Mad Men 3.10: “The Color Blue” Don Draper, you’re a huge jerk but I still love you (kinda).

I’m a big fan of small boxes filled with secrets.

My supernatural thriller currently making the rounds features a locked strongbox that just may hold the key to a hellgate.

I can’t wait to see Richard Kelly’s film The Box, (based on a short story by Richard Matheson) due out soon. You press the button, a stranger dies and you get paid a million dollars. Sounds like tons of fun to me.

I love that part in The Color Of Money when the guy asks Vincent (Tom Cruise) what he has in the case and Vincent says: “Doom.”

Then there’s the “box o’ Gwyneth’s head” in Seven. (“What’s in the box?  What’s in the booooxx?”) That’s a nice one.

The briefcase in Pulp Fiction. The list goes on.

If there’s something big (dramatically speaking) and it’s in a box, I can’t wait until it’s opened.

In Mad Men we have Don Draper’s box.  Or is it Dick Whitman’s box?

Much of the contents have already been discovered and used against him by Pete Campbell, an incident that initially seemed to blow over but led to one of the biggest scares of Don’s life, being forced to sign a contract with Sterling-Cooper.  But no one knew the whole truth, with the exception of Don Draper’s former wife out in Long Beach, California. A woman so loving that she was willing to forgive the man who stole her dead husband’s identity and nurture him into a more healthy, successful life. One might say she was “pure.” Keep that in mind.

And so, a HUGE thing happened in this episode that has been threatening to happen since the first few episodes.

keys

Betty found the box.

box

And she opened it.

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The cash, Dick Whitman’s birth certificate, dog tags, family photos…even Don Draper’s divorce decree.

divorce

Holy shit.

Does Betty fully understand Don’s history; the depth of his deception?  Does it even matter at this point?  Perhaps all that matters is that he is still, and will always be, a liar.  We won’t know until next week.  Unless the writers TORTURE us by not having her confront him. Oh, the heartless bastards! They better not even consider it.

(A sidenote: if it happens, the epochal Betty-Dick Whitman confrontation, that is, then I ask them not to have Kater Gordon write it. For those who haven’t been following Kater Gordongate, she’s the assistant that rose quickly to become a staff writer, won an Emmy (with co-writer Matthew Weiner) and has now reportedly left the show, probably because she asked for a bump in salary and they didn’t want to pay her, but some speculate it’s because of a personal relationship with Weiner.  No one knows, at least not yet. But we do know that she wrote this week’s episode, which could have benefited from some more inspired writing in the Paul Kinsey and Danny Farrell subplots, IMHO, and I ripped her a new one for her on-the-nose-writing-fest in Mad Men 3.5:”The Fog.”)

So it will be interesting to see what happens to Don in the final three episodes of this season.  Can there really only be three left?  Can’t they make a couple, three, five more just for me?! (Again…heartless bastards be they in ye olde writer’s room.)

Anyway, back to Don and his tortured psyche, a subject that’s been much on my mind for weeks now.  I didn’t file a report last week for “Wee Small Hours,” in which he not only forces himself on Suzanne Farrell but brutally fires Sal for not giving into the sexual advances of a client, the so-evil-you-want-to-kick-him-repeatedly-in-the-balls Lee Garner, Jr.

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Don even went so far as to refer to Sal as “you people.”

Don has become a massive jerk. Not that he was a saint before, but he’s speeding towards irredeemable.

And the show was never breezy fare, but it is getting REALLY dark. (At least it seems that way, being in the thick of it, waiting on the next broadcast airing each Sunday, as opposed to watching on DVD.)

But we can’t say they didn’t warn us with some of those lovely Mad Men foreshadowing clues…

  • Don’s had dark circles under his eyes all season.
  • Early on, Peggy told the kid in the bar “My boss is a jerk.”
  • The wedding invitation showed us that it’s to be held on the day after the Kennedy assassination.
  • Anything else?  Oh, yeah, a British dude got his foot cut off by a John Deere lawnmower. (And Lois is still working there!  Which, okay, is pretty funny.)

And now, to go along with the shitstorm to come over the contents of the box, Don seems to have got himself into a serious, emotional relationship with everyone’s favorite “kuckoo time-bomb teacher” Suzanne Farrell (you know there’s a bottle of sleeping pills just waiting in her medicine cabinet).

How the hell could Don let himself get in so deep with a mistress yet again?!

