This week on Mad Men
, Don Draper finally returns to SD&P, but it's certainly not in a blaze of glory. In fact, it's more in a blaze of awkward glances and fake smiles. To say his return does not go well is really the definition of an understatement.
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The fantasy of Don Draper striding into the office and taking back the reigns hits the wall of reality, where almost no one is actually happy to see him back. The cool and confident Don of old is gone now, replaced by a nervous man standing awkwardly in his former castle, fixated on his watch. It's a jarring change from the Don we're used to seeing, at least professionally.
Strangely enough, the confident charmer who could sell anything has been replaced with an almost Bad News Bears-level underdog. If Don Draper wants to get back on top after his Hershey's meltdown and forced sabbatical, he's going to need to claw his way back up.
Of course, Don is the master of reinvention. If there's anyone who could turn a disaster into an opportunity, it's Don. But does he have the drive and determination left to make the climb? Or is he too tired and beaten down to fight his way back? I guess we'll have to wait and see, but I would never count Don out.
The episode does a very funny thing, which is to make Don intensely root-able again just by cutting away his defenses and making him the underdog. The audience has seen so many bad, broken sides to Don that it's become increasingly hard to cheer him on. Professionally, however, Don has almost always been hard to beat. It's an interesting dynamic to see him still as proverbially out in the cold as he was in the premiere, even though he's back in the door at SC&P.
A Surprising Truth During a Surprise Visit
While Don is still annoying the increasingly busy Dawn, he takes the time to return a call from Megan's agent. It turns out Megan is unraveling a bit from the pressures of Hollywood, and is making herself look desperate in the process. So Don boards a mid-week flight to California in order to spend some time with Megan.
Once there, a fight brews between the two when Megan realizes Don is there on an errand from her agent. The subplot brings up shades of Don's collusion with Betty's therapist back in the early seasons, so it's probably not an accident this is the episode Betty makes her season 7 debut.
In the midst of the fight, Don reveals what really happened with SD&P when Megan accuses him of having an affair. Megan is even more incensed when she realizes how long he lied to her and, worse still, that he had no real reason for not staying with her out in California.
She kicks him out of her house and sends him packing to New York, telling him the relationship is over. He calls later to tell her he got his job back, but it seems like it's too little, too late. The Megan and Don relationship has been heading for a cliff for a long time, and it looks like it's finally careened over. It's possible Don will be able to convince Megan to give him another chance, but it seems unlikely.
Don's Not-So-Triumphant Return
The conversation with Megan finally motivates Don to start taking meetings with other ad agencies, leading to a conversation with Roger inviting Don to return to work. The one problem, of course, is that Roger Stirling is all but obsolete around SD&P.
To say Roger is mentally checked out would be a kindness; he barely matters at the agency anymore. Even his secretary knows not to expect Roger to pop up around the office at a reasonable time.
Of course, Don doesn't know this, and so when he walks into the door he expects to be welcomed or, at the very least, expected. Instead, as he gapes at the many changes in the office (Dawn has her own office! Joan is an accounts woman now!), the surprised staff gapes back at him.
No one is sure what to do with the fact that Don is back roaming the halls. "What's he doing here?" asks Peggy, and Stan and pretty much everyone. Lou Avery is enraged, citing his two year contract, while Jim tries to placate him.
Don used to rule the office, he used to be feared and respected. Now he sits awkwardly in the creative room while Ginsburg tries to drum up some work to keep him occupied and everyone looks at him with a mixture of embarrassment and pity. Don hasn't returned as a conquering hero or a redeemed sinner, he returned to find the agency moved on without him and hasn't missed him much at all.
Ironically, the one who's missed him the most and grew the most under his professional leadership is also the harshest of his critics when he returns. Peggy is not happy to see Don walking the halls of SD&P again, even though she hasn't been doing well at all under the thumb of play-it-safe Lou Avery.
In fact, Avery didn't even submit her Rosemary's Baby ad for a Clio award, a huge snub in a sea of snubs, since Avery only submitted work he could directly take credit for under his tenure. It's clear Peggy is never going to make any headway under Lou, who sees creative vision as a waste of billable hours. Peggy craves the kind of creativity and leadership she had under Don, and yet Don was a personal disaster who, at least in her mind, ruined her relationship with Ted.
"Can't say that we missed you," Peggy snaps at Don, yet clearly she's missed having someone with actual vision at the creative helm. We're only granted the one brief scene of Peggy and Don's interacting, but now that he's back at the agency, hopefully we'll see a lot more. The relationship between those two characters has always been so rich and satisfying to watch, thanks in no small part to the talent of Jon Hamm and Elizabeth Moss.
