Spoiler Alert: Do not read, if you have yet to recoil at the pile of awkwardness that is "Mad Men," Season 7, Episode 4, "Field Day."
As of the most recent installment of "Mad Men," Harry Crane's competition for Most Dishonest Man Jim Cutler Has Ever Worked With will once again include Don Draper. That's right, our anti-hero is back at SC&P, but his power and influence are about as validated as those Megan Draper as Sharon Tate theories. HuffPost TV sat down to suss through what could possibly be next for Don and decide if we're just being foolish to hope for genuine change.
Lauren: So, Don is back at SC&P, but only as a result of him being too expensive to get rid of, and with so many stipulations that his eventual failure to comply (and resulting termination) almost seems inevitable. But what version of Don are we dealing with at the end of "Field Day"? Is he someone who could ever possibly adapt to a world where drinking is only allowed as client hospitality and an "adequate" lump like Lou is in charge?
Leigh: Yeah, that was a lot. It's been crazy to watch Don's downfall. We've seen him depressed before -- remember when he and Betty got divorced and he lived in that awful apartment? -- but this is a new kind of low for Don. He's lost every ounce of his power, both in his relationship and in the workplace. That being said, Don Draper without his morning whiskey might just be a better Don Draper.
Lauren: To think about that, we need to determine if this is Don Draper we're talking about or Dick Whitman. The man who smiled and nodded in response to the partners' deliberately impossible list of rules didn't feel wholly like either man. Is it possible that post-Hershey's-reveal we're dealing with a merging of those two personas? I'm also wondering if a combination of Dick and Don can count as a "true self" or if it's foolish to even attempt to apply that concept to this character.
Leigh: I don't know if we're dealing with either one of them. I think Don (or Dick?) is just really, really lost. His second marriage is crumbling and he's lonely. He's seeking comfort in the one place where he was once truly powerful. He used to dominate those hallways. And I think at this point he'll do anything to feel some semblance of that again. Sadly, I don't think he'll ever redeem his power at SC&P. I loved it when Peggy looked him in the eye and told him no one had missed him. I was reminded of the Peggy of Season 1 -- she was so timid and eager to please, and now she can snap at Don Draper with all the confidence in the world. What a concept.
Lauren: Peggy blames Don for Ted leaving (and probably every aspect of her post-merger crappy life), at least somewhat rightfully so. For me, it was his willingness to take that blatant lack of respect from her that was so startling. Geez, his willingness to listen to a junior copy editor's wedding plans was startling. Was that behavior in the copy writer's room just a show of humbleness, brought about by desperation for his job ... or are we to believe that Don has actually done some growing and changing?
Leigh: I think the answer to that question is a big fat "no." How many false starts has Don had over the past seven seasons? When he got together with Megan it seemed like he'd really changed, and next thing we knew he was banging Linda Cardellini. Desperation is definitely what's going on here. And from that little smirk on his face in the final seconds of the episode, it certainly seemed like he thought he was getting somewhere. I guess the real question is, will Don ever get his booming career back?
Lauren: I was hoping that finally being honest about his old life might have facilitated an escape from the perpetual recidivism. Although, even if we determine that true change hasn't occurred, looking solely at the SC&P politics, there is a bigger obstacle. Don's "booming career" was based on his treatment as the center of the office cosmos. He built himself up into the reigning king, based on some combination of his unpredictability and the merit of his genius ... but now his genius is out of touch and his unpredictability is limited by a set of stipulations. Unless a lawn mower runs through the office murdering everyone (or at least Lou), Don is finally in a situation where he does not have the option to revert to his old ways, without consequences that extend beyond alienating assorted women.
Leigh: I guess somewhere deep down I hoped that Don's big reveal would lead to a big change, but even in that moment I remember thinking "Eh, this won't last." And the other problem is that people have started to complain that "Mad Men" is boring. While I completely disagree (and basically live for Sundays at 10 p.m.), I do get what they're saying. Don's storyline has gotten so repetitive that it's just not as interesting as it once was. So here's my question for you, Lauren: Where does Don go from here?
Lauren: This might be our chance to finally see him break from the stasis, that doesn't necessarily mean "following the rules," so to speak, but there are just too many factors stacked against his typical return to form. He had the option to go to another agency for less pay. Instead, he was willing to come back and debase himself in the name of redemption, because his role at SC&P is the only thing that has ever consistently brought him satisfaction. The fact that he could return now -- albeit at a much lower rung -- without all of the dishonesty, to me seems like the most optimistic potential for genuine change we could ever expect for him. Maybe, without talking about a "true self," there is person on the Don-Dick spectrum that can function with a renewed sense of humility and learn to appreciate only that success which he truly deserves.
Leigh: I guess you're more of an optimist than I am, Lauren. And when you put it like that, I can see how this could be the season when Don finally turns over a new leaf. After all, we've seen him attempt it in his love life time and time again, but we've never seen this kind of behavior in the office. So cheers (with a glass full of ... apple juice?) to what will hopefully be the new and improved Don Draper.
Lauren: I'll drink to that.
"Mad Men" airs on Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.
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