While this episode opens with a wild joyride, I can’t help but wonder if Don Draper will ever experience the full crash promised by the show’s opening credits.
The most unexpected aspect of “The Crash” is the high-speed beginning, which marks a first for a show with a notoriously deliberate pace (one that makes Ken Cosgrove look like the victim of a carjacking at the fleshy hands of privileged middle management types). The introduction of a dubious hypodermic elixir for the overworked staff of the agency might have a manic bent, but we’ve seen the crew toil through a weekend at the office via alcohol and marijuana (Season Four, “The Suitcase”). The Draper’s Manhattan apartment may have been broached by the kindliest of home invaders, but we’ve seen them assaulted by a toxic mist (Season Five, “Dark Shadows”)
Most reliable is Don himself. Certainly, he puts himself through emotional turmoil due to the rejection by his latest mistress, Sylvia Rosen. The vulnerability he exudes like a bad odour, the desperation of working on a pitch not for Chevy but for a second chance with the doctor’s wife, is rare for Don but not out of character. While he seems more naked and helpless than before (although it seems that when he feels most at loose ends is when we see flashbacks to his childhood), we’ve seen him struggle with the death of Anna Draper and still be ready for a client pitch first thing in the morning (again, “The Suitcase”).
This is part of my concern. While Don has always looked like Superman, I am starting to wonder if his ability to wiggle out of any hard corner he’s in will ever change. Perhaps the wounded Draper–the one who lurks in the hallway outside the Rosen’s apartment–is the start of his internal descent. But up until now every time that his kingdom is threatened, the walls stand strong despite any and all battering.
The promise of Don’s crumbling empire has lurked throughout the series from the outset. As we head toward the end of the penultimate season, I wonder if we are going to see the continued parallel between Draper’s personal and professional life and the post-Second World War, Pax Americana splendor–that is, a complete disintegration. Up until now, every time Don faces a challenge, whether of his own design or externally applied, he manages to finesse his way out with the deft touch of a gymnast. What’s more, he almost always lands on higher ground with each disaster narrowly averted.
Like any fan of the show, I have a complicated relationship with Don Draper. I mourn his hard and crappy childhood; I marvel at his creative genius; and I hate him for any despicable acts, yet feel strangely comforted by them. But will I ever see him truly fall? I don’t mean that in the way that our culture exalts mere mortals to celebrity status only to gleefully thrill to their ignominious slide. But if Don’s story is America’s story, shouldn’t we watch with horror as he lurches from his own Woodstock to a personal Altamont?
Maybe the oft-fired Bert Peterson will return with a loaded gun and vengeance on his mind. While I wouldn’t wish it on the gang at the office, it would be an interesting way to bring the horror of Vietnam high up into the lofty floors of the agency, to say nothing of thinning out the cast of the recently merged companies.
On a side note–with the death of CGC artist Frank Gleason, can the reappearance of Sal be far off? I can only hope we’ll see him again, perhaps fully embracing his true character…but not in a Paul Lynde way.
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