Monday, August 30, 2010

Donward Spiral

There must be more copy available to read about the previous evening's episode of Mad Men every Monday morning than the day after any other show in television history. Not just reviews like from the leader, Alan Sepinwall, or reviews as from the advertising industry Ad Age POV or smart semi-civilian writers on Open Salon, but actual "erudite" discussions on sites for The New York Times, Slate and even The Wall Street Journal. So if your water cooler conversation at work or comment exchange under your Facebook status update isn't enough, there's plenty to read...and read...and read. It could take more time than watching the episode itself. And the back-to-back AMC Encore Presentation.

So here's the little I have to add to the talk about last night's themes, the main one of which appeared to be people not getting the credit they deserve or, often, thinking they aren't -- Peggy for Don's Clio, then Peggy not taking it for Rizzo's storyboard of her idea, Don for the job applicant's hack line, a drunken Duck Dunn for whatever he thought he deserved from working with the Clio emcee way back when and, best of all, Roger wanting to get credit for "hiring guys like him." When, in fact, memory/flashbacks reveal that Roger didn't hire Don -- Don got Roger drunk and the next morning made Roger think his memory lapsed and that he had hired Don.

In fact, just as Dick Whitman promoted himself to Don Draper, so did Don Draper hire himself into Sterling Cooper. This puts the four seasons of Don neglecting to thank Roger or give him credit for hiring him into perspective -- it makes sense when you realize Roger had a lot less to do with Don's success than just being well-positioned and pliable with booze.

Which leads to the biggest theme I can find this season: alcoholism. Specifically, Don Draper's alcoholism. We've seen this plot reflected in Fred Rumsen who came back thanks to AA and in Duck Dunn who lost his marriage to alcoholism and can't seem to stay on the wagon, ultimately making a public fool of himself in front of his own industry, hanging on by his fingernails and slipping off the ledge to oblivion. In both cases, healthy or promising careers were shattered by this very 20th Century disease, and if you add Roger as a third reflecting subplot, you've got a heart attack awaiting Don as well.

But for the first time the special threat to Don was revealed: alcohol twice caused him to forget who he is; that is to say, the character he has worked so hard all along at playing. At the Life cereal pitch we saw Don Draper slip away as the forelock fell and the studied professional became the desperate-to-please Dick Whitman. We could see how much his manner and voice matched that of the young Dick Whitman, fur salesman, in the flashbacks. And to make the potential for jeopardy even greater, at the wake-up moment during his lost weekend, when the sophisticated brunette copywriter in his bed Friday night morphed into the tawdry blonde coffeeshop waitress with 36 hours of blackout in-between, waitress Doris referred to our man as "Dick," revealing that in losing himself inside the bottle he had lost track of his adopted identity.

Who knows who else might have heard Dick Whitman reveal his true identity during an alcoholic blackout period?

I knew Don was over the edge when we learned he's stopped eating his meals and starting drinking them, from several episodes of his not being hungry, not eating dinner, giving up on the perfectly cooked steak in front of him without a bite. And there can only be one place this goes, especially when two of his family members have already been in therapy.

Don doesn't get out of this condition by drying out on his own. He has to have a crack up. He has to end up in a sanitarium for a spell. The water cure. The DTs. The heebie-jeebies. Pink elephants in the air and creepy crawlies all over his body.

Nobody watches Mad Men to watch typical TV-style therapeutic recoveries. It's a show about people not getting what they want or getting what they want and finding it's a punishment or a trap. It's also always about some sort of Don triumph in the last episode of each season, even as another part of his life slips away, at the expense of his family.

After next week, we'll be over the halfway point in this season, episode seven of thirteen.

Don hasn't hit rock bottom yet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I see Don ending up in EST ~ 1972.