Monday, October 18, 2010

In Defence of Don's Engagement

(Warning - if you like Mad Men, and didn't see the season finale last night, and want to avoid all the Internet commentary on said finale - don't read!)

Further to my previous post about the horrific realisation that I am a hopeless Romantic (yes, capital R), I would like to post my own thoughts on what is emerging as the overall consensus on Don Draper's sudden engagement to his secretary Megan during the season finale of last night's Mad Men.

The consensus? Don hit rock bottom this season, and he was just cleaning himself up, and then he goes and gets engaged to his young and pretty secretary(!) in a fit of recklessness, leaving his current girlfriend in the dust.

I was actually surprised at how many people took this to be something really dumb and out of character, but I think a case could be made for the fact that, rather than this revealing Don as slipping further into pathetic middle age, medicating himself with a new woman, as one commentator put it (I can't remember which!), this is a sign of his progress.

Yes, she is 25 and pretty, but why should those be strikes against her? I find it very interesting that the opinions of the other cast members (that marrying his secretary was an act of recovering his lost youth and could only end in tragedy) has been echoed quite consistently in the commentariat - and yet, thinking that he's made some kind of mistake because she's young and pretty plays into exactly the kinds of prejudices that feminists (male and female) have spent 40 years attempting to work away from? She couldn't be a good mate because she's young and pretty? What does that say about us that this is the first major problem people see in all of this?

I mean, from what little we know of her, they have tried to portray her as, for lack of a better word, deep. There appears to be a lot more to her than a young, pretty secretary - couldn't Don's desire also be traced to recognizing that if he is medicating himself with a woman, it should be someone who might actually be able to cure him? If everyone had to be perfectly whole before they got involved, no one should be in a relationship...

Ok, I'll admit getting engaged is impetuous, but having worked together, they have known each other for quite some time, and why shouldn't that count for something? Sometimes the gut is more accurate than the mind, and the show has certainly spent a lot of time trying to convince us that she's very special...without getting into the possibility of ironic narration in TV (now that's a interesting would one even know?), if we take her characterization seriously, we can see why Don is taking her seriously, and not merely because she is pretty and young.

It's also interesting that this happened in California - the show has consistently set California up as a place of healing for Don, where he can be "himself", and so asking her here seems also to be indicating his own willingness to bring together his divided self (Don Draper/Dick Whitman) into a single one, symbolized by his using Anna's ring to marry her.

Obviously, only time will tell if the show's creators will bear my feelings about this out, and I suspect the key will be when (or if) Don tells her about his whole identity thing, but I think there is a very plausible reading of Don's actions as being a sign of mental health rather than a sign of failure.

That they were seen roundly as a failure is interesting to me though, because it says more about where we are now as a society, and I think the best thing about Mad Men right now is what it reveals about us through the past, as this brief defence of Don's engagement reveals something about me!


Georgiana said...

I've never seen the show, and know nothing about the characters, but your post just made me want to cheer, especially your point re: wholeness as an impossible prerequisite for a relationship.

Sometimes I think there's a fine line between needing time & space alone to sort stuff out, and needing the particular type of healing that can only come with another person. Then other times I suspect it's a tripwire that, sooner or later, you're going to fall over and land flat on your face (or other body part) on one side or the other.

And I, for one, have really lousy balance!

Andrew W. said...

Yes, and why can't people both heal themselves at the same time they're in a relationship?

It seems we have atomized the idea of mental recovery into a pretty narcissistic affair. The trick is in not relying to much on others (or yourself for that matter). At least that's what I've heard...

Georgiana said...

In my experience, both healing and relationships are bloody hard work, and it's tough to even do one well, never mind both at once. Perhaps the trick I have yet to learn is how to do each just well enough?

As for who, or what, to rely on, let me know if you ever figure that one out, because I sure as heck haven't the foggiest....