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‘Mad’cap Recap 4:13

“What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today!”–Phil Connors, Groundhog Day

LET’S START AT THE END, the closing credits song. If you’re from a certain generation or sensibility, hearing “I Got You, Babe” by Sonny and Cher triggers a host of memories of blizzards, face-slapping, exploding trucks, and the Zen lessons of Bill Murray in the film Groundhog Day.

Phil Connors relives one day of his life hundreds and hundreds of times, perpetuating a cycle of self-loathing and opportunism until he can learn to appreciate the value of the moment he’s in. Sound like anybody we know?

Don’s complementary identities of itinerant hobo and nostalgia junkie are well-known by now. Remember how captivated he was by Kodak’s carousel in the season 1 finale? Don’s only interested in tomorrow if it reminds him of yesterday, that mythic day before everything went bad. And if this today can’t get him there, maybe a different today can. So rather than move forward with Faye, a woman with whom Don had a reasonably adult relationship, he impetuously tries to recapture that long-lost feeling of falling in love with Betty by proposing to Megan. I am used to Don being pitiable or contemptible, but I think this was the first time he’s ever been creepy. I detected a strong undercurrent of desperation in the engagement and post-engagement scenes; I think Don was trying to convince himself as much as everyone around him that he has fallen in love with Megan.

For example, see Don’s claim that he is marrying Megan because she reminds him of Peggy. Clearly, Peggy didn’t take that as a compliment, nor should she, even if Don meant it in a benevolent spirit. What she heard, if I understand it correctly, is that Don sees no substantive difference between Megan marrying her way up the ladder and Peggy earning her position by hard work and talent. You could observe that they’re both ambitious women, as Don no doubt has, but Megan has submitted to cultural pressure to secure her future via her sexuality, and Peggy is trying to break a very thick glass ceiling with very little help. Peggy, whose Topaz Pantyhose pitch may have saved the company while Don was off putting another man’s engagement ring on his secretary’s finger, actually bears much more resemblance to Faye than to Megan. She’s strong, independent, and she knows the real Don, the deeply flawed Don with a shameful past. Megan knows so little about Don, which is obviously just the way he likes it.

Except…except…there was that final scene with Betty. Now, I wanted to stand up and cheer for Henry Francis when he called Betty out on firing Carla (“Nobody is ever on your side”). It is the central self-fulfilling prophecy of Betty’s life. Yet when Betty and Don met in the empty house, they seemed cordial and even kind to each other. Maybe the simple fact of not being married has freed them enough to be civil without much strain. Or maybe Betty is trying to recapture her own past, remembering when she and Don loved each other. Maybe Don and Betty are actually meant to be together, if only so they can confine their recursive loopiness to one marriage instead of spreading it around.

So, where have we been led this season? Many things came close to being destroyed and then weren’t. SCDP was in serious financial trouble, but now they’re pulling out of it. Don was about to have his identity discovered by the government, but a well-placed phone call swept that concern away. Don flirted with the idea of going sober but hasn’t really stopped drinking. The lack of collapse seems to disprove my “the series mirrors the opening credits” theory, but I’m more worried about the characters. A good cleansing burst of paradigm shift might be just the thing that everybody on Mad Men needs to break out of their patterns. And if change can’t happen to people living in the 60s, it probably won’t ever happen to them at all. But we won’t know for sure until tomorrow.

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