that Anna is dying, unknowingly, of cancer.

I suspect that Dick Whitman will expire along with Anna because there’s no place for him outside of her friendship. Don Draper, on the other hand, has always been constitutionally friendless. Roger looked like a friend for a while during season one, but Don showed that the appearance was deceptive by wielding oysters as a weapon of revenge. Betty was a high-maintenance stage prop. Peggy Olson and Don share a special bond because she’s his protégé not just in creative advertising but in self-creation—remember the scene in the hospital after her pregnancy. But they know each other well enough to understand that the other's personality is too artificial to befriend.

That’s what made Don’s night on the town with Lane after he got back to New York so shocking. It makes a certain amount of sense as an alliance of convenience. Their failed marriages give them something to commiserate over and reason enough to seek consolation from a couple of hookers. Yet the scene at the steak house made it look like they were striking up a genuine friendship—you don’t turn a slab of prime beef into a “Texas belt buckle” in a crowded restaurant in the company of anyone but a good friend.

Was that just the old Don Draper in a moment of weakness, or a new Draper who has inherited something from the late Dick Whitman?

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