Mad Men: “The Mountain King”

19 October 2008
by R.A. Porter

Don has nearly come through the other side of the hero’s quest. Last week’s sojourn to the desert saw him tempted by worldly pleasures which he tasted but did not succumb to. In the end, his fever broke and he sought out the one person who could guide him back onto the right path.

Turns out everyone was right guessing who Don called. It was a former wife (sort of) and it was the Real Don Draper’s™ wife. It was the woman in the used car dealership and it was another pretty blond. It was his savior and his mother.

Anna Draper is the only person who knows this amalgam, this very modern, self-made man. She knows Dick Whitman’s awkwardness and fears and she knows Don Draper’s1 confidence and compassion. She sees in Don all the potential Don Draper2 had taken from him in Korea. He is her only tie to her dead husband and he is her surrogate son.

As Don looks for an anchor to this world, something to keep him from floating away forever, he grabs onto the one person who knows who he truly is and loves him regardless. Anna’s unabashed joy at seeing Don show up at her door during a piano lesson (did anyone bite on the bait there? Did anyone think that was her son playing?) stood in sharp contrast to the cool affect of the desert troupe and Betty’s cold, patrician mien. Don’s happiness, his bright eyes and wide smile, in Anna’s presence is “the real Don.”

He confesses to Anna that he’s been watching his life from the outside, disconnected. His patron and ally helps him find his way back in through her.

The symbolic act of fixing her chair: at first I just chuckled. I thought it was typical of Don that he could do a household chore for Anna but not for his wife. On reflection, I think Don was fixing Betty’s chair by proxy. Anna wouldn’t ask Don to fix the chair, just like Don wouldn’t ask her to buy him clothes. Their’s is a true partnership of mutual affection and help. Don saw the chair was wobbly and fixed it. But by doing so, he reconnected with the physical, mundane world again. By using his hands to mold the universe he reattached himself to it.3

Anna’s tarot reading for Don is hopeful, as she sees a bright future for him in which he is reborn and reconnected with the world, but I have my doubts. Don is “the mountain king,” a reference to Peer Gynt. Like Peer, Don has moved through the world constantly in flux, constantly changing himself. Unlike Peer, he has rarely even believed he was being himself as he changed what that might mean.

I’d like to believe the baptism in the Pacific washed away Don’s sins and brought him back to our world, but I suspect he is still going to live his life as a troll.

Of course, not everything on this show is about Don, as much as it feels that way sometimes.

  • Betty’s trying to come to grips with her life and future and dealing with Sally’s small rebellion. She realizes Sally is old enough to know the truth and bribes her with riding boots. And then there’s bleeding. A miscarriage is the most likely guess, but I find every time I guess about Mad Men I’m wrong. I’m going to assume nothing about that until next week.
  • Joan. It hurts me to see the most powerful and (in some ways) independent woman on the show give her freedom up so easily, and to such a bastard. He forced himself on her tonight, but by staying with him, she’s choosing to put on shackles. I can only hope Peggy helps her snap out of it in time. The wedding is scheduled for Christmas, so if she goes through with it, she’ll have been married one or two years when we return next season.
  • Pete’s a weasel, but I’m with him completely on this. Whether he is “right” or “wrong” not to want to adopt, Trudy is wrong to try forcing it on him. And Trudy and her father are most definitely wrong to try such a ham-fisted attempt at blackmail.
  • Duck’s very close to getting what he wants – complete control over SC with Don finally under his thumb. But I think what will happen instead is that Don will lead a mutiny by the talent and young account execs, letting Duck preside over a sinking ship with Pete his only companion.
  • In one of the funniest/cheesiest moments I’ve ever seen on Mad Men, Joan’s TV was playing the original The Day the Earth Stood Still. I *like* that Mad Men doesn’t rely on popculture references and meta-humor to get by. It’s refreshing to watch television for grownups once in awhile. That moment took me out of the show – a pretty significant little scene for Joan, too – and made me laugh *at*, not with.
  • While Don’s finishing his holy journey, Peggy holds down the fort in New York. It’s no surprise his baptism and her holy communion with Popsicles occur in the same episode. Don may not be there in body, but he’s there in spirit.

What did everyone else think?

R.A. Porter is an aspiring television writer who currently toils away in the software mines. He can be found at Sketch War, Tumblr, and stalked on Twitter.
  1. Ours, the fake one. []
  2. The dead one. []
  3. Or, you know, he fixed her chair because the writers thought it would be funny and the greater significance is just me being pretentious. It’s hard to say. []

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posted by R.A. Porter in → Reviews

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