Spoilers for the third episode of "Mad Men" coming up just as soon as I read up on smoking during pregnancy...
"Draper? Who knows anything about that guy? Nobody's ever lifted that rock. He could be Batman for all we know." -Harry
Who the hell is Don Draper? Or is he even Don Draper? That, to me, is the central question -- and the most involving element -- of "Mad Men." Who is this chiseled Cary Grant type who seemingly has it all and yet doesn't feel at home anywhere? Why does he have this June Cleaver doormat wife and yet is drawn to strong-willed, independent adult women like Midge and Rachel? And what's this "Dick Whitman" business?
There are a couple of ways to read Don's encounter on the train: 1)The other guy made a mistake, and Don just played along to get out of the encounter as quickly and painlessly as possible; or 2)Don really was Dick Whitman once upon a time, and changed his identity for reasons we'll learn later. If it's the former, the scene's a comment on how Don often feels like he's living someone else's life; if it's the latter, what's the big secret? (My friend Rich Heldenfels thinks Don's a Jew trying to pass for WASP, which also explains his attraction to Rachel, a Jewish woman who doesn't want to pass but wants to be able to run her business as if she was a blue-blood.) While his face doesn't give anything away at the time (Don rarely gives anything away, which is a credit to Jon Hamm's performance, as another actor might just come off as blank), he's testier than usual when he gets to work, which could be read either as him being freaked out at having been spotted by someone from his Dick Whitman days or just him feeling threatened by the popularity of the Volkswagen "Lemon" ad.
Episode three had a very different structure from the first two, the first half largely occurring at work, the second half entirely devoted to Don's weekend at home and the birthday party. He seems in command in both worlds yet fits into neither. He's unprepared for the popularity of the ironic "Lemon" campaign, can't resist treating Pete like crap even when Pete's playing nice, then ruins things with Rachel by kissing her and finding out she's not as eager as Midge to be a mistress.
Still, it's a fast-paced existence, and life slows to a crawl up in Ossining. The scenes have a more languid, dream-like quality, as Don drifts from one mundane activity to another. I don't think Don hates Betty or the kids, but for reasons he either doesn't understand or can't articulate, he's on the outside of the family looking in, even before Betty makes him get behind the viewfinder of their movie camera. Him not coming back with the cake is the kind of move that could scar his daughter (though she seemed just fine with the dog), yet I can see why he couldn't get out of the car.
The party sequence was filled with those moments that some people find sledgehammer subtle and others just consider authentic period detail: the pregnant lady with the cigarette, the one husband scamming on Helen the divorcee, the dad who slaps another man's kid for spilling his drink (followed by the kid's own father forcing his son to apologize). I understand both sides of this argument. Like I mentioned in the mailbag column, I know pregnant women smoked at the time, but it's such a shocking image now that I can see how for some people, the scene becomes entirely about the pregnant lady. It's a really fine line to walk; I think Weiner and company are succeeding so far, but I recognize why others disagree.
What did everybody else think?