So I’m saying it right up front: I’m going to miss Megan. She of the much maligned lovely and abundant mouth full of teeth and crazy-ass mane of black hair (doesn’t anyone remember the chic, shoulder length bob that she wore?). She embodied an innocent yearning to stand alone, outside of Don’s enormous shadow, and be someone. I’m going to miss her because I liked the character of Megan, in spite of the fact that she was not all that well defined by the Mad Men writers, especially in comparison to other women on the series (I’m thinking of you Peggy and Joanie). I think the character was the only genuine, good person on the show and, not unlike in real life, she got eaten alive for it. Megan was trusting and loyal and devoted to her husband and, at least from what little we saw, a good friend to her fellow fledgling actresses.
In this respect I am in a very small community amongst Mad Men viewers. Week after week Megan was excoriated in discussion forums and even in editorial recaps. But I liked her because she was wholesome and radiated optimism in a dark cynical world. So, now that I’ve outed myself as a Megan Calvet-Draper Booster, let’s move on to this week’s episode: “New Business”. Don is now officially stalking the waitress who we learn is named Diana, employing a PI with a long Greek name, mangled by Don’s secretary as she delivers the message of his return call. He’s got the PI working the case because Diana has left the Twilight Zone diner and moved on to a slightly less seedy (but no less dark) Bavarian-themed restaurant. Don appears at her table one evening and wants to know when she gets off of work; he wants to buy her a drink. When next we see Don he’s fast asleep and his bedside phone is ringing…loudly. As a child of the sixties so much of Mad Men is one big trip down memory lane for me, and that screaming, jangling phone ringer, so unlike our quiet digital versions of today, reminded me of the particular startle reaction of having one ring in the middle of the night. Don, however, casually answers and its Diana, she’s off work and already kinda drunk, wanting to know what he wants. What he wants is what Don always wants: to sleep with her, so he invites her over…at three in the morning…for a drink and even more bizarrely, answers the door…at three in the morning…in a full suit and white shirt and tie ensemble. She asks him if he sleeps like that and he responds: “No, just vain.” They almost immediately hit the bed and for some reason, we are treated to another view of the wine stain on Don’s bedroom carpet. Now I know that Mad Men loves its symbolism, but other than the obvious comparison to blood I think that this wine stain schtick might be a, pardon the pun, red herring ala Megan’s red star T-shirt. We’ll see; but if it is some kind of foreshadowing it’s awfully heavy-handed for a show as sly as Mad Men.
Post sex Diana can’t sleep but doesn’t want to leave, either, so they just lay in the dark and as Don buries his face in her hair, commenting on its wonderful fragrance, she tells him it’s just shampoo, from Avon, that she bought in the living room of her ranch house with the two car garage and Diana’s backstory begins to emerge. Later, as Don is coming out of his morning shower, Diana has found her way into the room that Bobby and Gene share every other weekend when they visit, Sally being away at boarding school. Diana is creeping into the room in kind of a dazed state and as Don finds her there and inquires if she’s all right, she sits down on one of the twin beds and tells Don her lost soul story. Apparently she had a daughter who died and she left, unable to bear the pain of life in Racine, Wisconsin in the aforementioned ranch house that she shared with her husband and daughter. She refers to the pain of the loss as a lingering twinge in her heart, a term that any true Mad Men fan recalls as Don’s touch phrase in his pitch to the Kodak people in the iconic episode “The Wheel”. Don, being a fellow traveler along the lost souls road, and at least sometimes, a demonstrably devoted father, offers Diana words of both sympathy and empathy, and he sounds truly sorrowful on her behalf. Diana tells Don that being with him brings her relief from that twinge and we’re meant to believe that’s a good thing. They part, as Megan is due to appear that day with the movers to recover her furniture, and agree to meet again that night but this time at Diana’s place.
One flaw in this episode was that it seemed to be somewhat disjointed, the editing was choppy and we are jarred from one unconnected thread of story to another. Also, and this is something that many other recappers have noted, it’s kind of late in the game to be introducing new characters, is it not? The Mad Men universe is already chock full of interesting people. With only a handful of episodes left in the series, why take us down this rabbit hole with Diana now? Haven’t we seen Don with a few other Dianas already? And lots of the episode’s real estate was used on the Don/Diana storyline. At this point I’ve grown to trust the Mad Men writers room and Mr. Weiner’s sensibilities, but I sure hope they’re going somewhere meaningful with this. Anyway, we get a peek at some SCDP drama with the insertion of yet another new character, a photographer named Pima, who has been hired by Peggy to shoot the stills for a Cinzano spread. Stan, as the SCDP art director and a photographer, is miffed but finds himself wanting Pima’s approval in spite of himself. Turns out Pima is a bit of a sexual chameleon, one who challenges people with direct, oddly personal turns of phrase. She tells Stan: “I can feel your desire for my approval.” Whatever; it works, and she and Stan have sex in the SCDP darkroom. Later she approaches Peggy in her office, choosing which shot to use for the print ad and tries to ply Peggy the same way, with a frankly sexual advance which Peggy, being Peggy, rebuffs. Later, as Stan is boasting of the connection he had with Pima, Peggy bursts the bubble of his male ego by reporting that Pima tried the same stunt with her but that it didn’t work because Peggy saw Pima for what she is: a hustler. Which is why Peggy won’t be hiring her for any more SCDP work. Chagrined, Stan slinks out for home. I’ve read many Mad Men fans want Stan and Peggy to connect on a relationship level before the series ends and I could not agree LESS. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that if the Mad Men writers bring Peggy and Stan together as a couple I will be very disappointed. They’re friends and colleagues and should stay that way.
