Mad Men: Is Don's Marriage Over? Is His Career?

Dissecting "Field Trip," the third episode of the seventh season
AMC

Ashley Fetters and Chris Heller discuss the latest episode of Mad Men.


Fetters: Halfway through "Field Trip," the third episode of the season, Mad Men delivered one of its rare treats: the dressing-down of a bad husband by his long-suffering wife. Don visits Megan in California when her agent urges him to intervene; when the truth comes out about why he’s there, other truths—like the fact of Don’s unemployment—finally come out too. Even after Don has accused Megan of “acting crazy,” “acting like a lunatic,” being too emotional, and saying things that are plainly untrue, she points out that even if Don’s supposedly the rational one in the situation, then “with a clear head, you got up every day and decided you didn’t want to be with me.” And then she tells him, “This is the way it ends. It’s going to be so much easier for both of us.”

In the canon of great Mad Men tell-offs, this one should be categorized as more heartbreaking than high-five-worthy—it lacks the gleeful punch of Trudy Campbell’s “I will destroy you” last season, or Betty’s withering “Stop it, Don, nobody’s watching” in Season Two. But all the same, this felt like the successful execution of a confrontation that was a long time coming. Chris, were you a little relieved, like I was, to see Megan stand her ground for once?

Heller: So very relieved. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Megan, since SC&P’s West Coast office offers too many juicy opportunities to bring her back. Telling off Don, though? That’d be one hell of a way to go. She’s right to dump him: Notwithstanding the California promise that wasn’t, Don has always treated his wife like the lesser half of the marriage. It’s all over this episode: Alan’s wants him to handle her “confidence” problem, he ignores her obvious emotional distress, and she derisively calls him “Daddy.” After last week’s heart-to-heart between Don and Sally, it seemed clear that the marriage was at an impasse. If Don didn’t want to move to California, he would have no future with Megan. He didn’t, so they don’t.

Fetters: This episode brought some satisfyingly concrete developments in another ongoing uncertainty, too: the state of Don’s career. I love that the show actually embraced the awkward ambiguity of what “on leave” meant for Don. “Wait, did Don get fired?” was a question for a lot of viewers last season, too, and I’m glad to see that it was part of a longer setup for Mad Men to do what it does so well: Use random, seemingly inconsequential happenings as the setups to private tragedies and public absurdities. One man's unfortunately vague choice of words in a board room in 1968 lead to another man spending a full day uncomfortably on display in his old office in 1969, unsure of what his role is there or whether he has one—that’s purely Mad Men’s brand of quiet calamity.

But let’s talk about what really got me thinking this week—Don’s final “OK.” At the end of the episode, the partners at Sterling Cooper offer Don his job back under some very strict stipulations: no drinking in the office, no going off-script in pitch meetings, no alone time with clients, and he reports to Lou Avery. And Don says OK.

What I’m struggling with, Chris, is why. He has an offer from another agency, and presumably that offer doesn’t prohibit him from doing all the things he’s historically been so good at in the office. (Think back to when we first met Don Draper, in the pilot. He was the star of Sterling Cooper, known for his ability to woo clients one-on-one and come up with stellar ad pitches on the fly.) And his awkward reintroduction into the SC&P habitat made it painfully clear that nobody’s quite sure where he fits into the office ecosystem anymore. Peggy, once his protege, spits at him that nobody really misses him at the agency. What do you think is pulling him back to SC&P?

Presented by

Ashley Fetters is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

Chris Heller is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic. He has also written for NPR, Washington City Paper, and Metro Weekly.

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