MAD MEN: More Losses. What Are The Odds Against A Setback for Don?

Right when it seems life is moving along for Don in a more optimistic way, Season 7’s Episode 11 Time and Life comes along. McCann-Erickson plays a manipulative trick, absorbing Sterling Cooper & Partners. The agency’s identity is gone. Does it take away Don’s as well? Although Don says to Roger: “What’s in a name?” – that’s a very complicated question for Don Draper (Jon Hamm).

Dick Whitman, Don’s childhood self, didn’t take on a whole new identity for nothing. Not only was he trying to free himself from the trauma of his past – he didn’t want to be that person his past made him feel he was. It’s not likely to be up Don’s alley to play stooge for someone like Jim Hobart. Feeling powerless is too much like being lowest on the totem pole in his family.

The “test” SC & P is told they’ve passed to enter the big time by joining McCann-Erikson isn’t the important thing for Don. How he weathers this latest blow (and another loss) is the real test. Particularly of his newfound, and rather fragile, hope for a different life. He’s up and down in Episode 11. He’s in danger of turning back to his old ways of managing feelings: with women and booze.

Don’s vulnerable to that temptation in the beginning of Time and Life when he receives a call from the elusive waitress, Diana. He avoids this lure for a bit, while the wheels in his mind turn rapidly to creative solutions to avoid being swallowed up. This is Don at his best.

SC & P can stay autonomous by moving to their smaller California offices. Take the clients that McCann-Erickson can’t have due to the original non-compete clause in the merger. Right? Sounds promising, since McCann-Erickson will only benefit as well. But, it’s a no go from Hobart – who wants them there in New York for the “biggest opportunity of their lives.”

Losing their identity is a big opportunity? Not for SC & P. Certainly not for Don who had a stepmother that wanted him to disappear. He didn’t exist for her. Now, his not so easily etched out existence, one that was beginning to look up, is being threatened.

We see the bad news getting to all the principals at SC & P. Don and Roger get drunk, as their old ways of coping catch up to them. Another round and another one – until Don finds himself at Diana’s old door. But, she’s not there. Temptation averted – perhaps there’s a chance to sort things out.

If Don is to get over this new hurdle without a major relapse, he’ll have to believe what he says to the devastated employees when the firm’s merger is announced: “This is the beginning of something, not the end.” What that new beginning is – is something Don has to make difficult decisions about. He won’t be able to do that if he runs away from his sadness and loss.

Matthew Weiner makes an interesting choice for the closing song of episode 11: Dean Martin’s “Money burns a hole in my pocket.” The lyrics raise some critical questions I would help Don consider if I had him in my office – so that he’s not consigned, as Lou Adler wishes for him, to a “miserable life”:

Is it money to spend lavishly that he needs, or something much more emotionally tangible and satisfying? Like his open hearted and honest relationship in California with Anna Draper. Something that would help him hold on to who he really is.

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