My psycho-analysis of big jerk Don is that he’s on a constant quest to understand and explain purity of spirit and the sense of hope, two traits that he lacks. Due to his own father issues and broken sense of self-worth, he sees himself as permanently damaged; he longs to go back to a place of purity and lack of blame that he knows may never have been there in the first place.  This was the theme of his Kodak pitch in “The Wheel,” the first season ender.  And this season opened on him trying to make his marriage and family life work while the specter of his father haunted his every move.

So Don continues on his quest to find purity…but the only problem is that he looks for it in the form of women…and his response is to go about  f*&ing/destroying it.

Perhaps the show should write in the psychiatrist who coined the phrase “dysfunctional.”

Look at his relationships with women:

  • Betty is what society deems pure.
  • Midge the Greenwich village beat girl was a free spirit, a woman with no interest in commitment.
  • Rachel Menken was the ambitious, successful, good woman.
  • Bobbie Barrett was the ambitious, successful, heartless woman.
  • Suzanne Farrell is the dreamer, the idealist. She believes she can change the world one child at a time.

Don meets these women and he must HAVE them, not just for his libido or escapism but a need to decipher what makes them who they are. In the pilot, he told Rachel Menken that love was merely a creation by ad men like him and he lived like there was no tomorrow because…there isn’t. She saw through the facade and sensed his vulnerability and a connection of spirit that was rooted in a mutual feeling of displacement, being an other surrounded by sames. This initially scared Don but eventually he tried to get her to run away with him; now, he just runs alone, like with his trip to Palm Springs in Season Two’s “The Jetset” or his drive upstate this season where he almost gets killed by a couple of teenage grifters.

And it’s starting to wear on me, to be honest. I find that I want him to re-invent himself so that we can start a new chapter in the man’s life, one where he doesn’t need to constantly run from threats or treat women like batting practice. I think I want him, and us, to get somewhere. And the affairs just aren’t moving it all forward.

Look at how he refers to these women with phrasings like “someone like you,” or “people like yourself.”  They are not only different, but they are the opposite of him, and he must know WHY.  In finding this out, he just may decipher why he cannot be pure. Why he had to come from a mother who was a whore and a father who was an abusive drunk and why he cannot commit to anything but an increasingly unstable veneer of stability.

The only woman he seems to have had a remotely pure relationship with, and definitely an honest one, is his “ex-wife” Anna in Long Beach, California, the only person who knows all his secrets, the best friend and mother he never had. Again, a woman so pure she accepted the man that stole her dead husband’s identity, helped him grow up and allowed him to leave the nest with no baggage. Don is trying in some ways to reclaim that relationship, when the future finally seemed bright, before he got in over his head with a marriage and children.

So Don keeps digging himself deeper. When will he learn?

Or, more  importantly, when will we grow tired of it?

How many times can we see him run from an identity crisis and wallow in destructive behavior?

In each meeting with his subordinates in the office he becomes increasingly short-fused and abusive. Look how they’ve framed him in this shot.

don_pitchmeet

Like a weary dictator.

Peggy finally peeped a rebuttal this week when she muttered “Don’t yell at him” to Don, in defense of Paul Kinsey.  This was one of the finest moments of the show, for it subverted our expectations that she might seize the opportunity to make Paul look bad. Instead, she defends him like a big sister.  Because if Kinsey is anything, he’s a petulant little boy who just wants you to join him in celebrating his poetry, and try as she might, Peggy is just not a killer.  She’s ambitious, but she will not step on someone else to get ahead.  She can’t.

Don doesn’t have this problem.  In fact, I can’t help but wonder if Don will finally take out Roger Sterling once and for all, as was presaged in season one when he treated Roger to lunch and got him stuffed up real good with clam sauce and martinis so he would embarrass himself in front of clients (which he most certainly did by unleashing a mega-puke on the office carpet).

Will Don have a brilliant explanation for the box, thus buying him more time with Betty? Will he go on the run? Will he leave Sterling Cooper in disgrace or maybe push out Roger and become the new president of the company when it gets sold to the new buyer?

The theme of this episode was reclaiming the past, or the inability to do so. Bert Cooper can’t handle another funeral. Betty can’t retrieve that first kiss with Henry. Paul can’t remember that brilliant idea. Suzanne’s brother Danny will never outrun his branding as an epileptic freak.

And Don can’t lock that box back in his desk drawer.

Whatever the outcome, no one, not even advertising dream makers, can reclaim the past.

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-Dan Calvisi
Dan Scriptomatic Cinematic Telematic: 3D!

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