“Cosmo, I just want you to know no matter what you do, you’re gonna die, just like everybody else.”
In the film Moonstruck, Rose Castorini asks her daughter’s fiancee Johnny why a man needs more than one woman. After one unsatisfactory answer, he suggests, “Maybe because he fears death.” She believes this to be the answer, and armed with this insight, she confronts her husband Cosmo with the inevitability of his mortality. Apparently, the writers at MadMen agree with Johnny and Rose, but I have found this to be a simplistic unsatisfying answer. I let it go in Moonstruck, which is a delightfully zany romantic comedy, but MadMen’s aspiration to an existential gravitas requires rebutting. Men like Don Draper and Roger Sterling are lost and bored; their conquests serve as a reaffirmation of their manhood and relief from the ennui that permeates their consciously pointless existence. It is something to hold onto. (It is the same with the femme fatale, it is not the gifts of their conquests that they cherish, but the homage that they represent.)
In the end , of course, it is a futile thrust into darkness. And, more to the point, it is aging and creeping decrepitude that they should be fearing, not death, because aging Lotharios and femme fatales are ridiculous, a source of amusement. I give Roger some credit for trying to find his way out of this dead end through his seeking out professional help. Don just keeps taking the same easy path, repeating the same mistake. He is oblivious to the Dante he is reading; aloud he quotes, “Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood,” yet, when Sylvia asks him what he thought of the Dante, he says it made him think of her. He is and has been lost in a dark wood, but what he needs is a compass, not a woman’s hand, to guide him out. One also has to wonder why Sylvia would give Don this book, since it is clear that they both belong in the ninth and deepest circle of Hell, the circle reserved for the treacherous. Does she want to share her guilt and fear with Don? And what of Dr. Rosen, that caring, clueless, cuckold, who could be their moral compass? Is the lesson here that decent men are fair game for shafting? Virtue is boring. But Don makes it up to him by giving him a camera. He has reached a new low.
Betty is rapidly coming to realize that the facade of the society she was brought up to believe in is crumbling. She does try to do some good, but recognizing that she is powerless, reverts and dyes her hair.
The only one surprised that Peggy is the new Don is Peggy herself.