Au revoir, Megan.
With the Drapers' divorce all but consummated, it seems that the goodbyes to the major characters have begun. While it's possible that Megan could make another appearance, it feels unlikely. There's a certain finality to a break that comes with receiving a check for a $1 million ($6 million in 2015 dollars) from soon-to-be-ex-hubby Don as a sort of make-good for a few years of lying, cheating and bad advice.
As much as this was inevitable, it's too bad Megan, a pivotal character that moved Don fully out of the Betty era and gained us a view of late 60s SoCal, couldn't zou bisou bisou off into the sunset with a better episode. Last night's was, as much of the "Mad Men"-watching internet opined, a bit of a mess.
First, there was the introduction of a hustler-photographer who hits on both Stan Rizzo and Peggy Olsen, a puzzling and distracting arc. Then there were those long, slow scenes between Don and his new lover. And Megan's own send-off came in a strange, tonally-odd comedy of errors, like a cast-off "Fraisier" script that was simply trying to do too much. Her bitterly comic Quebecois mother, played to great effect in earlier seasons by Julia Ormond, needs time to breathe. Instead, she was crammed into a busy plot that tried to pull the curtain on the Megan/Don relationship -- again.
Last we saw Megan, it was July 1969 and she was letting Don off easy from their crumbling marriage. Now it's mid-1970 and Megan needs money and some semblance of a future. The episode begins with Don writing her a $500 check to help with moving expenses. It ends with him signing over seven figures. In between, her mother and sister arrive on the scene to help her move out of what's now Don's apartment. Along the way, her mother decides that Megan deserves to have all of Don's furniture, once again sleeps with Roger Sterling and, off camera, apparently decide to ditch her husband and stay in New York. Much of this is played for limp humor.
More grotesquely, Megan's put on the casting couch -- or whatever it's called when sex is the bait for help finding a new agent -- by Harry Crane. When it comes to Megan, Harry has long been a creeper. With Don out of the picture and Megan desperate to be in any sort of picture, Harry senses a chance and makes a truly disgusting lunge at lunch. Brushed off, Harry tries to do preemptive damage control with Don, telling him that Megan is beyond hope: "She quit her soap and left New York. That was a really dumb idea."
Of course, quitting a soap and leaving New York was pretty much all sage Draper advice. He's screwed her over in every way imaginable and now he wants to make amends. But this is Don Draper, so it's less about doing the right thing than the convenient one. Paying her off means he can get the divorce done quickly and clear way for the next conquest.
Which happens to be the diner waitress introduced last episode, only now she's a waitress in some sort of German restaurant, which has her dressing in a frau-ish outfit.
Don's attraction to Diana is a head-scratcher. When he first saw her in the half-season premiere, his interest seemed predicated on the thought that he knew her from somewhere and that she might have something to do with Rachel Menken, his recently deceased, idealized love from the past. In her sad waitress outfit and reading Dos Passos, Diana seems like something ripped out of his Depression-era childhood. She didn't seem quite real and she certainly didn't have the gloss of a typical target for Don.
Such is Don's infatuation that he tracks her down at her new job. Citing the loneliness of a new city and the influence of booze, she agrees to go out with him. And by go out with him, I mean go to his apartment and sleep with him and then oh-so-slowly reveal her deal. Diana, you'll be shocked to hear, isn't exactly a wellspring of honest revelations. Over a few encounters, it trickles out that after the death of one daughter she abandoned her surviving daughter and husband to come to New York.
This is classic Draper. He doesn't want to know the details. There's a churning hole in his heart and he needs a warm body to shove in there. Is Diana the same way? They are, after all, both deserters. She's left her family. He's left two wives, three kids, one identity and who knows what else. But as he digs he finds he's not the same kind of deserter as she is.
A telling snippet of dialogue sets out the differences.
Diana: "There's a twinge in my chest."
Don: "A pain?"
Diana: "No, it's not that. I'm positive."
Given the context it's quite a funny moment, a subtle way of setting up how two similar-seeming people can be vastly different. As one Reddit user discovered, there's a direct link in this dialogue to the season one finale and Don's classic Kodak pitch. There he says, "In Greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone." (Don was told this by his mentor Teddy the Greek. Earlier in this episode, he receives a phone message from one Nicholas Constantinopolous, a name that doesn't ring any bells for me but certainly sounds Greek. Others have noted that Diana is the name of the Greek god and last week's show opened with Don ashing into one of those old to-go coffee cups with Greek lettering.)
Yes, like Don, she has escaped the heartland and her life there for the big city. Yes, she is a deserter. But she is not a female version of Draper. In at least one crucial way, she's the opposite. She wants to touch the pain; he wants to dull it, with booze, with women, and, as in the Kodak pitch, with the anesthetizing process of transforming experience into ad copy.
In this episode, we're constantly reminded of Don's inability to deal with his past heartbreak. There's the Megan resolution, but don't forget that the episode's action begins in the home of his ex-wife. While making milkshakes for his boys, Don learns that Betty is going for a master's in psychology, which is a wonderful turnabout given how in early seasons Don used the psychologist's couch against her. Don leaves the room when Henry Francis appears, looking back sadly at the boys.
Don's strategy is to simply fill the void with another woman. When Diana gives him what seems to be the kiss-off, she does so because she wants to leave the void left by her dead daughter open, "I told you about my heart. I don't want to feel anything else. When I was with you, I forgot about ... her. And I don't want to do that."
At the close of the episode, Don returns home only to find his apartment emptied in every sense of the phrase. He has, finally and absolutely, been reset. Over the final five episodes, the key question remaining for him is once asked by Pete Campbell earlier in the episode: "You think you're going to begin your life over and do it right. But what if you never get past the beginning again?"