Hope for Don and Sally? It Takes Honesty to Make a Relationship Work

MAD MEN REVIEW: Season 7 Episode 2 — Is there any hope for love in Mad Men Season 7? Maybe between Don (Jon Hamm) and Sally (Kiernan Shipka).  But, first of all, Don needs to stop lying – and, finally, he’s beginning to come clean.
Don’s lies catch up to him when Sally comes on the scene for the first time this season in Episode 2.  Sally is a lost 15 year old, with no parents she can count on – smoking with her boarding school friends, and on her way to a funeral for her roommate’s mother. She says, with typical teenage sardonic bravado, that she wishes “Betty” was in the ground.  She’s angry with her mother, and for good reason. Betty is emotionally difficult to reach.  Sally, in a different way than her friend, has lost her mother, too – long ago. To lose your mother is a scary thing for a child. Don, the more sensitive parent (limited as he was), failed her too with his lies and his indiscretions. So, Sally has no one left. She’s still a little girl, bereft, trying to be bigger than she is. This is the fate of many neglected children.

Neglected children become pseudo adults, with a lonely child hiding inside.  Don’s no different. Sally, although she tries not to know this, still needs a parent. And, when she loses her purse and gets off the train to try to find it, she ends up at Sterling Cooper and Partners looking for her dad’s help. What she finds, instead, is another man (the irritable, rude, Lou Avery), in her dad’s office. Upset and rather panicked, it is beginning to dawn on her that she’s caught him in another lie. She knows her dad lies – but his lies create an insecure attachment: she doesn’t really know who he is at any given time. She can’t count on him. And, worse, to know something she shouldn’t know by catching him in a cheating act creates something more terrible for a child. Distrust. She has no one. What are Sally’s choices – besides her unconscious somewhat rebellious pseudo adult “needing no one” identity?

We see one choice. She goes to Don’s house. Is it to confront him? Yes, in a way. She lets him know how terrible it is to catch him in a lie – and how discovering him with Sylvia still haunts her. She spills out her disgust and her fear of running into Sylvia, which keeps her out of the building where he lives and detached from her dad. More than that, facing the reality of a dishonest father who isn’t able to be loyal to anyone makes it hard for her to be with him at all. But, she’s come anyway. She still needs something from Don and it’s not just money and an excuse for being away from school.

Sally is still searching for the dad she used to love. For her to have even the least chance of finding that dad, she tells Don exactly what she needs when he asks her what to put in the note for school:  “Just tell the truth.”  Sally needs the truth and it’s not about knowing all the facts. In fact, the facts of every sordid detail of Don’s affairs and mistakes would be more than she, or any child, could sort out. That kind of blatant honesty would hurt her. Sally needs emotional honesty. She needs a father who can face his feelings and be truthful about them. Don begins to do just that when he tells Sally why he withheld the truth about being asked to take a leave from work: “I was too ashamed.”

Telling Sally the truth about his feelings can pave the way for her own development. Emotional truth is important to children. Honesty about feelings from a parent provides the building blocks, for a child, to understand and tolerate their own feelings and to establish an authentic identity. In order to have a healthy relationship with others as she grows, Sally needs this kind of help to achieve the courage to be honest about how she feels. In adult relationships, emotional honesty is the way to intimacy – to a real and deep emotional connection with each other. Something Don can’t yet do.

No relationship can thrive when feelings are kept hidden. Don’s had to keep too much secret because of his shame. He doesn’t really believe he’s loveable or worth much at all, and he hasn’t been able to love because he doesn’t expect love in return. Being honest with Sally brings quite a shock. As Episode 2 ends, Don drops Sally off at school after a long and difficult journey back – her refusal of food, telling him to stop talking (like a typical teenager), a rapprochement when she accepts his offer of a patty melt (his expression of love?) – and, finally, a Valentine’s Day gift from Sally, the pièce de résistance: “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you,” as she gets out of the car. Sally walks into her boarding school and we see a stunned Don trying to absorb what just happened. Love is the last thing he expects from anyone, especially from his daughter who knows his shame all too well. If Sally can forgive and accept him, can Don begin to do the same for himself? If he can, all kinds of changes might be possible.

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