I also felt that the Mad Men team spent way too much time this week on the Calvet women. Marie, who we’ve met before, and a sister of Megan’s, also named Marie-France. I may be an inattentive viewer but I never knew until now that Megan even had a sister. Again, new characters; why? Anyway, Marie and Marie-France are in a state over Megan’s divorce. Being Catholics they are opposed to divorce and Marie worries over what Don “has done to our family.” We know from previous exposure to Megan’s parents that they are most unhappily married and both engaged in sexual liaisons outside of their union. Megan has a lunch meeting with Harry Crane to seek his advice on getting a new agent since she’s been without work in LA for several months. As she leaves the two Maries in Don’s apartment to deal with the movers she instructs them as to which pieces of furniture she’s interested in taking back to California. Marie, angry at Don’s treatment of her daughter, instructs the movers to load ALL of the furniture into the truck, something that she is told will cost her more than the agreed-upon price. With Megan gone, and no money of her own, Marie calls Roger, pleading with him to come over and bring the needed cash. He does as requested and pays the movers. Marie, now alone as Marie-France returned to the hotel where the three women are staying, throws herself at Roger who weakly protests but quickly responds to her advance.
Megan and Harry are at a hotel restaurant with a bottle of wine and Harry is telling Megan that “she is every man’s fantasy” and that he can’t believe that “Don threw her away.” He also tells Megan that he’s got a room upstairs and they could retire there and he could “make a few calls.” Megan, immediately understanding Harry’s intention, pulls away and angrily prepares to leave the table. A rebuffed Harry chides her as she gathers her things, his advice being that if she were more open to these “kinds of discussions” perhaps she would be having more success at casting calls in LA. And with that Harry Crane officially becomes the worst.
Megan and Don meet at the attorney’s office to sign the papers and finalize their divorce. As they wait for the attorney to arrive Megan bitterly calls Don out for ruining her chance at a career, since it was at Don’s insistence that she leave her role in a New York produced soap opera and head with him to California. Megan has been badly used by Don and, again, I feel all the feels for Megan because she trusted a snake and got badly bitten as a result. She bitterly calls him “an aging, sloppy, selfish liar” and who could disagree with her, really? Don then writes Megan a check for a million dollars, telling her: “I want you to have the life you deserve.” Megan takes the check and leaves her diamond engagement ring on the table and exits. Again, I felt bad for Megan because she trusted the wrong person and who among us has not felt that regret, even once? I do think that “New Business” may be Megan’s (and Jessica Pare’s) swan song and, if so, I will miss her.
The final two threads of story for this week were a glimpse of Don making Bobby and Gene chocolate milkshakes at Betty and Henry’s house, since the diner (was it the Twilight Zone diner and had he been looking for Diana there before hiring the PI?) was not open. As Don is serving the boys their milkshakes Betty and Henry come back dressed to the nines and Betty tells Don that she’s going back for her master’s degree in…wait for it…PSYCHOLOGY! I cannot imagine a worse choice and woe to the poor, confused souls who end up on her therapy couch. As Don leaves, oddly after Henry insists that he doesn’t have to rush off, he takes one last look at the boys with Betty and Henry and his face is filled with regret, this was one of the lives that Dick Whitman/Don Draper threw away. Regret for the path not taken is emerging as a powerful theme so far this last half of the end of the series.Our final curtain call in “New Business” is devoted to Don and Diana. He shows up at her shabby one room apartment, as arranged, with a gift in hand. Having heard Diana complain that she still doesn’t know her way around New York, Don brings her a New York travel guide. Diana offers him vodka as thanks. She then tells him that she didn’t just leave her husband in Racine but that she had a second daughter and left that child behind, as well. The twinge in her heart is something that she needs to go on feeling and since being with Don gives her some relief from that pain she wants no more of him. This self-flagellation has become her ongoing penance, which makes Diana one of the saddest characters yet on this Mad Men journey. Choosing pain over comfort, choosing alienation over connection, so far these are the themes that are driving this end of series Mad Men train. At episode’s end we see Don return to his now empty apartment and again we are reminded of “The Wheel”, when he returned to his empty house on Thanksgiving. How much more stripped down can the Mad Men team make Don Draper before there’s nothing left at all? As I wrote last week I have been hopeful for Don’s ultimate redemption but now I worry if we, and Don, are going to get that.