Thursday Five: Mad Men Special – Don’s Women

Taking a break from Episodes which will return in the next few days for the final look at an episode from season 4, the Mad Men theme continues with a very special Thursday Five. With three days left until season 5 premieres on AMC, this Thursday Five will chronicle the more notable of Don Draper’s numerous conquests in a list of the ad man’s endless relations with the opposite sex.

1. The Wife – Betty Draper

Throughout the course of all four seasons so far, a regular starting point for much of the drama on the show begins firmly at home, Don’s explosive relationship with Betty is consistently on rocky territory until finally disintegrating entirely at the culmination of season 3. As a result of Don’s many infidelities and constant lies to his wife that seems to have been going on since the dawn of time, the relationship at its core is built steadily on mistrust, insecurity and personal vulnerability on both sides of the coin for the characters.

As a character, Betty is often sullen as a teenager and regularly resembles a child playing dress-up in the world of adult relationships, with Don initially taking advantage of her trust by engaging in affairs. This perhaps stems more from his own unhappiness with having had to babysit Betty through her numerous mood swings, questionable parenting skills and general immaturity, but it is clear from the onset of the very first season that this was a marriage doomed to implode with much damage inflicted on both sides. Betty forgives Don every now and then as she is inherently in love and intoxicated with the man, yet as her venom grows throughout the series and she becomes braver to challenge Don as she learns more regarding her true identity in the crescendo of season 3, it is obvious that it is ultimately Don’s purest desire to move on by that time too. Whether or not this is the end of their relationship remains to be seen, as their eternal bond over their children left Betty with a wistful look in her eyes when Mr Draper arrives for their son Gene’s second birthday in season 4 episode The Summer Man.

 

2. The Extra-Curricular – Suzanne Farrell

Season 3’s incarnation of Don’s extra-curricular dalliance took the form of his daughter’s school teacher Suzanne Farrell. While Don’s relationship with Betty had reached a new strength after her forgiveness for his other affairs and the imminent arrival of baby Gene easing hostilities at the start of the season, the temptation born out of his own personal dissatisfactions took over Don again after an enchanting dance caught his eye by Suzanne at Sally’s school fete. After pursuing the teacher for a brief period, Don got his girl and was back to risking the cosy family life he had forged for himself once more.

A spanner was thrown into Don’s works as Betty’s belligerence began to grow once more as a result of the strain of his busy work life bleeding through into the imbalance between his affair and his home life. The weight presses down on Don and his plans to escape the monotony with Suzanne are halted by the only thing he truly perhaps both feared and craved the most, with Betty discovering the truth around Don Draper’s genuine identity. As a monumental argument clouds the Draper household, Suzanne is left alone in the car with her bags, with only the slow dawning realisation that Don isn’t coming back for her after all, and she is left to join the list of women who fall by Don’s wayside.

 

3. The Rebound Wife – Megan Calvet

Rising like a phoenix out of the fires of depression and alcoholism in the wake of his broken marriage, the second half of season for Don Draper sees a distinctive return to form for the ladies’ man except this time with a reappraisal of all the good traits that make Don’s idiosyncrasies acceptable for the viewer. A vulnerable romantic at his very core, Don often utilises hollow sex and extra-curricular affairs to fill the deep hole in his heart as a result of his departure from being Dick Whitman and his disastrous tendency to sabotage his own happiness. In the early series, we recognise often that Don is a man whose actions happen on a whim and that the ad man purely doesn’t know what he wants from his life and instead fills it with copious amounts of sex and booze.

This changes in the latter stages of the fourth season. Charting his perpetual downfall he seems stuck in at the end of his marriage, the fourth season investigates how Don is particularly lost at this point and his life is in a traumatic state of disrepair. After lapses in his memory occur and the death of his only true friend in Anna Draper, Don is left at a crucial juncture in his life. In this decisive mid-season renaissance, Don rectifies the negative aspects of his life and actively brings himself back to his past charming glories. After a brief romance with colleague Faye Miller, Don enters into a decidedly whirlwind relationship with secretary Megan Calvet, which ends in their engagement at series end. Though not married on screen and the potential drama stemming from the possible jealousies of Faye and indeed Betty, there is also an added sense that Megan may perhaps be merely a rebound wife after the disaster that was his marriage to Betty. Despite his apparent solace and internal peace the speedy relationship affords Don for the first time in the series, it remains to be seen whether or not he can keep his eyes fixed to one woman and more pressingly whether or not the wedding will even go ahead.

 

4. The One – Rachel Menken

Perhaps due to the stigma of being Don’s first notable onscreen affair, the romance between the ad man and department store heiress Rachel Menken burned into the legacy of the show for its importance to its main character. Sweeping Rachel off her feet after a meeting to discuss plans for her business on top of the store building, and thus began a relationship doomed to failure. After having had enough of life with Betty, Don suggests they run away together in a character trait of Don’s that would be reiterated again in season 3 but the repeated version mentioned in the Suzanne Farrell section is sold with far less conviction as seen here in season one with Rachel. Don and Rachel connected on a supremely intimate level but part of what attracted him to her so absolutely is her ability to see through him and his transparency reveals that there is no substance to his exit plan and the relationship is put permanently on the backburner.

How far that this fling affected Don is debatable, but the benefit of having numerous seasons of aftermath to spin it in a positive light means that this is perhaps the most important affair of the course of Mad Men. Being the only romantic relationship other than his marriage that spans over more than one season, Rachel’s appearance in the second season with her new husband has a profound effect on Draper, which is revealed by the pseudonym that he gives on an alcohol fuelled bender with Roger and Freddy Rumsen in Six Month Leave. Utilising the name Tilden Katz, the apparent connotation is that this is a reference to Rachel’s new beau and indicates that perhaps the parting they suffered plays far more heavily on Don’s mind and heart than he has ever let on during the span of four seasons and maybe states that Rachel is the one that got away for Don.

 

5. The Kindred Spirit – Peggy Olson

The last on this list is the only relationship that has not resembled a physical or sexual context, yet the interplay between the two is inherently one of the most important relationships the show. Built largely on respect, the relationship burgeons into an unbreakable sense of loyalty to one another, with Peggy thankful for the breaks that Don has given her professionally and Don appreciating the work and dedication that Peggy exudes in a difficult working environment. Moreover, the connection between the two contains far more trust than Don ever shared with Betty, the knowledge of the skeletons in each other’s closets meaning that their bond is often an unspoken yet loyal protectiveness far more than any outward displays of friendship. After all, Don is the only one who knows of Peggy’s pregnancy and subsequent labour, and we discover her mother dislikes the ad man as she suspects Don is the father. Furthermore, Don seems far more comfortable with sharing his thoughts, emotions and problems with Peggy, making her the first port of call in season two when he crashes his car while on a rendezvous with a client’s wife.

The mutual respect and unspoken bond allows the usually tight-lipped and conservative characters to expose their deepest emotions and help each other through difficult moments, as seen in the stellar fourth season episode The Suitcase, which will be covered in the last Episodes in the next few days. Despite there being no romantic connotations to their relationship at this point, the depth of understanding and compassion for one another evident in The Suitcase and others perhaps implies a deeper connection, and it will be interesting to see whether or not Matthew Weiner and the writers play into rumours that the show will end with Don and Peggy finally getting together in a consolidation of their kindred spirits.

 

That finishes this special edition of Thursday Five, and with three days left until the season 5 premiere, there will be more coverage here on RhettMedia. Comments and likes are much appreciated for any of the Mad Men specials from this week, and let me know if any of Don’s other women should’ve made this list.

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~ by jrhett on March 22, 2012.

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