For the first time in the history of Mad Men, Don is NOT fucking a bunch of women who aren’t his wife. It’s weird.
Because of Don and Megan’s age difference — in the season’s first episode we learn that he is forty (and a half) years old and she is twenty-six — I thought that the gendered power imbalance that characterized Don’s first marriage would repeat in a more extreme manner in Marriage Part Zou Bisou Bisou Deux.
But far from reducing her to a super-submissive wife, Megan’s youthfulness actually seems to give her more power over Don than Betty ever had. Megan gets to tell Don, “No.”
No, I will not get freaky on your desk right now.
No, I will not call Trudy and cancel on her bitchin’ dinner party.
“If you want to tell her, you call her,” she says. And lo and behold, Don does.
But Trudy won’t let him cancel. (AWESOME)
And when Megan tells Don to wear the sports coat she got him…
…he puts on the sports coat. (DOUBLE AWESOME)
Maybe Megan’s power in the relationship can be attributed to the shifting gender norms of her generation. Maybe Don’s just whipped.
But fear not, manly Mad Men devotees: Don still wears the pants in the show. He is, as always, the character with whom viewers are ultimately asked to sympathize.
Remember in Season 3 (episode 11, “The Gypsy and the Hobo”), when Betty discovers her entire marriage is predicated on a gigantic lie? Remember how we, the viewers, were encouraged to feel sad for Don?
Remember the first episode of Season five, when Megan throws Don a party because she loves him, and he shits all over her, and we’re supposed to think the one in the right is Don?
Rest assured, Don is still the manly Male Protagonist.
Here’s how it goes down:
In this episode, “The Little Kiss,” Megan puts a ton of effort into throwing Don a kick-ass surprise birthday party. She even performs a song and dance for him:
In lieu of saying thanks to her, Don is a total douche.
He hates birthdays, you see, because of his secret, sorrowful past. She was wrong to throw him a party, even if she did it because she loves him.
Initially, the show is sympathetic to Megan. We follow her out of their bedroom, through the now-trashed apartment, and onto the balcony.
We viewers are on Megan’s side, not Don’s.
Then the ensuing tension between the couple culminates in a weird showdown, in which Megan strips down to her bra and panties and shouts “You don’t get to have this!” while cleaning the carpet.
And then Don gets to have it. On the carpet.
After getting it on, they have dirty-carpet side-boob talk, and Don explains to Megan why she was totally wrong to throw the party. This time it’s not because he hates birthdays, but because he wants to keep those darn office people out of their apartment. They muck up white carpet, and, you know, symbolism.
In the special features offered by iTunes, Jessica Paré (who plays Megan) speaks about the carpet talk scene, and explains: “She realizes she has embarrassed herself on some level, embarrassed him, and it’s painful, and he helps her through that.”
She’s EMBARRASSED herself? She should feel ashamed? Because she threw her husband a party? Because she invited people from the office? Because she performed a marginally sexed up song and dance routine?
Call me a feminist, but I think it’s pretty douchy that we’re supposed to find Megan’s sexy song and dance funny. And, trust me, we viewers are meant to laugh at it. In reaction to Megan’s moves, Don makes faces like this:
And several characters spend the rest of the episode making fun of her.
Something really bothers me about being asked to simultaneously lust for and laugh at a woman.
I also resent the implication that I ought to endorse Don’s behavior — not only is he oblivious to Megan’s efforts, he makes her feel like crap for trying to do something nice to him.
Oh, I’m sorry, I meant “he helps her through” her shameful ashamedness.
Don is ever the monolithic protagonist. He fucks up and fucks up and fucks up, and every time we’re asked to forgive him, to commiserate with his dashingly imperfect behavior, his sad, mad, manly soul.
But what do I expect? It’s Mad MEN. It’s always ultimately Don’s show.