Let me explain.
In last night’s Mad Men, Don Draper was rather under the weather, so he went home to convalesce. All of a sudden an old flame was at the door. He tried again and again to rebuff her advances before finally giving in. Later in the episode Don, disgusted with his infidelity, physically attacks and kills his paramour. Rather dark stuff. If it was real. You see, near the end of the episode we come to understand that all of this was just a fever-induced dream. Don did not, in fact, cheat on his wife.
Once again we are treated to Don’s self-destructive and torturous desires for both something “normal” and “whatever he wants.” The writers continue to play with their main character’s yearning to change and inability to do the same. The torture continues. It reminds me of an interview I heard on NPR a few weeks ago, where a wily old man and contemporary of Draper’s from the 1960s simply said that Don needed to stop feeling so guilty all the time and just move on. But that can’t be the answer, can it? Don’s struggles and guilt are part of what makes the drama so compelling.
As a warning of danger ahead, Don’s little “Christmas Carol” experience was nice and all…but let’s be frank: he’s going to mess this up. He always does. Nevertheless he’s trying as hard as he possibly can here to remain on the straight and narrow. My question is: why? After four seasons, we have a sense of why he cheats…or at least we know that’s just what he does. But why he’s trying so hard not to right now? That’s a much more interesting question.
What is driving his desire to stay faithful? Is he trying nobly to uphold his wedding vows? That didn’t seem to work with his first wife. Is he trying to prove something to her, his new wife Megan, or the world? Maybe. Is he trying to prove something to himself? Definitely. Does he think he is getting “too old for this?” Aging is a theme this season, and perhaps they are trying to dispel or reinforce the myth that this problem of infidelity or sex addiction or whatever is wrong with Don is NOT something you grow out of.
Don Draper has always been a kind of slowly unfolding tragedy, a man who can see clearly where he is headed but can’t quite seem to stop himself. He’s trying harder than ever before right now…and that’s what makes all this even more wrenching.