Mad Men, “Tomorrowland”: maybe it’ll be an adventure

Quick Take: Mad Men, “Tomorrowland”
“I feel like myself when I’m with you, but the way I always wanted to feel.” – Don to Megan

don draper and megan

Review: Mad Men, “Tomorrowland”
(S0413) In an episode capping off the fourth season of Mad Men that had so much going on (as ever), that defied expectations wholly (again, as ever, check), and that sets us up for strange new uplands to contemplate through the long and lonely offseason, it’s fascinating to take a step back and look at how many characters – both old and new – were packed into the hour (and rather seamlessly, I might add, under show creator and executive producer Matthew Weiner’s direction).

We saw some sort of update or movement in the life and times of no less than: Joan and Greg Harris, Ken Cosgrove, Dr. Faye Miller, Peggy Olson, Betty and Henry Francis, Sally and Glen, Stephanie, and (poor) Carla. We also see a healthy smattering of Harry, Pete, Lane, and Roger, though their respective storylines have already been more or less tidied up for the season. Also entirely noteworthy: after rampant speculation about from which quarter Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s “savior” would come from (with the episode title, “Tomorrowland,” leading many to consider whether Walt Disney himself or some of his minions might make an appearance) the episode was much more about Don’s personal life than the life and future of SCDP.

So let’s start with Don Draper (Jon Hamm), formerly Dick Whitman, or someone who is called Dick as a nickname sometimes, as he tells his children in Anna Draper’s house in California. It seems like the episode transitions sharply – and purposefully so – from regular season mode to season finale mode (playoffs mode?) around the time Don visits Megan’s (Jessica Pare) hotel room in Los Angeles.

To set things up, Don is forced to scramble to get a caretaker for the kids, whom he has planned to bring with him on a trip to California (in “The Good News,” Don had mused to Anna about bringing the kids out to meet her, but now he is making arrangements for the sale of the house). Betty (January Jones), in all her infantile and dysfunctional wisdom, has fired Carla (Deborah Lacey), the kids’ mother-in-practice, in yet another benign incident involving Glen Bishop (Marten Holden Weiner, one of the Weinder brood, and someone I hope we’ll see find a way back into the show and Sally’s life in future seasons) that Betty turns unnecessarily disruptive.

I believe that Don has relatively benign intentions himself when he asks Megan to accompany him on the trip. He is well known as a man who compartmentalizes his problems (and, perhaps, his joys as well). Megan has proved to be good with the kids in the past and is available – she works for him after all – so, problem solved from this shortsighted and selfish perspective. The fact that he has slept with this woman already and happens to have a girlfriend in Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono) doesn’t come into the picture for him until later.

Fast forward to Don and Megan in the latter’s hotel room, followed very quickly by the unsettling cut to the couple back at Don’s apartment on Waverly. The transition has a doubly jolting effect as we’re just getting used to the idea that these two are having an official fling, and we are forced to scramble to figure out what’s going on. It’s not an accident that we had similarly shocking transitions earlier this season when Don was going through his worst binges with alcohol (remember when he woke up in bed with that waitress during a bender?).

The effect here though is unnervingly cheerful. I kept half-expecting during several subsequent scenes for either Don or Megan to awake from a dream, exposing Don’s marriage proposal as some fantasy.

But it’s no fantasy, it’s real. Well, it is a fantasy, of course. And that’s the point. This is Don Draper/Dick Whitman conjuring up a new and fresh storyline (campaign?) for himself. For Don, he has always felt the most comfortable when able to slip under the cover of some new false identity, some new pitch, some new front to step into.

It’s jarring to see Don so needy (Dick-like?) with Megan in her hotel room, telling her that he needs to know if he can knock on her door, so to speak, in the future. This is a man fighting against a dream, wanting it go on forever, but perhaps knowing that it will end, as all dreams do. It’s then again flooring to see him tell Megan that he loves her (have we ever heard Don say that to anyone in four seasons, including Betty?), followed by the proposal.

Faye is perfect for Don in so many ways – she’s smart, strong, independent, mature (much closer in age than Megan at any rate), and perhaps most interestingly, knows a pretty good chunk about Don’s past and has decided to love him and stand by his side nonetheless. But she’s too close for comfort for Don, who would much rather “go undercover” yet again with a woman he barely knows and, more importantly, scarcely knows him.

That’s to say nothing against the Megan that we’ve been shown thus far. She is bright and warm and wonderful with the kids and a very real breath of fresh air (and a French Canadian fresh air at that that, n'est-ce pas?). But she’s young and is Don’s employee and barely knows him (very similar in fact to Roger and Jane at the time of their engagement, though arguably that couple knew each other better than Don and Megan do circa Labor Day, 1965!). It tells us everything we need to know in fact that after she agrees to marry him, Megan asks Don if it’s okay that she use his phone at the apartment to call her parents.

The rest of the episode plays out in this nearly dreamlike fugue (including Betty asking as warmly toward Don as we’ve seen since their Rome getaway in Season Three). I find this choice to be odd and lovely and ironic and elegant for a few reasons. The dream, no doubt, will become real and we will see the aftermath of the Don/Megan relationship run into similar teeth that Roger/Jane had to deal with, though no doubt with a Draper twist (he is an Old Fashioned man, after all).

Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley), lords love his pragmatism in the face of Betty’s immaturity, spells out the theme of the episode and the series in some ways when he tells her, “There is no fresh start” (and never mind that the forever entitled Betty has demanded that she is “entitled to one”). But so many characters are trying to defy that maxim, in some cases over and over again (like all of us in the real world?). Stephanie (Caity Lotz) has dropped out of school, Betty has dropped Carla (and Glen) and the old house, Joan has dropped Roger (but not his baby), and so on.

Perhaps Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) – literally caned for attempting to strike out for his attempt at a fresh start in a new country and a new agency and with a “chocolate bunny” to boot – is the best and most depressing reminder of all that our past clings to us, no matter how hard we may want to pretend otherwise.   

More thoughts on “Tomorrowland”:

  • “I have to say it’s very interesting.” – Pete at the American Cancer Society meeting. Thanks for the fascinating insight, Mr. Campbell.
  • “Did you get cancer?” – Roger, as always never failing to snag the funniest line of the episode. It hurts that we have to wait another nine months or so to hear John Slattery fire off a fresh one-liner.
  • Interesting that we spent time in two houses that were in the process of being moved out of or were being prepped for sale (Anna Draper’s house in San Pedro and the Draper/Francis residence in Ossining). Yet more symbolism at the attempts our characters are making for fresh starts.
  • It can’t be said enough: Jon Hamm is an astonishingly fine actor. How great is it that his face and expression when Don proposes to Megan hearkens back to the flashback that we see during Season Two when he tells Anna that he’s going to marry Betty. He’s love struck and naïve all over again here, and relieved to have a human being that doesn’t know him to hang his cipher-self on for a spell.
  • On the SCDP office front, I think it’s clear that while the firm may not be rolling in it to kick off Season Five, they have turned a corner with Topaz, the American Cancer Society, and perhaps the riches of Dow chemical in the offing.
  • I absolutely love that Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton) stands his ground in the face of the firm’s partners (minus Bert Cooper, ominously not even mentioned in the episode I believe? We need more Robert Morse!) and refuses to work his father-in-law for business as Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) fully expects him to, as he of course has done himself many times now. “I’m not Pete, sorry about that,” Ken says. The Pete vs. Ken dynamic is every bit as fascinating as Pete vs. Don.
  • “Just because you’re sad, it doesn’t mean everybody else has to be.” – Glen to Betty
  • Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) keeps getting creepier and more obnoxious and lecherous, doesn’t he?
  • Another shout out to Season Two: Don Draper in full Corporate Man getup out by the pool in LA.
  • “Who’s Dick”? – Sally. “Well, that’s me. That’s my nickname sometimes.” – Don/Dick
  • Megan and her snooty college friend head to the Whiskey a Go Go, which is about nine months out on The Doors kicking off their run as the house band at the legendary LA venue. The heart of the 1960s have yet to really hit Don and crew, four seasons in.  
  • Betty has been less likable than ever this season (and for good reason), but she gets a few small glimmers of humanity during this episode. I liked particularly the small moment where we see her lay down on Sally’s bed (I believe?). Betty is certainly a person who wishes someone like Grandpa Gene would swoop in and make it All Better.
  •  “You don’t know anything about me.” – Don to Megan
  • “I feel like myself when I’m with you, but the way I always wanted to feel.” – Don to Megan
  • “See Don, this is the way to behave.” – Roger to Don, beautifully and succinctly calling him out on the hell that Don put him through after he married “the new girl.”
  • Peggy and Ken are always terrific together – I hope we get to see more of this team in Season Five.
  • “I hope you have all the happiness that Peggy and I had signing this account.” – Ken to Don, rivaling Roger for funniest line of the episode.
  • Peggy’s reaction to hearing about Don/Megan is fascinating, and her subsequent “post mortem” with Joan (Christina Hendricks) is worthy of a full and standalone examination. I think it’s clear that while she has no romantic designs on Don (ever since he warned her that he’s her boss, not her boyfriend, way back in the pilot), she is disoriented and flustered and a little bit peeved that he’s suddenly marrying his secretary, after sleeping with a string. Except for the late Ms. Blankenship, of course.
  • “Whatever could be on your mind?” – Joan to Peggy. Classic Joan, amazing stuff. And then: “They’re all just in between marriages, you know that.”
  • The Phonecall: Don to Faye. To paraphrase: we’re breaking up because I’m marrying someone else (not important who, mind). Simply brutal. “I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things,” Faye get in, but of course Don deserves far more, and worse.
  • “Things aren’t perfect.” – Betty to Don
  • I know I’m not the only one who wonders about the selection of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe,” to close out the episode and season. I can’t help but think that as Bill Murray found out in Groundhog Day, things have a funny way of repeating themselves…
  • Video: Mad Men, “Tomorrowland”
    Head inside the episode, from AMC:

    From Around the Web: Mad Men, “Tomorrowland”

  • Alan Sepinwall: You can't always will a change into your life. Change happens when it happens. You can make a new start, but it won't necessarily be a fresh one. 
  • Speakeasy: Don’s sudden engagement to Megan is the finale’s biggest revelation. It will obviously have a profound effect on future seasons of the show. But in the eyes of this longtime fan, that’s not exactly a good thing. The engagement is an enormous misfire—a baffling plot twist that’s surprising but not at all logical.
  • Boston Herald: The hour lacked the energy and the pacing of last week’s episode. The final image of Megan sleeping comfortably, Don awake, staring out the window, may just prove Faye’s parting shot prophetic: Don is always more interested in beginnings.
  • By Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader"

    About the author

    Eric is the publisher and revered leader of TV Geek Army… at least in his own mind. TV Geek Army is a place for serious TV reviews and news for serious fans of great television. Contact: eric-[at]-tvgeekarmy.com 

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    4 Comments
    On: Monday, October 18, 2010
    Gordon S. Miller said:

    Good write-up.  I liked this episode and think too many people are used to cliffhangers which are too easy since you don't need an ending. I liked how here some things wrapped up and new doors opened. 

    Even though Peggy had limited screen time I loved her.  She's was creative as Don in her meeting and he is going to be losing his gift since he doesn't get the new teenagers that will be springing up by 1966.  And what was Don's comment about Megan reminding him of her? Ouch. 

    Diappointed that (was it 10 weeks gone by) Cooper isn't back yet.  Harry is a freak.

    Now about the "baffling plot twist that’s surprising but not at all logical." from Speakeasy.  It's logical in that Don is never logical with women.  Wasn't he going to dump everything and run off with...dang.  Was it the department store gal?  Don likes idea of being in love but doesn't like the work required.

    I need a series to wow me now and have nothing on my plate.

    On: Tuesday, October 19, 2010
    Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

    Thanks El B! 

    Great point too about Peggy -- a terrific theme of this season is that she is an equal to Don in many ways now (and often better). It may be hyperbole that she "saved the firm" but it's clear that she's been a huge asset. Plus on a story level it's fun to see her knocking out the pitches while Don goes through his own struggles. 

    The department store gal = Rachel Mencken. And yes, your description is very succinct and apt -- I see the proposal as his new fantasy, the thing that is easier (and more false) than the real but more complex relationship on deck with Faye. 

    On: Wednesday, January 12, 2011
    Tom B said:

    I like the title of the review. "Maybe it'll be an adventure!"

     

    The line is spoken by Megan after she arranges babysitters for Don's kids in California, so he can take them and still attend meetings. He's dyspeptic at the thought of schlepping the kids with intermittant help, and handling them at a baseball game by himself, which she judges he is up to. "Does that sound like a vacation to you," he asks. She replies, "Maybe it'll be an adventure!"

     

    Megan loves kids, and to her, it seems like Don should be stoked at the chance to spend more time with his. Don hears what she is saying, and also recalls the adventure they had on his office couch; the rest is history.

    On: Wednesday, January 12, 2011
    Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

    Thanks Tom and great analysis! 

    I love the scene at the restaurant/diner in California (that could almost be the same one, 30 years later and in its decline, in Pulp Fiction come to think of it) where Don and Megan are with the kids, and Bobby spills something. Don has been "trained" in a way to think of family time as laborious servitude, but Megan impresses him greatly with her easy and nurturing manner. Coming from a family where a spill at the dinner table would automatically be cause for a general freak out I very much related to the dynamics going on there. 

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