Before one can start new business, one must settle old business, and this is of primary import in last night’s episode of Mad Men. As Megan (Jessica Paré) returns to collect her belongings from Don (Jon Hamm), a number of ghosts get stirred up for more than one member of SC&P, and the episode hinges on what is the appropriate price for forgiveness and making amends with the past, or if there even is a price. In one of the more ghastly scenes, Harry Crane (Rich Sommer), in essence, attempts to rectify Megan’s marriage to Don and bungled career by offering her a good agent, but only if she’ll sleep with him. Just as Megan is trying to start anew, Harry is trying to reclaim an old crush, in the most crude way possible, and the episode makes a point of showing an array of ways the past infiltrates people and seduces them away from the present or, often enough, reason.
Even the first scene, in which Don makes shakes for his kids in Betty (January Jones) and Henry’s (Christopher Stanley) home, underlines a contemplation of the past. For Stan (Jay R. Ferguson), the past is art, as SC&P’s hiring of a famed photographer, Pima Ryan (Mimi Rogers), makes him start considering the measure of his talents. At one point, he pointedly says that he has nothing new to show her, and when he does eventually show her a new series of ostensible boudoir photos, Pima suggests that his subject doesn’t want to tell him the truth. Ultimately, Stan doesn’t really want the truth either, and the comfort of self-delusion is an element of modern life that Mad Men has always been acutely aware of from the beginning.
The only one who picks up on the fact that Pima is indulging a similar kind of self-inflicted illusion is Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), whom Rogers’s Annie Hall-type tries to pick up after a quickie with Stan in the dark room. Sterling (John Slattery) is offered a quick lay as well when Megan’s mother, Marie (Julia Ormond), joins her daughter and decides to take Don for everything he owns, quite literally. Marie’s reckoning comes from a place of unbearable regret, and her unhinged behavior in New York evokes the dark, crippling bitterness that can manifest from enduring a loveless relationship in the name of family. In the last scene, Matthew Weiner and co-writer Tom Smuts underline the dividing lines in a shattered family between Megan and her sister, Marie-France (Kim Bubbs), with Megan taking her mother’s side and Marie-France bemoaning poor Emile back home.
Sterling is perhaps the least fascinated in change, as an early scene shows him getting befuddled over getting more secretarial help. At one point, Sterling even presses Don to stand firm on any of Megan’s divorce demands, advice that Don neither asks for or takes. When Hamm’s advertising ace slides the million-dollar check over to Megan, it’s not just to hopefully settle their rift, but to ensure that he doesn’t get hung up in the past like his colleagues. That being said, the fact that Don continues his relationship with Diana (Elizabeth Reaser), a waitress who reminds him of Rachel, his lost love, doesn’t bode well for him moving on, though he certainly seems to think that he’s starting fresh. Don is willing to move forward, but that new life smell can be deceiving and the writing undercuts his would-be progressive acts with Diana’s constant talk of what she’s left behind—which, to be fair, isn’t an easy thing to get over. Don’s troubles, as stressful as they may be, are peanuts compared to a real life of regret, one that can’t be fixed with a cool million, a few hundred apologies, and a hug. Diana might never be able to move on, and it’s only in that beautiful last shot of Don in his hulled-out apartment does the title of the episode seem a vague possibility for Mr. Draper.
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