Three women are the subject of the latest episode of "Mad Men," all passing through the lives of our regulars in ways that disturb and intrigue them. Diana, the waitress from last week, is proving to be more than just a fleeting encounter for Don. Pima, an older female photographer, delightfully stirs up Stan and Peggy's new campaign. And of course there's Megan, probably in her last major appearance, who is tying up the loose ends of her marriage with Don.
I see the appeal of Diana for Don, a woman on the run from past traumas and mistakes. She's bluntly candid with him, and their actions and reactions echo each other throughout the episode, making her a distaff counterpart of sorts. Don thinks he can relate to her fundamentally, but when push comes to shove she's not interested in moving on from her grief, and Don is not willing to enable her self-castigation. She's also the rare character in "Mad Men" who doesn't want anything from him. She even views the brief act of accepting comfort from Don as a betrayal of sorts. I'd love to see more of her story, but at this point Don has been firmly rejected and it's doubtful that there's any opportunity to reconnect.
Pima Ryan is a character clearly meant to embody the 70s, with her "Annie Hall" outfit and overt bisexuality. Stan loves her and Peggy recoils, suggesting that Stan's embracing the changing times and Peggy isn't ready for them. It's a fun little character spotlight for Stan, who rarely gets this much attention - and Hello Nurse! - but it's an especially telling episode for Peggy. We initially find her eager to work with a successful, creative woman. The reality of Pima, however, is something that she can't handle and potentially sours her on the whole idea. I worry that Peggy's distancing herself from not only the few allies she has left, but the potential allies she might find as the world around her changes to be more inclusive.
As for Megan, it's hard not to feel bad for her. She wants peace of mind, and Don is perfectly willing to provide it, but her family and her faltering career make that impossible. The world of "Mad Men" is getting more progressive, but only marginally where young women like Megan are concerned. Divorce is still firmly taboo. Self-sufficiency is hard-won and often requires unsavory sacrifices. We've known that Harry Crane is a reprobate for a while now and this was one of his lowest moments. Yet the show points to Megan also being complicit. She knows the industry and she shows up to lunch in a dress awfully reminiscent of a negligee. Shouldn't she have seen Harry's proposition coming? Shouldn't she have seen the rift with Don and the end of her marriage coming?
And so we come to the big moment - Don writing Megan the million dollar check. Immediately, the "That's what the money is for" conversation from "The Suitcase" comes to mind. The size of the check reflects Don's guilt, of course, not just about Megan, but about Betty and the boys in the opening scene, and about dearly departed Rachel from last week, and Sylvia coolly keeping her distance the elevator. I suspect Diana's refusal of his gift later is what seals for Don that they're incompatible. He still doesn't know how to make amends or show his affections without a material or financial component. And that's going to leave him with an empty life to go with his empty apartment in the end.
And where do we leave Megan? Showing sympathy to her cheating mother, perhaps after realizing that the man who wronged her ended up being more decent to her than anyone else through the whole separation. She accepts the check and the role of the cunning ex-wife who cleaned out her husband, though she didn't ask for it and certainly didn't orchestrate it.
Quickly, it was great to see Julia Ormond back as Marie, taking up with Roger again. I like the little bits of pieces of Pete we've seen in the last two episodes, firmly back in New York and clearly biding his time before becoming another huge headache. And kudos to Meredith for quietly become on of the most reliable comic relief characters on the show.