The partners are also in an uproar about Don's appearance, and a meeting is called as soon as Roger finally shambles into the office to see the hell he's wrought. Practically all of the partners are in favor of giving Don the heave-ho, with Roger as his lone defender. The two leading the termination charge most heavily are Joan and Jim Culter.
Joan in particular has probably benefited quite a bit from the powerful vacuum Don's departure has generally created and she's always been in favor of order over chaos. Don Draper, unfortunately, tends to bring quite a bit of chaos in his wake. Jim, meanwhile, wants to get rid of Don (and Harry) and use the money to update the agency's technology instead of pandering to its creatives.
Roger, seemingly waking up a bit, fights quite passionately for his old pal Don and makes a few solid points. Firstly, Don is a partner and to get rid of him would require them to buy out his contract, which would set the company back more than they could afford. More importantly, getting rid of Don would also invalidate his non-compete clause. That means SD&P would be letting Don Draper loose in the advertising world to pit his campaigns against theirs.
Although Don might be a personal disaster area, professionally there's still little question that he's just about as good as it comes. The show has taken quite a few pains to show Don hasn't lost his cutting edge, starting with the Freddy Rumsen pitch which started the season. Even without knowing they've been unknowingly fencing Don's work through freelancers, however, the partners know Don in the hands of the enemy is more dangerous than Don blowing up again in the office.
Yet Don is still a live grenade, and the partners want to ensure he won't explode again and take SD&P with him. Therefore, the new contract he needs to sign to come back involves quite a few stipulations: stick to the script with clients, no flashbacks to your ill spent youth, never tie a client's product to prostitution and no drinking in the office. Oh, also Don will have to report to Lou.
"Okay," Don says. Not exactly a smashing victory, but Don is back and life is about to get much more complicated for poor Lou.
Don't Take Betty's Sandwich
Seriously, just don't take Betty's sandwich.
In our first glimpse of Betty this season, she's talking with a friend about her new career as a travel agent. Betty tries to shame the woman about not taking enough joy in her children, very obviously resenting the woman for feeling the same way she does about her kids.
So when Betty gets home and hears about Bobby's school trip, she jumps at the chance to prove the truth of her words about her kids being rewarding. Of course, this is Betty, so it's definitely an experiment meant to fail.
Poor Bobby, obviously starved for his mother's attention, is thrilled at the concept of getting to talk to his mom for a whole field trip. It is honestly the saddest thing. Things start off well, but then start to take a turn. Betty takes some time to snark on Bobby's teacher ("That blouse says she likes everyone.") and then gets enraged when Bobby trades her sandwich for some candy.
(Bobby seemed surprised at the concept his mother would actually want to eat the sandwich she packed. Is this a hint Betty might have some kind of eating disorder? She's also not eating dinner with the kids when Henry gets home from work later.)
While Bobby started off thrilled about spending time with his mother (just look at the way he turns a classmate away by proudly proclaiming the seat is for his mom), he just ends up crushed by Betty's coldness.
For her part, Betty can't seem to understand why she can't connect with her children the way she should. Society has told Betty her entire life that her children should be her source of fulfillment in life, yet she's clearly never felt this way. She's not a particularly maternal person, and yet she's put all her eggs in the motherhood basket.
She can't recognize that Bobby's mistake wasn't a slight on her as a mother or an indication of Bobby's feelings about her. Betty feels like a bad mother and thinks it's only a matter of time until all her children hate her.
Betty often feels like a lost cause within the framework of the show, a woman so married to old ideals rapidly going out of fashion she can't see these ideals never really fit her to begin with.
Unlike Don, who knows he's broken and miserable, Betty is more likely to look outwards at others instead of inwards at herself to pinpoint the source of her problems. This doesn't leave much hope for forward momentum and growth, and yet I always find myself hoping Betty will find a way to live a more authentic life. Maybe by the end of the series, Betty will find her way, but right now she's still playing ice queen.
Elsewhere Around SD&P...
-- Dawn has her own office! Also, I hope Dawn pours Don's coffee over his head, he's such a jerk to her in this episode. That's gratitude for you!
-- Harry outright lies to a client about SD&P's tech-savvy. In summary: they have none. Harry says he's been trying to get a computer for ages with no luck. Seems the agency might have bigger problems than Don, like being way behind the times.
-- Ken still has on the eye-patch. Is this a permanent thing now? He looks like Colonel Tigh from Battlestar Galactica. Is Ken a cylon?
What did you think of Don's return? Will he be able to get back on top, or is this the beginning of the end? And no day drinking! What madness is that? Sound off in the comments!
Mad Men airs Sundays at 10pm on AMC.