Tuesday, May 21, 2013

He's Really Still a Kid

Mad Men, Season Six, Episode Eight, “The Crash”

This episode adopted the frenetic, fractured perspective that those on Cutler’s “energy serum” might experience. (I’ll give the creators the benefit of the doubt that it was intentional and not just lousy direction and/or editing). It’s never been more obvious that Don is on a quest for a mother. And those women to whom he turns keep letting him down. Sylvia refuses to re-start their affair—or even talk to him about it--and Peggy uses her comforting skills on Ted and Stan instead of on Don. The look on his face when he sees Peggy in Ted’s office following the news of Gleeson’s death was painful. He then flashes back to the prostitute who cares for him when he’s sick as a young teen. That woman’s actual betrayal of trust and abuse of a child is, for Don, conflated with Peggy’s perfectly appropriate behavior. Don comes to a realization that “what holds people together, what draws them—it’s a history.” And, indeed, his history wraps its powerful and ugly tentacles around him and the people who evoke in him similar emotions to those from his childhood. It’s sad and tragic, but Don’s problem is that Megan could have been talking about him when she says, “Sally seems so grown up. She’s really just a kid.” Emotionally, Sally is more mature than her father.

The “creativity boost” the doctor promised Don when giving him the shot sent him instead into a feverish repeat of—and flashback to--his illness as a youth, and into reminders of his need of a mother. The son of a prostitute, living with prostitutes, the young and ill Dick is taken into the room of one of the women at his uncle and aunt’s brothel. “Your mama don’t know how to take care of nobody,” Miss Swenson says. Don denies that his step-mother is his mother, still looking for a woman to fill that role. He’s rightfully—it turns out—distrustful of this candidate, but she does take care of him nicely for awhile. The way the story plays out makes it evident why Don has always blurred the lines between sex partners and mother figures. And why he felt so much for Joan during the Herb incident. I could see a similar disappearance through the eyes of Joan when Herb was undressing her and the eyes of Dick as Miss Swenson lay down on the bed with him. But, in Don’s drug-addled brain, the memories of this woman lead him on a quest for an old ad campaign: “Because you know what he needs” accompanies the picture of a motherly woman feeding a boy. Don—a child really—yearns for that kind of mothering; he’s frustrated that none of the women in his life will give him what he thinks he needs. He married Megan for her mothering skills with his children. He clearly hoped she would shower him with them as well. Come to find out she’s an adult who expects him to be one as well, so she’s off pursuing her own career and aims, not catering to him as much as he wants. Sylvia ceased playing his games and taking care of him. She’s being more adult. Peggy’s not buying his bullshit anymore and exhibits more concern toward Ted and Stan, and with Stan she demonstrates that she’s an adult as well: “I’ve been through loss. You can’t dampen it with drugs and sex. It won’t get you through,” she tells him when he tries to seduce her.

Don has these adult women in his life who do care for him, yet won’t mother him. And then there are the actual damaging "mothers." The episode not only shows the prostitute as a woman being maternal, yet than taking advantage of and hurting a child. The woman who breaks into the Draper home is another incarnation of this type; she pretends to be maternal, yet takes advantage of Sally and Bobby to get her own needs met. When Sally tells Don, “She said she was your mother,” Don’s look is tortured. Again. What’s a damaged man to do? While Don was more of a sympathetic character to me again this week, I don’t hold out much hope that he’ll figure this one out. He doesn’t get the contradictions in his character when he pulls something like what he pulls at the end. He’s right that “every time we get a car, this place turns into a whore house” and that that’s a bad thing. So, he tries to walk away from it, telling Ted that he can’t participate in the Chevy account except by evaluating other people’s work. Yet, the man can’t avoid the history that binds him to prostitutes and to bad mother figures, so he searches for a mother, treats most women as whores, and re-creates the whole cycle again. And again. And again. “Still a kid,” caught up in a messed-up drama that requires some adult (like him) to take charge.

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