The seeds of Don Draper’s disconnection from the course of the rest of the world were planted way back in the first season in his Greenwich Village trysts with bohemian Midge Daniels (Rosemarie DeWitt). He liked some of her modern girl ways, but she revealed him (through our modern lens) to be a square operating at a completely different rhythm to the coming generation. Still, Don always had a coolness or an in-charge quality – a little like Sean Connery’s James Bond making fun of The Beatles in Goldfinger. Even as the world was changing right under his feet, it was still Don Draper’s world. Until last night. Don’s incredibly awkward return to Sterling Cooper & Partners is the first time he has truly seemed like a fossil from an entirely different epoch. Here he was an outsider on what used to be his own turf. The king had been dethroned, kicked out of his office and consigned to the bullpen while those who used to be in awe of him scrambled around trying to figure out how to get rid of him. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
Am I the only one who thought Neve Campbell was going to return the minute Don got on the plane to fly out to California to surprise Megan? Well, I was wrong, but that’s not to say the trip went well. After getting a call from Megan’s panicked agent, Don flew out to California to calm his wife who seemed to be losing her ability to deal with the constant rejection of an actor’s life. Things started fine with an apparently satisfactory roll in the sack, but as soon as Don started spouting career advice, Megan realized he was there not because he missed her, but because of her agent. Don is ultimately (finally) forced to admit he’s been on a leave of absence when the increasingly mistrustful Megan starts to grill him about how he’s never available when she calls the office. At first Megan is upset at the lies and deception assuming (knowing Don too well) there must be a “new girl” in the equation, but Don assures her, “There is no one else. I’ve been good. I haven’t even been drinking that much.” And then full scope of Don’s blunder hits home when Megan replies, “So with a clear head… you got up every day and decided that you didn’t want to be with me.”
Don admits his mistake and tries to explain his way of thinking on the matter, but it’s pretty clear this is the final insult for Megan and the Don/Megan experiment (which seemed like a horrible idea from the beginning but has born a lot of interesting fruit as far as the show and Don’s journey are concerned) is finally over forever. Maybe. My track record at anticipating events on this show has not been spectacular, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario at this point where Don and Megan reconcile.
So, Don returns to New York (still no Neve Campbell), he agrees to meet up with a couple of head hunters from another agency, they make him an offer and seem to orchestrate a tryst for him with a beautiful blonde. Instead of taking the bait, Don instead goes to visit Roger Sterling who surprisingly tells him to come back to work at Sterling Cooper. The next morning, the awkwardness begins.
It’s clear early on that everyone is surprised to see Don back at the office. Roger is nowhere to be found so Don has to cool it with his former creative team while everyone freaks out behind his back. Even more than the Rolling Stones episode back in Season 5, Don seems truly and completely out of his element. He’s got the same hair style and suit he’s always had (though the suit is brown instead of the usual charcoal) while the rest of the office is looser, more colorful and scruffier. They’re absorbing the titanic cultural shifts the 60s brought to society while Don has essentially remained stagnant. More awkward still, no one seems to want him back. Peggy is still obviously pissed off at him, but even Joan is cold. Both women clearly hold him responsible for some of the terrible things that have befallen them in the last couple of seasons.
What’s striking about all this is that the previous episode left me feeling like Don was going to get his shit together finally. Even after his “Carousel” moment in Season 1 replayed as the Hershey’s debacle in Season 6, it felt like Don would bounce back. Now I’m not so sure. The episode ends with the partners, having hastily convened to decide what to do about Don, offering him his job back with a series of restrictive stipulations including no solo contact with clients and no drinking. With a look of – what is it? Hurt? Disappointment? Resignation? – Don agrees to their demands. Is he really going to accept this humiliation or is he lying in wait to make some so far unforeseen maneuver that will restore him to his former glory? I don’t know, but at this point, I’m thinking not.
The only other sort of surprise this episode was the return of Betty whom it seems we barely saw last season (she turned up in seven episodes from Season 6 but only four the season before) and had only appeared in the opening credits for this season’s first two episodes. She still feels a little bit like an appendage to the show rather than really a part of it. Once people slip out of Don’s orbit, the show seems to lose interest in them. This time around she accompanied Bobby on a field trip, was shocked to see the field trip guide not wearing a bra and then lashed out at her son for carelessly trading away her lunch to another student. In bed later with her husband Whatsisname, she laments that the children don’t love her. So, pretty much nothing has changed for Betty. She never quite bought into being a mom and Don never really helped her out in that regard. Betty started out the show as one of a trifecta of interesting women, but unlike Peggy and Joan, she hasn’t really seemed to evolve. In that regard I guess, she’s not unlike her ex-husband