Mad Men: “In Care Of”

It might be hard to remember the hazy beginnings of this season, but let’s try together.

Don is laying out in the Hawaiian sunshine, reading Dante’s Inferno–as recommended by Sylvia, the woman he’s sleeping with back home. We all know how Inferno goes, and most of us caught on to the not-so-subtle nudge Matthew Weiner was giving us in those opening moments.

How many rock bottoms have we seen Don Draper hit? Just last week, I threw out the idea that Don Draper was on his way to the worst bottom of the series since the end of the third season.

Looks like I was right.

In the fifth season, Don and Ginsberg had competing pitches for an ad for Snowballs. Ginsberg’s ad was a playful comic-strip aimed at the playful slapstick children love so much. Don’s was dark and menacing. It was a picture of Satan himself, calling out to the world to have a taste of his creation.

For Don, it was no contest. He left Ginsberg’s pitch in the cab. Don saw the image of Satan as an enticing one. On a warm day in Hawaii, Don rushes through the pages of Dante’s most famous work, in which a man travels into the depths of Hell.

The fascination Don has with the underworld goes further than the literary. His darkness lives just beneath the surface all the time in the form of Dick Whitman. Don Draper is nothing more than a suit.

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Mad Men has always been a show that’s willing to play fast and loose with its flashbacks, but this season’s flashbacks feel like they’re just as surprising to the filmmakers as they are to the audience. Like Don’s mind can’t control where it goes.

Almost every episode this season has given us a flashback of Don’s horrifying adolescence in a brothel, where a group of prostitutes communally raised Don in depression-era filth.

“In Care Of” has saved the most enlightening flashback for last.

Over the course of the season, Don’s alcoholism has consumed him. We are no longer meant to root for him. The camera stays far from his face. The framing makes him smaller. Isolated. Close-ups reveal grotesque blotches in his skin. A film of sweat that never leaves.

In a bar, where Don avoids work for the umpteenth time, a preacher comes to his side to give him advice about the spiritual war in his soul. And then, mid-sentence, we’re thrust into a flashback.

Don is a teenager, and he stands behind a similarly loose-lipped preacher as he pontificates to the women of the brothel. Don’s father-figure, in a fit of rage, unleashes his own hellfire on the preacher, telling him to waste his time with spiritual nonsense on some other doorstep.

“I’d tell you to go to hell, but I never want to see you again” is not only one of the best lines of the entire series so far, but it’s extremely eye-opening for Don to remember that particular turn of phrase.

Somewhere inside that Byzantine, narcissistic brain, Don Draper believes in Hell. He might be unsure of the God part, as we all are, but he’s seen Hell enough times to validate its existence.

For thirteen straight episodes, we’ve seen Don become the monster he’s capable of being. And while he’s not the most dynamic character, the camera has certainly done an amazing job of giving us different angles with which to view him.

Megan has seen that angle. As has Sally. And on the morning Don had planned to leave the city for Los Angeles, he gave a couple of Hershey’s executives and a few of his colleagues a taste of that angle in the most inappropriate way possible.

“I want to be honest with you, because I doubt I’ll ever see you again. I’m an orphan. I was raised in a brothel in Pennsylvania.”

Don goes on to tell the men in the room that he was raised by hookers, and that Hershey bars represent the only moments in his life where he felt like a regular kid.

The outburst, along with the rest of his unprofessional behavior for the last year, gets him fired.

Well, laid off. Technically. But Duck didn’t bring in another creative director for an interview for nothing. Don’s on the way out, and Peggy is heading toward his chair. She even gets a shot that perfectly mirrors Don’s own position in the logo of the show. She’s the new Don (pun intended) of SC&P.

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Megan wants out of the loveless, distant marriage. She wants to live in Los Angeles. We may never see her again.

Don’s lost his job, his wife, the respect of his daughter, and his ambition. So what is he now? What’s he going to do?

In the final shot, we see Don looking sober, staring at the house in which he was raised. Is he going to finally embrace his past?

Probably not, but I can’t wait to see what he does instead.

Additional Thoughts

The thing between Peggy and Ted felt really rushed in this episode, especially after all of that build up. I doubt that’s the last we’ll see of that.

So Pete’s mom died on a ship. Murdered by Bob’s boyfriend, who married her hours before her death. It’s a ballsy move for Weiner to write such an interesting story into the background of a season finale. It almost feels like he’s making fun of other season finales.

Bob Benson is a very, very interesting character. I hope we really get to dig into his character next year.

I want Peggy to be the top creative director in NYC next season.

Speaking of season 7, can we all agree that the show needs to end next year? The law of diminishing returns has got to catch up with Weiner at some point.

That SC&P logo is delightfully, horrendously spot on for the period.

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  • Terry Barr

    I don’t know if he will or can embrace his past. And I agree that he is everything you’ve said he is, though I’m not sure we’ve seen the last of Megan. And it might not be the most appropriate thing to do. Hell, it might be yet another form of child abuse, but at the end, when Sally looks at his old home, at her father, and he looks at her and both turn back to the house, he might have done Sally the best turn he’s ever given her. Or could give her. She’s wanted to know him, and so, as they say, “Once upon a time…