“I’m here to make you feel better,” says Frank Gleason’s sexpot daughter, after her dad’s funeral. It could’ve happened earlier that day or three years before, there’s no way to tell the time when a woman claiming to be your mother has stolen all your watches.(1)
It’s Don’s third attempt to convince us that what we don’t see is more important than what we do. First he didn’t want to show us luxury hotels, then ketchup and now cars. A picture of the American dream is beginning to emerge, composed of empty space. The same man who asked his doorman what death looked like is trying to sell us on the excitement of the unknown: “People’s faces, all kinds, teenagers, dads, moms, different expressions of wonder. What could this possibly be?”
Moderator Caryn James asked the question early on in the night, directing it at Weiner, “Tell us about Betty’s transformation, physical and internal. Why did you put on that weight for her?” Weiner responded matter-of-factly, “Well, it was a creative solution to a real-life problem, that January was pregnant—and everything worked out great, she has a baby [laughs]—and we had to start shooting, so I had the choice between doing the laundry basket thing or really trying to deal with it, not trying to hide it.” So, an accident of the filming process? Not quite.
On the evening of Jan. 30th, 1968, 200 US officers attended a pool party in Saigon, not one of them aware that the city would be attacked in a few hours. Trudy gets invited to a pool party too, unaware that her husband is peddling hot dogs in the foyer nearby. He holds up two coats for two women. It seems like either one will fit. After Trudy finds out about Pete’s affair, he asks her if she wants a divorce. “I refuse to be a failure,” she tells him, not understanding that sometimes continuing to fight can make you seem like a much bigger loser.
"How much time do you have left?" Don asks, referring to one type of struggle but getting an answer about another. "Four hours" says Dinkins. He asks if Don will give him away because he feels weird about one of the hotel employees pretending to be her dad. "They look just like the enemy," he tells Don before asking whether Don noticed that heaven and hell are the same place.
Don’s great fear of abandonment could also be his ticket out. That last scene in the bar, where he’s looking like the cat who ate the bird, certainly indicated that he had escape on his mind. “I suddenly feel this door open and I want to walk through it,” says Rory to Pete, and then, “I should go.”(3)
Don tried caring—for Peggy, for Joan— and he got burned; so now’s he’s putting all his energy into convincing men who turn acid into weapons that they’ll never be bored because of how diverse their products are. He’s selling them the equivalent of the story Roger tells himself every day when he wakes up next to a new young girl.(3)
Megan wants to be taken seriously as an actress, but in Boston, the front row of men just wants to see how she looks walking out of the room. The play she’s auditioning for is Little Murders, which embodies every last theme of this show. From Roger Ebert’s 1971 review of the movie adaptation: “Alfred gets by in New York, sort of, by deadening himself to the terrible cries, smells, sights and pains the city keeps lobbing at him. You can’t feel pain if you can’t feel anything …. Sharp, intense experiences can still penetrate the shell: sex, pain, getting fired. But the gentler emotions have atrophied.”(2)
Ever since Megan quit, a strange harmony has settled over the show. There seemed to be experiments with making good communication skills feel exciting. I watched Don and Megan having their mature discussions about Sally and Betty and who's quitting and who's not with my head cocked to one side like a dog, waiting to see whether that jingling sound was the can opener or the car keys.(4)
The two best liars on this show used to be Don and Peggy, both outwardly and inwardly. Of course, everyone in that office walks around fooling themselves; but those two are the only ones whose secrets come with birth certificates. New Don, though, has been having problems lately detecting the deceit in others.(3)