The creators of AMC’s Mad Men sure know how to put on a show. In the first season finale, we found out Peggy was nine months pregnant and it had somehow escaped her notice until she went into labor. At the end of season two, Betty found out she was pregnant with lucky number three just when she had finally gotten the stones to leave Don, so she cheated on him with a complete stranger instead. And in the third season closer, Sterling Cooper is no more as Don Draper and his merry men steal away to form their own agency in a hotel room while Betty runs off to Vegas for a quickie divorce with baby and fiancé in tow. And as the fourth season came to a close Sunday night, we all knew something big was going to happen. But Don getting engaged to the secretary? Definitely didn’t see that one coming.
Of course, as I watched the encore episode immediately following the finale, I realized that all the signs had been there. At his meeting with the American Cancer Society, Don explained that his letter to the New York Times had been an impulse—he had done what he needed to do to move forward. This is what we call foreshadowing. He might as well have been describing the reason for his engagement.
Back at the office, Ken Cosgrove refuses to use his future father-in-law’s connections to help the agency get some business. He realizes that accounts will come and go, but he doesn’t want to risk what he has with his fiancée, whom he refers to as his life. Then Don scrunches up his face so you know he’s really thinking. Could it be? Is there something more important than work? It seems Ken has proposed a completely radical idea that requires some deep thought and introspection.
Later Don is talking with a man I can only presume to be his accountant—I’ve never seen him before, and probably never will again. The man encourages him to buy a home, asking him, “Don’t you want to go home some day and see a steak on the table?” Why yes, Mr. Accountant, sir, that sounds lovely. Don remembers what that can be like. It’s the reason he stayed married to Betty all those years. Never discount the appeal of stability and a home and some basic comforts. Never mind love.
During his revealing conversation with his accountant, Don receives a call from Betty telling him that she has fired Carla and he’ll have to find someone else to take care of the kids on the trip to California, or worse, watch after them himself—maybe even change a diaper! So Don invites his secretary to California to help out with the kids. Her name is Megan (did we know that already?) and apparently she speaks French (I guess she’s Canadian). I had a feeling that something would happen between the two, just as something has happened between them before, just as something has happened between Don and every halfway decent-looking woman he’s ever met, with the exception of Peggy. Of course, I just thought he was going to cheat on the gorgeous blonde back home with the exotic brunette from work à la Rachel Menken of season one. It wouldn’t have been the first time…or the second.
But apparently seeing Megan taking care of his kids is just too much for Don to handle. She’s better with them than Betty ever was, and Don likens her to Maria von Trapp. The last little push comes in the not-so-subtle hint from Anna, who has apparently left him her engagement ring (the one she got from the real Don Draper) and he is fortuitously receiving it just now, a full six episodes after Anna’s death.
Upon returning to the hotel where Megan is waiting at the pool, Don drops the kids with her and goes up to the room, despite appeals from his children to stay. In his room he broods and stares in typical Don Draper fashion, and then goes down to the pool to join his family. Rallying for the title of most surprising scene of the show, Don proceeds to actually play with his children, almost like a real dad.
That night he joins Megan in her room while the children sleep next door. The next day she proves herself able to handle a spilled milkshake. After that, it takes just one more night with her to seal the deal. The next morning Megan awakes to find Don waiting for her, eerily quiet and staring at nothing, as per usual, and he quickly gets to the point. “I feel like myself when I’m with you, but the way I always wanted to feel.” Wow, that’s deep. But wait, there’s more. Apparently he’s in love with her, and has been for a while (he could have fooled me). And if that wasn’t enough to make you spit out your vodka gimlet, he pulls out the ring. At this point I’m pretty sure I yelled at the TV.
Adding to his completely uncharacteristic performance, Don returns to work and immediately tells everyone of his engagement, calls Faye to tell her that they’re apparently not dating anymore, and even tells Betty, who responds in an equally uncharacteristic manner, without throwing a tantrum or resorting to childish rhetoric. She even says she’s happy for Don. At this point the episode is making me feel really uncomfortable. In the past, no matter what happened, we could always rely on Don being a playboy and Betty throwing a fit. But before I start to re-evaluate everything I thought I once knew, Don gives us a little glimmer of his old self. In the final scene of the show, Don is lying in bed with Megan—she’s asleep, and he’s wide-awake, staring off into the distance.
A lot of other stuff happened in last night’s episode—Peggy signed the agency’s first new client since Lucky Strike left, Betty’s marriage may be falling apart, and Joan is keeping Cooper’s baby and passing it off to her husband as his own—but that’s all really just filler, isn’t it? The real story is what is going on inside Don’s head. Faye’s mature approach to just about everything, coupled with the fact that she wants him to stop burying his head in the sand about his past, are clearly turn-offs for Don, and might explain why he was so ready to throw away the first honest relationship he ever had. And then when Ken Cosgrove refused to use his future wife’s family to advance his career, Don was probably reminded of the sacrifice he had been so willing to ask of Faye. Maybe Don wants what Ken has, and since he’s already messed up the relationship with Faye by being honest with her, why not just toss it and start afresh with someone else? How about the secretary just outside his door? With Faye he got to be himself, but with Megan, he gets to be the man he wants to be. We’ll see how long that lasts.
In the end, as surprising as the proposal was, I guess it all makes sense in a twisted Don Draper sort of way. And so I am left wondering about what Don said to Peggy when he told her about his engagement, the only thing in the episode that I really just can’t make sense of. In Don’s office, alone and standing only a foot away from each other, Don tells Peggy, with a huge grin on his face, that Megan reminds him of her, that Megan admires Peggy just as much as he does, that Megan has that same spark that he sees in Peggy. I’m sorry, is Don choosing Megan because she’s the available version of Peggy? It has been six weeks since the Don and Peggy episode, as I like to call it, when we all realized that Peggy was the most important woman in Don’s life. It was Peggy’s influence that helped Don start to make some seriously overdue changes. Is he hoping Megan will be just as good an influence on him, or is he just trying to find someone who reminds him of Peggy? A part of me thinks that he first fell for Megan a few episodes back when she told him how much respect she had for Peggy. They did sleep together right after that conversation.
So I guess now we’re left to wonder whether Don will actually marry Megan, whether his new wife will inspire him to be a better man or whether he’ll continue his streak of cheating on every woman he’s ever been with. We’ll continue to wonder about the true nature of Don’s feelings for Peggy, whether Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce will survive, what is going to happen with Joan’s baby and Betty’s marriage, and a whole bunch of other stuff. But there is one thing I know—that nine months from now, I’ll be watching the fifth season premiere.
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