As Mad Men approaches the end of its extraordinary run, each episode gets combed over in excruciating detail in a search for meaning and significance. The detail of the scrutiny isn’t really surprising. Mad Men is, after all, the greatest TV drama of all time.
What is surprising, though, is how three potentially important developments from last week’s episode managed to somehow slip under almost everyone’s radar. I could be off-base with any or all of these but each one seemed fraught with significance to me:
It was a “Don Draper” pitch that pushed Don over the edge. Reading over recaps of last week’s episode, several bloggers mentioned that Don was “distracted” at the Miller meeting. It seemed clear to me that something much more pointed was going on. When Bill Phillips of Donnelly Research began his presentation, what I heard was clearly reminiscent of the old Don Draper at his peak. Listening (in effect) to himself spurred today’s Don to a conclusion: His profession was unworthy and his professional success was meaningless. Don reached his point of no return, provoked by the echo of a classic Don Draper-styled pitch.
Roger is the guy falling from a window in the opening credits. The inestimable Sandra Colombo gets credit for this one. In Sunday’s episode, Roger told Peggy about an experience when he was in the Navy. He had a chance to go swimming after being stuck on a boat for several days in 100 degree weather. The problem was that he had to jump from someplace that was several stories above the water… and he was afraid of heights. When Peggy asked him how he got himself to jump, he explained that someone pushed him. It’s not difficult to see that as a foreshadowing something more meaningful to come.
The hitchhiker was a young Dick Whitman. This is the most obvious, most overlooked clue of all. Take a good look at this screen grab of Don and the young hitchhiker:
Unless, I’m seeing things (a possibility that isn’t entirely out of the question), that looks an awful lot like Jon Hamm lurking underneath that mess of uncombed hair. If that’s the case, then Don’s ensuing road trip with this young man is destined to be the hinge on which the entire Mad Men story swings. It will provide Don with ample time to discover what his younger self knew that he has forgotten. And he’ll have a chance to integrate his unsettling past with his increasingly uncertain future. Call me an optimist but I’d like to think that there’s redemption waiting out there for Don and that perhaps it might be the young Dick Whitman who points him in the right direction.
Like everyone else, I’m eager to see how Matthew Weiner works everything out in the end. But as I watched last week’s episode it seemed to me that he left some fairly obvious clues. It turned out, though, that they were all roundly ignored in the media… if they were really there at all.