The first time we saw Anna Draper, she was standing in the makeshift office of a small-time used car salesman, determined to find out why he was impersonating her husband. It would have been natural for someone in her place just to call in the cops on grounds that the guy pretending to be Don Draper probably had something to do with her husband’s disappearance. Anna couldn’t have known, or much cared about, what Dick Whitman was escaping from. And she couldn’t have been bowled over by the magnetism of the guy we’ve come to know as Don Draper because he didn’t yet exist. Anyone else in Anna’s place would have exposed this imposter for what he was.
Anna’s decision to let Dick keep being Don was an act of unfathomable generosity. This used car salesman didn’t have the wherewithal to buy her silence—the California house Don would eventually buy for her was a token of their friendship, not the cause of it. Yet Anna didn’t have the heart to stand in Dick’s way after she’d intuited how desperately he needed to become Don. She must have realized that continuing to be Dick would have sucked the life out of him.
You have to figure, however, that Anna was also looking out for herself. For her own inscrutable reasons, she’d realized that she too had a stake in Dick’s becoming Don. By the time she was dying of cancer, Anna had come to see Don’s life as a continuation of her own. That’s why she bequeathed him the ring that he would have given to her had he really been the original Don Draper. She wasn’t just reaffirming that Dick Whitman had her permission to keep being Don Draper, she was exhorting Don to get on with living the life they’d jointly envisioned by finding someone new to take Betty’s place.
Last night’s season finale was about the fight between Anna and Faye over Don’s soul. The dramatic center of Mad Men has always been the hubris of Don’s trying to live a life other than the one he was born into. The season brought him to a crossroads because the dissolution of his marriage and Sterling Cooper had him reckoning with what being a self-made man was costing him.
The prospect of an enduring relationship with Faye enabled Don to look at himself with some of her clinical detachment. In their last exchange before Don takes his kids (and Megan, their newly appointed chaperone) to California, Faye suggests that Don might be better off in the long run letting the world know that he used to be Dick Whitman. As they part, Don’s thinking that she may be right.
It takes Anna’s bequest to remind him of the allure of being his own man. That’s what Don’s marrying Megan is all about. She’s the new and improved Betty. Megan is gorgeous, self-possessed and a professor’s daughter who’s able to project a more authentic version of Betty’s Bryn Mawr sophistication—compare Megan’s Quebecois French to the academic Italian Betty was showing off in Rome last season. And Megan can’t help being a better mother to Don’s children than Betty ever aspired to be.
But best of all, like Betty before she found the shoebox locked in Don’s desk, Megan is blind to Don’s inauthenticity. When Don tries to remind her that she knows nothing about him, she pushes back in a way that shows she’s bought the Draper persona hook, line and sinker. Last night, for all her childish petulance, you couldn’t help feeling for an older and wiser Betty after she engineered a reunion with Don only to learn that he, and not she, is the one who traded a spouse in for a new improved model.
When Don tells Faye that he’s marrying someone else, Faye shows that she’s the antithesis of Megan by putting her finger on what makes Don tick: “you,” she tells him, “only like the beginning of things." Faye means that as an indictment of Don’s shallowness. Anna wanted Don to live a life in Tomorrowland, where everything is always just beginning.
The closest Don came to self-knowledge last night was when he was pitching an ad campaign against teenage smoking to the board of the American Cancer Society. He proposed a series of commercials in which teenagers are confronted with the fact that smoking has put their parents on their last legs. But, one matronly board member objects: "Teenagers hate their parents." That’s true, Don concedes, but when teenagers think of their parents, they’re really thinking about themselves. “They don’t want to die,” Don adds, “they just don't know it yet.” Faye wasn’t around to remind him that he could have been talking about himself.