'Mad Men': Tim Goodman on Don Draper's Million-Dollar Move on Megan in "New Business"

Mad Men Draper Eating Alone - H 2015

Mad Men Draper Eating Alone - H 2015

In a Mad Men episode that was heavier on forward movement than symbolism, we still learned a lot about what (and who) gets left behind.

It was nice to see Betty again, and even better to hear that she’s going to enroll in a masters degree program in the fall to study psychology — a fragment of a scene that must have brought a smile to Matthew Weiner’s face when he thought of it, given all that Betty went through in the early seasons.

“Should be fascinating for all involved,” Don said, a sly smile on his face.

But that scene with Don, Betty, the kids — with Henry there for the exclamation point — ended as Don left, glancing back at the warm family scene as the others focused on moving on.

It was a look tinged with regret.

The previous episode, “Severance,” also showed Don realizing what he’s missed out on or left behind — Rachel being a large part of that. Here, in the aptly named “New Business” episode, it’s just a glance back at what could have been. But there must be a part of Don, even briefly awash in nostalgia, that understands he never wanted what he witnessed with Betty and Henry and the kids. He had it and passed.

But the question is whether he wants it now — knowing his life hasn't panned out all that happily. It’s apropos that the episode also ended with Don looking around at his empty apartment, having just lost Megan as well. Her mother's grab for the furniture offered up another little dose of schadenfreude for those who believe Don had all this loss coming his way all along).

We also just found out that Don seems to have lost Diana — though why he even wants her is still a mystery (though not a particularly difficult one, given his past). It was no accident that Weiner built this episode around a succession of losses for Don: losing Megan (and paying her a million dollars to be rid of his guilt over their divorce out of his mind); learning Diana is so hollowed out by sorrow that he won't be able to saver her; and finally, the image of Don returning to his very empty apartment.

Though the episode moved along crisply in its story development, it ended by laying down in a scene of bleakness. And by structuring the episode in that way, Weiner was able to juxtapose Diana’s dingy apartment –— which Don immediately recognized as a form of self-loathing and penance — with his own completely empty apartment. Just under the surface of the image is the despair of not wanting or deserving anything.

The biggest plot development came in finally fleshing out the dynamic with Don and Megan and the end of it all. Though Roger did predict there would be some kickback for lost youth and such (and there was), Don’s relationship with Megan is fundamentally different than Roger’s was with Jane. The two men approach women in completely different ways. Say what you want about Don’s womanizing and inability to stop that cycle, the majority of his “relationships” with woman are oddly filled with Don's emotional support and understanding. No doubt he's been forever using the women in his life to fill the void of his mother, but when Don looks for sex he’s also looking for companionship and, unlike Roger, something that resembles a relationship. If we’ve learned anything since we first met him, Don falls too easily into his desire for the girl of the hour — and Diana might be the most extreme example. He has continued to look for her – this episode takes place a little more than a month after last week’s episode — but we’re left to wonder why? It could be that Diana is just an enigma, and Don likes that. But who really knows what Don seeks anyway? Maybe it’s just enough that she be a brunette. But in that room, it seemed like he realized that going all-in with Diana wasn’t going to work; she’s just far too gone into grief and remorse.

One step forward in sussing out trouble before stepping in it — and one step closer to not finding (or knowing) what you want.

Anyway, the Megan scenes at least allowed her to say her piece — and it wouldn’t seem right if she hadn’t. “I wasn’t going to say a word,” she said at the lawyer’s office. “I wasn’t going to give you the satisfaction of knowing that you ruined my life.”

But Don never rose to the bait — maybe because he knows that she’s at least partly right. “I gave up everything for you because I believed you. And you’re nothing but a liar,” she said, with some venom. And then it got worse: “An aging, sloppy, selfish, liar.”

So Don wrote the check. “I want you to have the life you deserve.” That’s an interesting point in time for Don Draper/Dick Whitman, since this whole show is basically about the man who wrote the check not getting that very thing.

It will be interesting to see how much Megan is a part of this season from here on out. And also Betty — though I’d bet we’ll see more of her. I liked how they doled out a bit of story for Stan as well, fleshing him out a little with Pima, the sexual rock star. We got to see Harry being an ass, but he’s been that for a long time now (more on the theme of people not changing). We got frantic and bitter Pete, which is always good. He was even able to add a little bit of Mad Men life philosophy to the episode: “You think you’re going to begin your life over again and do it right,” Pete says of the post-divorced lifestyle. “But what if you never get past the beginning again?”

And there it is: the notion at the heart of the episode.

If you ask the Don we see in “New Business” whether he’d trade it all to go back to Betty and that house from the very first Mad Men episode, he’d probably take it. Regret is a big part of his life right now.

Onward to the extra observations from this episode:

· Tab cola!

· Megan on the phone to Don at the beginning: “You were a millionaire when I met you.” Not too much later, he writes her a check for a million.

· Remember, people, “NAC.” No afternoon calls. Blotto’d.

· From pajamas to a suit, as one does. “Do you sleep like that?” Diana asks. "Nope, just vain," Don says.

· Diana: “I lied to you.” Don: “Already?”

· And yes, their conversations are still staccato and weird, but they didn’t have that dream-like quality from last week.

· Pima: “I can feel the tension of your need for my opinion.” Yep, definitely putting that on the business card.

· Pima: “Let’s see how brave you are.” Well, Stan wasn’t brave enough to admit to his, uh, girlfriend (?) that he’s not a great photographer. And he’s deluding himself about his sexual prowess. But at least he can draw.

· Diana: “How many girls have you had in this elevator?” Don: “That’s not what that was.” Oh, yes it was — because that was Sylvia Rosen in the elevator. Bet we don’t see her again. But who knows.

· Speaking of that distinct Diana and Don language, here’s some: Diana: “How can I be noticed at this point?” Don: “I know.” Diana: “There’s a twinge in my heart.” Don: “A pain.” Diana: “No, it’s not that. I’m positive.” And they sway together — she getting a whiff of what could be happiness in some sense. And he finding another person as sad and lost as he is.

· Roger to Megan’s mother, who wants to be ravaged in Don’s apartment: “You already emptied the place out — you want to defile it as well?”

· Harry to Megan: “You are like every man’s dream. You’re like Ali McGraw and Bridget Bardot had a baby. You should be the most famous person in the world right now.” Once she refuses his advances, he calls her a crazy person.

· Megan looking at Don’s check for a million dollars (in the 70s!): “Well, I know it’s not real. Nothing about you is.”

· I loved how Megan defended her mother leaving her father and, apparently, staying in New York with Roger, to her sister: “You know it’s a sin to be a ghoul and feed on everyone’s pain? She’s been unhappy for a very long time. At least she did something about it.” I loved it because she can’t see that’s what Don did. But then again, every time Don does something about being unhappy, it’s never actually leads him to happiness.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine