"I always felt we met so both our lives could be better."
No matter how much of a loner Don Draper is in the boardroom, the statement above (and the woman who spoke it) just might explain why it is that, in the two seasons we've known Don, he's always seeking some sort of extra connection. Before fully immersing himself into Don Draper's life, Dick Whitman had a special partnership with the real Don's wife, Anna, and thought he had found something similar in Betty. But of course, he's jumped from woman to woman since then, looking for a partnership that does make both lives better. In this episode, Don reconnects with Anna (and the world), while Betty, Bert Cooper, Pete and Joan all make (or break) their own special partnerships.
It's unfair to call Don by that name, since, much like the previous episode, he was clearly behaving differently. And though he answers to Dick while with Anna in San Pedro, he's really not Dick Whitman either. Using the best parts of each of the men he has been, he becomes the "hot rod" version of himself, no doubt inspired by the neighborhood grease monkeys fixing up cars that remind Dick of his days pushing used automobiles. The brief flashback to those used-car days we saw earlier this season is where we picked up in tonight's episode, as Anna, the real Don Draper's wife, called Dick Whitman's bluff. Back in his apartment, Dick tried to plead his innocence at first: "It's a simple misunderstanding," he says. But Anna's "stop lying" (anyone else think of Betty when she revealed the affair to a backpedalling Don) eventually coerced a confession from Dick, confirming that her husband had died in combat and Dick Whitman had assumed his identity. While Dick doesn't take full responsibility (he makes it seem as though it was a battlefield mix-up rather than admitting he made the switcheroo himself), Dick's "I just had to get out of there," must have softened Anna enough to take Dick in and keep his secret.
We learn that for all intents and purposes, the two carried on as a married couple, right up until Don and his goofy schoolboy grin fell hard for Elizabeth Hofstadt. It's unclear how physical (if at all) the relationship was, but Anna and Dick were obviously very close, with Anna lamenting that a "new Mrs. Draper" would make this mid-'50s Christmas their last. (Of course, at this point, Don was already working in Manhattan, and must have been visiting for the holiday). "I need you to give me a divorce," Don says, earning a bit of chuckle from Anna who had become so comfortable in their situation she hadn't even thought of the legal matters. Though Dick feels he owed Anna for "this chance at a whole new life," Anna refuses the notion of Dick taking care of her forever. (She must have agreed once she needed a porch.) Perhaps her time spent with a man who wouldn't forget to mention her like her husband of 7 years did was enough for her.
Even so, Dick and Anna's present-day reunion was plenty warm and fuzzy, if complicated by the stoic silence that has become a Don Draper trademark. With a little coaching from Anna, Don/Dick starts to spill his guts, notably speaking about how he doesn't talk to Betty. "You love her. You don't have to tell her everything," Anna says. But perhaps it's not that he doesn't tell her, but that he can't. "I have been watching my life," he says. "I keep scratching at it trying to get into it. I can't." So what's Anna's answer? A tarot reading! As Dick fixes her wobbly chair (remember how Don couldn't be bothered to repair Betty's?) Anna tells Don that "every living thing is connected to [him]" and that "the only thing keeping you from being happy is the belief that you are alone." Finally, Anna adds, "You can change," to which, I believe, Don replies, "People don't change." For Don Draper, that's probably true. He hasn't changed, but rather has adapted or adopted a new life altogether. Just like the moving parts on that hot rod, he doesn't change when mixed and matched with a shinier, newer engine — he just performs better than he did alone.
Likewise, Betty also decides to stop dealing with her grief over Don alone. (Though she did a bang-up job of making sure her friend Sarah Beth's marriage was suffering as much as hers, that's not what I'm talking about.) Betty, who is still endorsing and depositing Don's checks, catches young Sally smoking in the bathroom. (And to think I was waiting all season for the young bartender to develop a drinking problem, though I guess the monkey-see, monkey-do point is made either way). When Betty sentences Sally to some solitary time in the closet, Peggy immediately attacks Betty's sore spot: daddy. "He left because you're stupid and mean," she says, adding, "Why won’t you let him come home?" Betty crumbles at this and decides to tell Sally the truth, but not before she buys her the riding boots she's been begging for all season. Now that Sally's on team Mommy, is Betty even more prepared to consider taking on single motherhood?
Since his drunken ramblings about adoption a couple episodes ago, it's clear that Pete has lost interest in becoming a parent altogether. When he learns that Trudy has made an appointment with Spence Chapin adoption agency, Pete loses it. "We are not adopting a child. That's final," Pete screams when he comes home. And in a child-like tantrum, he throws dinner out the window. But Pete also does some more growing up. When Trudy's father attempts to blackmail him into rethinking his position by pulling the Clearasil account, Pete stands firm. "I think you should pull Clearasil right now, Tom. I don't think you're going to get what you want." Stubborn? Maybe, but Pete at least showed some character in his business dealings that for the first time in, well, ever, I was proud of him. And even more so when he didn't retread the blackmail road with his knowledge of Don's L.A. disappearance. He simply confided in Peggy (who else?) about Don and the loss of the Clearasil account.
Just as Pete seems to be losing his "partner," Bert Cooper stands to lose his self-worth by entering into a partnership with Putnam, Powell, and Lowe. While Roger is pushing for the merger to support his "increase in overhead" (divorce from Mona and marriage to Jane), Cooper's sister is pushing her brother to consider it an opportunity to relax and enjoy his cattle ranch in Montana. (What a mystery Bert Cooper is.) Alice (brilliant name, Mr. Weiner) is also the only person who dares to walk into Cooper's office with shoes on, perhaps because it was her money that helped Bert through a rough time and bought her stake in the company. Despite fearing that he would become as "useful as the Queen of England," (isn't he already pretty irrelevant in this office?), Cooper calls a meeting of the partners to discuss the merger. With Don absent (and his 12 percent mathematically insignificant) the three other partners all vote "yea" to the merger. While Sterling is thrilled for the chance to put "diamonds on the doorknobs," the lingering shot of Cooper after selling off his life's work was, to quote Arthur Case from earlier in the season, "profoundly sad."
