Is Megan Aidan?Complications Ensue
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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lisa and I watched the MAD MEN finale last night. Quite an episode.


Lisa and I had an interesting conversation this morning about where the show is going to take Megan. Lisa interpreted the conversation with Betty Draper ("so you'll move again") to reflect back on Don. No marriage is perfect, and he'll pick this one apart, too.

But Lisa is a fretter, while I'm an optimist. I interpreted Don's comment to be a criticism, because Betty is a perfectionist control freak who'll never be happy. Don seems to have made the decision to finally be happy -- I think this episode is the first time I've ever actually seen him happy.

Of course TV shows rely on conflict, and characters not changing, so Lisa's probably right.

But that raises the Aidan issue. Aidan Shaw, you'll recall, was John Corbett's character on SEX AND THE CITY. He was pretty much Mr. Perfect. Low-key, loving, available, and he's a carpenter in New York. (Non-New Yorkers: it is almost impossible to find a carpenter in New York, let alone a craftsman. A carpenter in New York will never, ever, ever be out of work. Ever.)

So when Carrie dumped him, for me, some of the wind went out of the show. I stopped believing that Carrie Bradshaw was seriously looking for someone to be with, and it became apparent that what she really wanted was to keep dating.

And again, of course that's an artifact of it being a TV show, because the show is about Carrie wearing fabulous clothes and dating. It would have taken major lifting to morph the show into an equally satisfactory show about a writer in New York with a happy marriage. The show was never made for my demographic, and it's been hugely successful.

But creatively, when you create a Megan or an Aidan, you've created a challenge, I think. It never bothered me when Don cheated on Betty. First of all because I met the mistress before I met Betty -- she's the last character to show up in the pilot. And because Don's relationship with Betty is so shallow. For him, she's someone to raise the kids, and for her, he's someone to pay for the house. There are issues with all of Don's lovers. Even Faye, Ms. Almost Right, can't deal with kids, and that's a dealbreaker for Don, who lost his parents.

But Megan is pretty much perfect. Nurturing, loving, low-key ("It's just a milkshake"), smart, sexually liberated, and ambitious. (And played by the utterly adorable Jessica Paré, about whom you will, God and Telefilm willing, be reading more in these pages anon.)

So unless Season 5 is going to be about Don having a happy home life -- and what are the odds of that -- what does the show do? Joss Whedon would probably kill her, but I don't think this is that kind of show. Or Don starts to chafe at the bonds of happiness. But the price of that is we stop believing that he really wants to be happy.

The third way would be to slowly reveal that Megan's not so perfect after all. After all, when a girl throws herself at you, odds are there are going to be some surprises along the way. She could be bipolar. Or just plain nuts. Then we get to see something we've never seen in Don before: trying to hold onto a relationship that's falling apart for reasons that, for once, aren't his fault.

That's the way I'd go. But I'm an optimist.

Meanwhile, what to make of Matthew Weiner's portrayal of Betty Draper? A few months ago I began to feel that Betty is a portrayal of Weiner's mother. This is not based on any interviews or facts, it was just starting to get so intimately harsh, the way when you see a really harsh portayal of the Catholic church you know the writer must have been an altar boy. But then I found out that that creepy neighbor kid, Glen Bishop, is played by Marten Weiner, Matthew Weiner's son. Ooooohkay. I wonder where that portrayal came from.

Of course it could all just come out of Matthew Weiner's head. But creativity doesn't come from nowhere. Almost all of Lisa's main characters are trying to get over something they can't get over. A lot of my characters are trying to find a faith they can believe in.

What do you think?



It's very interesting that you bring up Carrie because in some ways she and Don have similar psychological issues. They're both self-absorbed, charming, and unable to make a commitment.

I think that Don's problems aren't going to be solved by just resolving to be happy. He's got some really deep-rooted issues right there what with the abandonment and the abusive stepmother. Those aren't the kinds of issue you get over by dint of willpower. Trust me. That crap needs deep, effective therapy, not marriage. And that's not even bringing up the whole Don Draper/Dick Whitman issue. Don has a lot of stuff to face and he's not facing it. In short, the subconscious is one powerful bitch and it often takes its revenge via unconscious self-sabotaging acts. These are not done on purpose, either but they are pervasive and pop up in weird ways.

Dealing with a shitty childhood is a little bit like being obese: You can't just resolve to get thinner and Wham! lose 100 lbs the next day. It's really really hard work and there are a lot of reversals, false starts, etc. Dealing with trauma entails a huge paradigm shift in how you organize reality and how you deal with the world. And it entails having to put up with paralyzing fear left over from when you were a kid. Fear of being bad, fear of being found out, fear of being punished. If you don't face that crap, you're actually living in a horrible nightmare in which you keep repeating the same horrible trauma. (Hence the "Groundhog Day" reference that came through with Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe.")

So what I see for the show is that Megan IS great but nevertheless Don still acts out. Megan gets wise to the fact that she's been put in the position of savior, in a way, and she kicks him out when he least expects it. He goes into a tailspin much worse than any previous one. Megan is not Betty. She's a lot stronger and a lot more grounded. She's not going to put up with Don's bullshit like all Don's previous women did (even supposedly strong Faye betrayed her ethics and got him a meeting with Heinz).

That's what life is like for people like Don who don't face the past AND it also makes good drama. Just like they say in 12 step groups, people don't change until they hit bottom. Until life kicks you so hard in the ass.

So, actually, I think the writers have set themselves up with a lot of juicy possibilities.

By Blogger Eme Kah, at 7:59 PM  

(Congrats on the book, Alex!)

Everything you said sounds mostly right, so I'll just add an observation on where some of next season's conflict might come from: Faye. Hell hath no etc., and remember that she has an especially sharp weapon: he confided in her completely about the Dick Whitman situation. We've seen him weather that often enough, at this point, but exposure of his past still clearly terrifies him...

By Blogger CJ at Creating a Comic, at 2:15 AM  

I agree with your take, Alex, except the last guess that perhaps Megan will be revealed to be bi-polar or something. My disagreement comes only from my own optimism: I hope the show is better than that, that Weiner is smarter than that -- and that the show does not repeat itself, and does not get locked into patterns as you pointed out SitC doing. MM has already had Don in relationships with troubled women -- most especially Betty. I think the drama can come from Don struggling to be that man he wants to be -- especially when he can no longer excuse his lapses by blaming his partner. I think that was set up by the proposal scene: Don outright stated Megan inspired him to be his best.
Weiner has said that the show for him is about a man maturing -- and that means growth and change. I don't think he either wants Don to fall any further -- he in fact referred to mid-season 4 as Don's low-point in life -- nor repeat or remain trapped in unfaithful patterns of the past.

By Blogger Paul Worthington, at 12:47 PM  

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