Mad Men – New Business
Last week’s Mad Men episode was full of symbolism and showed Don Draper letting himself fall apart a bit, accepting his flaws and embracing his demons. This week we saw a Don Draper who is trying to get his life together and make a new start. In an episode titled “New Business,” there is a good deal of both old and new business.
The two main storylines in this week’s episode focused on his relationship with two women, Diana and Megan. Was this the last we’ll see of these two? The episode ended in a way that leaves us thinking it may be, but it’s Mad Men, where partners do LSD and conservative Catholic girls smoke marijuana and go to strip clubs. Who knows what will happen?
Before we see either of these two women, we see Betty. Don is in her home looking quite comfortable making milkshakes for the children. Betty and Henry enter the scene, Betty first. She and Don have a conversation in which she gives us the first new business of the episode – she is going back to school to get a Master’s degree in psychology. Both laugh in light of her past experience with psychiatrists and his skepticism of the field, and he wittily replies, “Should be fascinating for all involved.”
Both Don and Betty, as well as their two sons and Henry, seem at ease in this scene, seeming to indicate this is now old business, business everyone seems to have adjusted to and settled into. There is one family member who is absent from this scene, however, another challenging woman in Don’s life, his daughter, Sally. She has been absent from both episodes in this final season. It will be interesting to see where the two of them land. As the scene ends and Don leaves, he turns and looks at the happy family they have become. There is regret in his face as he looks back at what he had and lost.
Through most of “New Business,” Don and Megan avoid each other. When asked about her, he reminds multiple people she isn’t his wife anymore, although he seems to have trouble letting it go at times. Right after the scene with Betty, Megan calls Don and when he answers the phone she is obviously surprised and says she expected to get the service. She wanted to communicate, but not directly with him. She says she needs $500 and he argues with her about it, telling her his finances are a mess because of a problem with McCann. Later in the episode he casually writes her a check for a million dollars (after she calls him “an aging, sloppy, selfish liar”) saying he doesn’t want to fight anymore and wants her to have the life she deserves. It seems there was no financial mess, just unwillingness to move things along with the divorce and a desire to keep some kind of connection with Megan, even if just financial.
The other woman this episode spent a lot of time on is Diana, the waitress Don met at the diner in the previous episode. There is no excitement in this relationship. It is completely different from any of his past relationships, except that she’s a brunette, like every woman he has cared about since divorcing the blond Betty. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe it’s meant to show the contrast between the promiscuous Don Draper we saw all the way up to last week’s episode, and the man he is trying to become, the old vs the new again.
Diana is a woman of mystery and contradiction. She shows little emotion and has since the first time Don met her. He thought he knew her and was so convinced of it that he returned a couple of times. Then he was still so convinced of it that he got someone to find out where she was working after she left the diner. (“Are you a private detective?” Diana asks him. “You look like a private detective.” A play on words? Private detectives are often called Dicks, and Don’s real name is Dick Whitman.) Maybe it’s her sadness he finds so familiar, not her specifically. In many ways, she is the female version of him. Her mysterious past includes a tragic family life, part of which was lived in a ranch with a two car garage and a living room where she bought Avon products, much like the house Don lived in with Betty. She reaches out to him sexually and seems now and then to want to connect, sharing pieces of her history with him and telling him he makes her nervous, gives her a twinge in her chest, and makes her forget some of her tragedy. But then she becomes afraid or ashamed of her past and shuts down again.
Perhaps he was attracted to the chance to be for her the person he wants in his life, someone who wants to make a new start, who accepts his past and his flaws, but doesn’t ask many questions. It’s this quality he learns they do not share. He wants to leave the past behind. He doesn’t want to feel guilty or hurt. He wants to move on to new business. But Diana is clinging to old business. With Don, she has a chance at a new start and she feels herself falling for him. She tells him that when she’s with him she forgets her daughter and her pain and that she never wants to do that. She wants to experience the pain. Don doesn’t.
In the scene with the two of them in Diana’s apartment that is the dump Don tells her she thinks she deserves, it’s this difference between them that ends the relationship. On his way out her door he leaves a guidebook to New York City that he brought her as a gift so she can begin getting to know the city he loves and that she told him she has not explored. He wants her to have new experiences. His leaving the guidebook is an expression of that desire.
The story of Roger and Marie Calvet, Megan’s mother, also progresses in this episode. They sleep together in Don and Megan’s apartment after the movers have emptied it and while Megan is at lunch. (“You already emptied it out,” Roger says to Marie. “You want to defile it too?”) When Megan returns to find Roger getting dressed, he tells her it wasn’t his idea, which is the truth. Megan and Marie both storm out of the room, leaving Roger once again abandoned by two angry women.
When Megan sees her sister later, her sister is in tears because their mother has returned home early and is going to leave their father. “She’s been unhappy for a very long time. At least she’s doing something about it,” Megan says, a statement that is is not only relevant to Marie’s relationship with her husband but is also a comment on both Don and Megan, both very unhappy for a long time, both in a miserable marriage for a long time, both dragging out a difficult divorce. It’s also a statement that applies to many years of Don’s life, very unhappy but not doing anything about it because he didn’t know what to do. Trying and failing over and over, repeating the same mistakes over and over.
Pete Campbell drives he and Don to a golf meeting in one scene of “New Business,” and he makes a statement that encapsulates the entire episode. They are talking about women, marriage, and divorce and he says, “You think you’re going to begin your life over and do it right. But what if you never get past the beginning again?” Don is good at the beginning of relationships, when it’s new and exciting. He’s not so good in the long haul. Maybe he is trying to change that. Maybe he was attracted to Diana for the very fact that it wasn’t the excitement and the rush he felt with so many women before. Maybe he felt a deeper connection and hoped that deeper connection would be what held them together, but it didn’t work out that way. Ever the conflicted and complex man, how will things work out for Don Draper when the Mad Men era comes to an end? Will he get past the beginning again? We shall see.
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