But nothing was more disturbing than Joan being raped on the floor of Don's office. After taking the initiative in the bedroom earlier, it was clear that her fiance had his share of issues with Joan's sexual past. "Where'd you pick that up?" he asked of her I'll-get-on-top approach, to which she replied, "You know there is no before." That just wasn't true when her fiance picked up the former sparks between Joan and Sterling during an office visit. As punishment, the good doctor took Joan into Don's office to "play boss" and forces himself upon her, degrading and humiliating her to presumably restore his manhood. Joan's blank stare as she was being violated was haunting, and the way she pieced herself together, both following and later when singing his praises to Peggy, was heartbreaking. Let's hope Joan sends him on his way soon.
Peggy, however, is the only character flying solo in this episode. She works late (even bumming a smoke from a desk on her way to becoming a real ad man), brings in her first account by herself and even negotiates to move into Freddy Rumsen's old office. Her pitch to Popsicle was pure Don Draper, making the product personal in order to sell it. Peggy also owes a bit of thanks to Father Gill — "The Catholic church knows how to sell things," Peggy says in a planning meeting. While she plays up the ritual of communion in her "Take it. Break it. Share it. Love it." campaign, she also borrowed her "familiar" mom from a stained-glass window from where I was sitting. After leaving the Xerox machine behind, Peggy, drinking from Freddy's left-behind bar, is even confident enough to tell a joke or two. When asked by Pete how she managed to snag the office, she says, "I'm sleeping with Don. It's really working out." Though she jests, she still respects Draper, hushing Pete's attempt at gossiping about it by saying, "Whatever Don does or doesn’t do, I'm sure it's with good reason."
What Don does do is close the show with a ritual of his own. Just like Peggy's allusion to communion and Anna's tarot cards about the resurrection and judgment day, Don wades into the ocean for the episode's strongest religious symbolism: a baptism, a washing away of the sins. In this moment, he connects with the world as Anna said during his reading, but more importantly, he's perhaps forgiving himself for his mistakes. Whether he plans to stick it out in California selling hot rods or heading back east to give it another shot with Betty, Dick/Don once again has a clean slate and maybe is even looking for a way to make the change he's thought impossible. (For Matt Roush's take on this episode, read his Dispatch.
A few other thoughts:
• I think Alice Cooper must have been the one who taught Roger Sterling the art of the one-liner when she babysat him. After they adjourn the meeting which agreed to the merger, Alice tells Roger that he has his "children to think of." "I just have the one," he replies, which is met with Alice's perfect, "Really!?" Ken Cosgrove and the returning Paul Kinsey come in second tonight. Cosgrove's "I'd get a new couch if I were you," referring to Peggy's inherited couch from pee-pants Rumsen, and Kinsey's "Why don't you just put on Draper's pants?" are too close to call.
• Speaking of Kinsey, he went all the way to Mississippi to get dumped? Ouch. In other race relations, we also saw Joan point out that her "keeper" of a fiance stitched up negro children in his spare time and Alice Cooper having a hard time speaking freely in front of the black waiter. Now that the show's been renewed for a third season
(and I hope more), I'm excited to see this world continue to head toward the big Civil Rights years.
• Don may be mathematically insignificant, but he has the most to lose, despite his half million dollar gain. If this deal goes through as planned, he will be answering to Duck Phillips, that is, if he ever decides to come back. He seemed pretty content to look for work in California, and Pete's foreshadowing ("He's done this kind of thing before. He might not come back") gives us plenty to chew on.
• We now know that Anna was also the recipient of Meditations in an Emergency, which she said reminded her of New York and made her worry about Don/Dick. As much as I want Don back in New York, I think we will see more of him out west next week, since the finale episode takes its name from the book of poetry.
• The only thing worse than Joan being raped physically is the emotional repercussions it seems to have brought on. Though she's still sharp with Peggy and the boys about Don's phone calls, she also paints a perfect portrait of her dream doctor to Peggy. Is she keeping up appearances or trying to convince herself that he is the keeper she's been waiting for? You be the judge, but I think Joan wants more than to be the housewife she constantly hinted at in Season 1.
• Got to love product placement don't you? You do when it's as clever as it is on this show. Joan and her fiance lie in bed (not) watching The Day the Earth Stood Still
. Star Jon Hamm is in the big-screen remake of the film coming out later this year. Conicidence?
• I read some interesting theories around the Web that Don had another kid out there. Since I was kind of expecting the mystery person he called to be "the lady from the flashback" who had some intimate knowledge of Don Draper, I didn’t really think about that. But when Anna opens the door and there's a kid playing "In the Hall of the Mountain King," I had to think twice before it was revealed that Anna was just a piano teacher. Love the "scary" music choice, though, right around Halloween.
• And of course, the night's most ominous scene could almost have been missed if you weren't paying attention. After agreeing to take Sally riding, Sally notices her mom is bleeding, requiring a change of pants. I'm no physician, but could Betty be pregnant with another little Draper, or even worse, be having a miscarriage or some other medical issue? Could that be what brings Don back home? What did you think of tonight's episode? What new questions do you have about Dick/Don? Are you proud of little Peggy stepping up her game even more? Are you hoping that maybe poor abandoned Chauncey has wandered uptown and can enjoy Pete's dinner? What are you hoping to see addressed in the finale? Share your thoughts and check back next week for the finale!