Six episodes in to the fifth season of Mad Men, and the fans are getting restless.
Just read the comments following Adam B. Vary’s recap of the latest episode for Entertainment Weekly. The polarizing figure? Don’s new wife, Megan, played by the luminous Jessica Paré.
In one camp, you have the Megan fans. They like her. They like Don with her. And, most of all, they like that Megan is the anti-Betty, Don’s cold, brittle ex-wife.
In the other camp — the camp where I have pitched my tent — are the fans who are tired of the Megan-centric story arc of the fifth season.
For one thing, Megan is just too perfect. She’s smart, bubbly, thin, beautiful, fashionable and kind to her stepchildren. She’s a natural whiz at advertizing. She can sing Zou Bisou Bisou and dance around without looking overly foolish. She cleans the apartment in her underwear. Even Peggy can’t help but like her. Megan is, in short, a character without flaws. Oh, sure, every once in awhile, her temper flares up, but always in a pouty, sexy, very French sort of way.
All of this doesn’t make for a very interesting character, and especially not one to build an entire season around.
Still, that’s not my main problem with the Megan plot. As Vary summarizes:
So Megan saved the day. First, she expertly tipped off Don, whispering in his ear back at the table, “We’re getting fired.” When Heinz Guy made it clear he was done for the night, Don pleaded that a round of Sauterns would spare him from a night with the in-laws. Again, Megan leapt at the opportunity, teeing up Don sell her pitch as if it was his idea — which Don took a long, painful moment to recognize. But then he ran with it, putting on that old Don Draper salesmanship magic we’d been missing all season. Heinz guy sparked to the idea — maybe the mother and son could be played by the same actors? “We hadn’t thought of that, but that might work.” Some added pressure from Kenny, and the Sauterns became Champagne. “It’s the future,” sighed Heinz Guy. “It’s all I ever wanted.” (Somewhere, Conrad Hilton was barking to no one in particular, “Tell me about it!”)
In the cab back home, Don was on fire. “You’re good at all of it,” he cooed at Megan.
And that’s it, right there: Don cooed.
The Don Draper we have gotten to know over the past four seasons would never coo. He smirks. He scolds. He seduces. When faced with any sort of strong emotion, particularly from the women in his life, he’s blankly confused. He’s the golden boy with the dark, twisted past. And, let’s face it — he was always a pretty shitty parent. Remember the time he got so hammered, he forgot to bring home a cake for Sally’s birthday party?
But all of a sudden, with the addition of a hot, younger wife, we’re supposed to believe that his character has completely transformed. This new Don is attentive, faithful, open and respectful. He suddenly seems to enjoy his children, and fantasizes about having another. He lectures Pete Campbell on the importance of remaining faithful to his wife.
And what exactly has changed? Yes, he has a new wife, but . . . so what? Is Megan so perfect, just her presence in his life turns Don into an entirely different character?
The transformative power of love is a classic, and often interesting storyline. But for it to succeed, the audience has to buy the transformation. And, at this still-early-point in the season, I’m not buying it.
Thank God for Roger Sterling. He’s the saving grace of the show. I’ll keep watching just to hear him call little Sally a mean drunk or witness his delight at Lane and Pete coming to fisticuffs.