Television

'Mad Men': The Deceptively Simple Question That Already Had An Answer

Jon Hamm, Jessica Pare, John Slattery

Don (Jon Hamm), Megan (Jessica Pare) and Roger (John Slattery) shared a moment during the fourth-season finale of Mad Men. Michael Yarish/AMC hide caption

itoggle caption Michael Yarish/AMC

The question that opened the fourth season of Mad Men — "Who is Don Draper?" — ultimately turned out not to be the point. The point was not "Who is Don Draper?" but "Who will Don Draper be 10 months from now, and what will take him from here to there?"

The matter of Don's identity has always been one of bifurcation: Dick Whitman or Don Draper. He was pretending to be one, when in reality he was the other. But this season was not about the dichotomy between Don and Dick; it was about the fact that there are not, in fact, two men. There is one man, a man who is neither of those men exactly, and that one man still has to figure out what to do next. Choosing between his names is utterly beside the point.

Confessing the charade to Betty at the end of last season (and thus breaking down the biggest barrier between his two lives) didn't end the struggle. Confessing to Faye (which he did very quickly) didn't help, either. His problem was not his fake past, his fake name, his fake family — his problem was that he didn't know how to get from where he was to where he wanted to be. He had been so busy creating this life as Don Draper, Ad Man And Betty's Husband, that the actual real guy who's in there, whatever you want to call him, had receded and become invisible.

All the things Don has tried this season — having his own agency, swimming, living on his own, quitting drinking, partying with Lane, dating Faye, visiting Anna — have been exploratory. What lies beyond Betty? What lies beyond the old Sterling Cooper? What lies beyond Don Draper, Ad Man And Betty's Husband?

And in the finale, Don's efforts to get a fresh start — the same thing, ironically, that Betty said she wanted when she wrongheadedly fired Carla — led him to what is, as Joan pointed out, an utter cliche when it comes to searching for happiness. In fact, it was two of them simultaneously: going to Disneyland and marrying his secretary.

Certainly, Megan is no Allison. If nothing else, she's perceptive enough to know that you tell Don Draper that you don't need a relationship. She knows not to smile expectantly at him after sex the way Allison did. She's also no Betty, as we learned in the pointed moment in which she failed to freak out over the spilled milkshake. Add that to the way she rushed to Sally's aid in the office a couple of episodes ago, and there's reason to believe that Megan might credibly be a good stepmother. She knows French. She has ambitions. She's interested in Don's work. She's not a terrible choice.

It's still, though, astonishingly impulsive for Don. This feels like a Hail Mary pass, one that there's reason to believe might work out — except for everything it has working against it, from Don's troubled history to his restless need for new women.

Come on. Falling in love at Disneyland? This is nothing Don Draper, Betty's Husband, would have done, even after a divorce. On the other hand, this is nothing Dick Whitman would have had the confidence and whimsy for. This is somebody else. This may be the first thing this character has ever done that comes not from Don and not from Dick, but from ... whoever this guy actually is.

That doesn't mean, of course, that those other guys can't still come out. Don seemed so different and so provoked and unsettled throughout the episode — until he found himself in his old kitchen with Betty. But there, in a scene that was nicely played by Jon Hamm but especially nicely played by the often criminally underappreciated January Jones, Don seemed exactly like his old Don Draper, Ad Man And Betty's Husband self as he took the liquor bottle down from the cabinet. Back to Betty, back to Betty's kitchen, means back to being Betty's Husband, even while he's in the process of telling her about Megan.

And when he did tell Betty, Betty cycled through all sorts of feelings: hurt; the knowledge that she had no right to be hurt; pride that she didn't want to sacrifice by admitting she was hurt; perhaps a twinge of realization that if she decided she was unhappy with Henry, the door is closing on any chance she ever had to get back together with Don; a sense of obligation to act happy for him even though she wasn't.

So the issue isn't "Who is Don Draper?" That hasn't been the question all season. We've known all along who Don Draper is: drink in hand, cigarette in other hand, rushing off to meet mistress in hotel, rushing home to kiss Betty even though he doesn't like her that much. That's Don Draper. Don Draper is a construct, someone other than the character Jon Hamm is playing. And Dick Whitman is a memory. This guy is someone else entirely, and it's been his identity that's been developing all season.

There were a lot of interesting notes in the season finale, from Ken Cosgrove's refusal to use his family for business the way Pete does to Peggy's triumph with Topaz pantyhose to — of course — the revelation that (as many suspected) Joan did not have that abortion after all.

[Side note: Based on Greg's complaint that Joan isn't showing, it appears that she's passing the baby off as having been conceived before he left, rather than in some visit we didn't see after she got pregnant. It's one thing to tell people a baby came early, but isn't Joan going to have to say this baby is several weeks late? That seems ... complicated, when one is married to a doctor.]

But while the season started with the question, "Who is Don Draper?", it ended with the question, "Who is this person, since we know that he is not, in fact, Don Draper?"

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