Monday, October 18, 2010

Mad Men: Anna’s Bequest

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.


Mad Woman said...

Loved your post and your insight. I knew that the ring was going to have some significance, but I didn't dream how much -- and that it would all play out last night. It was as if Anna was reaching to Don from the grave, giving him what he needed to move on.

I love your idea that Megan is a new and improved Betty. It is too early to tell, but from what we know about her, that sounds correct. We sure know Betty and have watched her descend from a hurt wife to a wicked mother and childish woman.

I'm curious to know what people think about Peggy's reaction to Don's news about Megan. Especially when Don said that Megan reminded him of Peggy.

Can't wait til next season.

Anonymous said...

This all makes sense. I couldn't figure out the linkage between the American Cancer Society pitch and the rest of the show but this all fits. I love your analysis. I agree with Mad Woman - we'd love to know what you think about how Peggy reacted to Don's news.

Ron Replogle said...

Since you asked:

Peggy's where she is today because she's not willing to stay in the role to which other people assign her. She wasn't content, for example, to be the secretary her mother and sister expected her to be. Peggy's constitutional restlessness was what brought Don to her hospital bed in the first season to make her his protege.

So it's in character for Peggy to chafe at being confined to the role of Don's protege. She has had enough professional success to want to be recognized as Don's professional and moral peer. (She wanted more recognition from Don for her contribution to the Clio-winning spot, for putting her work over her personal life, for stepping into Don's shoes to win an account when he was out drumming up new business and for securing the pantyhose account on her own.)

So hearing Don tell her that Megan reminded him of her--except, of course, for the fact that he has the hots for Megan--was about all Peggy could take. She still gives Don his due, but no longer idolizes him.

I expect Peggy and Don to butt heads pretty seriously next year, and for Peggy to take Don's place at the summit of the advertising industry when he rides off into the sunset at the series' end.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was interesting that in the pitch meeting, Don made a joke about the sentimentality of teenagers and their songs, then by the end of the episode he was proposing marriage while spouting sentimental nonsense about fate bring him and Megan together. The episode ends with the eternal anthem of young love, "I Got You Babe," sung by a young married couple who marriage later publicly crashed and burned.

Anonymous said...

Agreed with VictorM. Don did turn all mushy and sentimental when he proposed to Megan. It was kind of weird. In fact, I thought it was going to turn out to be a dream sequence -- but I wasn't sure whose dream -- Don's or Megan's. I also agree with RonRep that Peggy and Don will surely butt heads next year. I'm hoping Weiner & Co. get back to the business of advertising and have more 60s ad memories. ... "And the Beat Goes On ..."

Anonymous said...

A plaque above the entrance to Disneyland reads:


The ring is yesterday, Megan is tomorrow and the whole fantasy of the happily married family life is about to begin season.

Andrew said...

Before the season premiered, Jon Hamm made a comment that the season is all about how no one really changes, that they try but remain who they are.

I think of that when I try to puzzle out how a sane man would choose Megan over Faye. The visuals alone are a non-starter. But he's still determined to have that dream-house that he doesn't really want and isn't suited for, and Megan represents that. The Beat indeed goes on.

Anonymous said...

"Last night’s season finale was about the fight between Anna and Faye over Don’s soul."

That is the best one-sentence synopsis I have read. :-) Anna represented unconditional love, which is what Megan appears to be offering as well. Faye, as good as she was for Don, almost treated him as a project.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating post...I definitely saw that Don connected Megan with Anna somehow. Or it was Anna's spirit nudging him along to propose to this woman that he unexpectedly had fallen in love with.

Actually Don's choice of Megan over Faye is in keeping with 2 of the themes/motifs of season 4:
1) The conflict between what people want versus what is expected ot them (Don really wants Megan though it is expected that he would end up with Faye (she sunk a lot into the relationship and she said her life work in advertising involves helping people w/their conflicts & Don has serious conflicts!)).

2) Aeosop's Fable of the Sun & Wind. A pushy Faye (Wind) is unable to get Don to deal with the Dick/Don identity issues (Traveler & his coat) but a warm, nurturing Megan (Sun) is able to succeed in getting Don to deal with his issues (Travler taking off his coat).

Anonymous said...

I got referred here from reading the NYMag recap. Great recap and comments from all. I learned so much and keep wanting more...mad men style. All being said, not much mention of Cooper! As if he's been written off. Would like to seen him back.