So. Are we shocked? Aghast? Did any of us, in our wildest dreams, believe this season of Mad Men would end with Don Draper getting married? To his secretary? Surely, we’d have sooner believed that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce would be out of business, Don Draper destitute, shooting horse with his old flame Midge (Midge Daniels, btw: no relation to our governor), running away to join the hippies, stabbed and bleeding out in a Soho alley, than engaged to be married. Shocking. It doesn’t make sense.
Except that it makes all the sense in the world. Don has spent the entire season trying to get his legs under him. His marriage has failed, and, as despicable a character as Betty has turned out to be, it’s tough not to blame Don for the divorce. He’s a cheater and a lout–a sensualist, as we’ve noted previously–but he’s not sure how to navigate a world without the stability of a home life, a place to throw his briefcase and spank his kids. His business is crumbling. His secret identity is fragile. He’s lost Anna, who’s been his only connection to his troubled past.
And then it turns in a moment, the way it so often does on our lives. One moment, everything is thus; and the next moment occurs, and everything has changed. Before cancer/after cancer. Before you met him/after you met him. Before you heard the Beatles/after you heard the Beatles. Only with Don, it’s before Sally spilled her milkshake/after Sally spilled her milkshake. And instead of smacking Sally across the face or belittling her, as Betty would surely have done, Megan smiles and asks for more napkins.
And Don Draper’s icy heart grows three sizes that day. He sees his “Tomorrowland,” and it includes a cultured, beautiful wife–who, he tells Peggy, shares her spark. “She admires you as much as I do,” Don says to Peggy–the oddest, most unsettling line of the episode, not counting Dr. Faye Miller telling Don that she hopes Megan understands that Don likes only “the beginnings of things.”
Of course, she is correct. Of course, Don loves beginnings. He needs the stability of something familiar, something like home. But he doesn’t love it. He loves sleek and new and dangerous, and Dr. Faye was not going to be any of those things for long. Now that Dr. Faye and Don no longer had to hide their relationship, it ceased to be interesting to him.
But that’s too easy. Don’s still pretty smitten with Megan, even at their coming-out party in Don’s office. Dr. Faye was never going to be comfortable with the kids. Megan is Maria von Trapp, and a Julie Andrews/Maria Poppins/Maria von Trapp/nanny/mommy is exactly what Don Draper has been missing this entire season.
So let’s be surprised that another season of Mad Men has ended in a bafflingly upbeat way. After all the awful turmoil and uncertainty of this season, it’s nearly sweet the way it’s ended, with Don actually happy and Peggy and Ken bringing in a little account of their own. (And let’s also don’t be surprised if there turns out to be something between Peggy and Ken, the accomplished writer/account executive who isn’t going to jeopardize his engagement by taking advantage of his father-in-law to be; but, you know, these office romances have a way of happening.)
But, upon honest reflection, let’s not be surprised that this is what Don wanted and needed all along. Not a girl, but a woman. Not an equal, but a helpmeet. A wife and mother. Is she ambitious? Maybe. Will he get past the beginning? Time will tell.
For now, let’s be happy for Don. He’s found what he’s been looking for. We won’t be shocked when it ends badly. But right now, the blissful look on Don Draper’s face has been worth all the bad drunks in this very good season of television.
(As an aside: I don’t think office romances, in general, are any more likely to be doomed than any other romances. I’ve seen great ones and awful ones, and you probably have, too. I have had that moment–that before I met her/after I met her moment–and it happened at work. Worked out great for me. I will not speak for My Beautiful Wife.)
And, before we sign off: shall we also give it up for young Kiernan Shipka, who has made Sally Draper the best kid on TV since Opie Taylor? I will happily hand Christina Hendricks the Emmy tomorrow. But Ms. Shipka may be equally deserving.