Don Draper is a problem solver. It’s what he does for a living and it’s how he’s defined himself as a human. It is how he described their roles as advertisers to Peggy when she was striving for more art than science in her work. For his clients, Draper applies his creative force to make ads that solve business problems. In his life, he’s applied his charm, powers of persuasion and financial wherewithal to everything from caring for senile family members to rearranging the living room furniture. For a man whose very identity is based on intricate lies that continually cause problems, Don Draper is an adroit problem solver.
Of course, there are some problems in life that have no cure and for people like Don that is crushing.
Joan is in a family planning kind of way, but she tells her gynecologist that she’s worried that two earlier “procedures” might have left lasting consequences. The doc, surprised to hear that there were two procedures since he’d only performed one, assures her that everything looks fine. Now she just needs the same assurances from another doctor: her husband, but he’s about to ship off for basic training and then a potential tour of duty in Vietnam. This is the first hint of what is sure to be the specter of the war that defined the 1960s in America. It’s interesting to see how the writers introduced it as but one among many complications that go into family planning since we’re painfully aware of the massive psychic toll that war took on America, but not so much about the practical and private interruption it was in so many people’s lives.
But it’s the holidays in New York and people make family plans of another kind. Lane summarily rebuffs Joan when she asks for a few days of in early January since the Good Doctor is working over the holidays.
“I understand that all men are dizzy and powerless to refuse you,” Lane says, “but consider me the incorruptible exception.” Joan stalks off as Lane instructs her not to go and cry about it. He may be immune to her feminine charms (for now) but I have a feeling Lane Price has no idea what it means to be on the receiving end of our Joan’s wrath. This is the woman who tamed Roger Sterling, mind you!
Meanwhile, Draper plans a solo trip to Acapulco with a brief layover in Los Angeles to see the original Mrs. Draper, who is sporting a cast on her recently broken leg. But while Anna is hobbled, there is a welcomed distraction in the foxy young co-ed by way of her niece. You can almost see Draper’s ears perk up when she walks into the room.
The undeniable attractiveness in the innocence of youth is tempered by the arrogance of certainty when the young Stephanie displays a knack for having all the answers, a crime most of us were guilty of at that age. No matter, Don’s on the hunt and busts a move when he drops Miss Thing off only to be doubled over with a blow to the gut—not literally, but figuratively when he learns that Anna’s broken leg comes courtesy of the cancer that has spread to her bones.
Anna Draper is the one person who knows Don completely and without veils. She is also the one character (besides his kids) who seems to love him despite the lies and without a hint of self-interest. Yes, he paid for her house and their relationship was built on Don’s guilt over stealing her dead husband’s identity, but that was years ago and she now seems to be the only person in the world who understand why he did it and how he’s paid for it. She’s the person Draper confides in; the person who he trusts with the details of his divorce from Betty.
“I could tell the minute she saw who I really was, she never wanted to look at me again,” he tells Anna over drinks at a beach side dive.
“I’m sorry she broke your heart,” she replies.
“I had it coming.”
That’s intimacy he never had with Betty. That’s a level of trust he has with nobody else in the world. Anna is the one person who has a passport to the nation of Draper. She is the last tie to Dick Whitman, the identity he’s been running from the entirety of this story.
And now she’s dying. And she doesn’t even know it.
True to form, Don tries to step in and fix everything by telling Anna’s sister that, “I’m going to assume you’ve done everything in your limited means” to help Anna, “but I’m here now. She’s going to see some real doctors, and she’s not going to live in the dark.”
But this is a problem he can’t solve, nobody can. In the end, as Anna’s sister said so painfully and accurately, “You’re just a man in a room with a checkbook.” With nothing left to do, he says goodbye. He signs the wall he’d repainted in their house with “Dick + Anna ’64,” and walks away.
And so Don Draper does what he does when a problem can’t be solved: he leaves. Don flies not on to Acapulco, but back to New York to solve the problems he can solve and finds Lane Price alone in the office. Seems Lane has his own unsolvable problems with a wife who refuses to return from England to New York, Divorce is imminent and Lane is deeply hurt. Enter Don Draper with a surefire solution.
Don and Lane enjoy a bachelor’s night out in the Big Apple. They go see a Godzilla movie, grab some real American steaks, and then catch a show at a folky hangout. A smart-ass New York comedian even razzes them before they finally meet up with a couple of Professional Girls Don has arranged. It all ends as you might imagine with the boys getting laid back at Don’s Alpha Male pad. It’s Lane’s introduction to the life of a divorced man: Draper style. Another problem solved.
This is how the crew ends 1964: Joan, Roger, Don, Lane and Pete around a table. Joan opens a folder and asks, “Gentleman, shall we begin 1965?” The cultural tumult of the mid-1960s looms just outside their doors and they will encounter problems that scarred an entire generation and threatened to tear the very fabric of this country. It’ll be fascinating to watch how they deal with it all or if they simply walk away.