MAD MEN: Saving Sally. Can Don Go Home And Be A Dad?

Don Draper’s (Jon Hamm) at a crossroad. He seems to be on the run again, but it’s not that simple. He’s searching for something. Trying to put together the pieces of Dick, the boy he left behind – pieces that include his mistakes. While he’s roaming the Milk and Honey Route in Season 7, Episode 13, there’s tragedy brewing back home for the Draper-Francis family. Betty is dying. As Betty faces death, Don faces what’s interfered with living.

He wakes up to a dream: A cop pulls him over, “We’ve been looking for you. Knew we’d catch up to you eventually.” It’s Don’s guilt that’s catching up to him. We see him later, after his car breaks down, stuck in the middle of nowhere in a small-town-motel in Kansas. He’s been just as trapped in a manufactured identity to elude his feelings of loss and guilt. Maybe now is the time to stop running.

Corralled into a fundraiser, he drinks with a group of war vets; exchanging horror stories. “You do what you have to do to come home,” they say, without any evidence of guilt. Don, though, spills out his story of how the real Don Draper died. “I killed my CO,” he says. It was an accident, to be sure. But if he hadn’t dropped his lighter in a field filled with fuel, Don Draper would still be alive.

Don’s guilt has deeper roots than the death of Don Draper in Korea, in his early 20’s. When a baby’s mother dies in labor, there’s guilt that lies deep in the unconscious mind – a belief that his mother would be alive if he hadn’t been born. Pile on top of that a cruel and abusive father and stepmother, and here’s a recipe for one irrationally guilty man.

Guilt eats away at you if you can’t stop running. Or forgive yourself for what wasn’t your fault. In Kansas, Don tells a boy trying to make a quick buck by stealing all the funds that were raised and pinning it on Don: “If you keep the money you’ll have to get out of town and become someone else. It’s not as easy as you think.”  He’s talking to his young self.

Don’s ready to shed the fake man he had to become. At a bus stop, he gives the boy his Cadillac (remnant of his pretenses) and gets out: “The pink slip is in the glove box. Don’t waste this.” He takes a seat on the bench with a big smile on his face. This could be his ticket out of a life of hiding.  He can go any direction he wants.

With Buddy Holly singing: “Every day, it’s getting closer … love like yours will surely come my way,” Don’s still tempted to seek that elusive love he lost – his mother’s. Now personified in Diana – the Greek goddess of childbirth.

Yet, as Don sits on the bus bench, his daughter Sally is back home grieving her own mother. Henry can’t cope. The boys are too little. Sally’s in grave danger of taking care of everyone, with no one for her to turn to. Will Don be able to step up to the plate? If he goes home, his kids won’t be left to grow up parentless, like he did.

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