Spoiler warning: This post will discuss details from the most recent episode of Mad Men, "The Milk and Honey Route," along with additional references to past episodes in the series.
There's an entire country out there full of people watching Mad Men, and we're all thinking to ourselves, Jesus, that's it, that's what I'm afraid of. Dying alone.
From the opening credits, the shadow man falls upside down, kicking his legs against gravity. On the way south, he sheds his house, his family, his apartment, his career, even his car, as if the loss of these things might make him--us--lighter. Maybe the fall won't be so fast. Maybe we'll change shape, from a wrecking ball to a blue chiffon dress, and just float float float into an easy rest.
The show works wonders hiding Don's tumbling death in the costume of the American Dream. Because the American Dream--we know because we hack away at it every day--celebrates the go-it-alone cowboy and you can't be a cowboy, not really, if you're packed into a city full of suckers. You need a place that's wide open, where a man can fix things and break things in broad daylight. You need a place like Kansas.
But maybe Don isn't dying. Maybe the tolling bell that attends Betty's death-march up the steps of Fairfield University really does toll for her alone. So in that case we have two deaths--Don Draper's figurative death from the world and Betty's literal one, from sucking on them cancer sticks. Who can blame her? They're toasted.
I wonder how many viewers out there are like me, and employ the experience of viewing Mad Men as an excuse to pour a decent glass of whiskey and sit by myself in darkness. The train rumbles clickety-clak through the station across the street from our house. I could put down this whiskey, pick up my wallet, and be in mid-Pennsylvania by morning. And all the neighbors would still see both cars in the driveway, but then word would spread. I don't understand, they'd say, where did he go?
Don't waste this, Don tells the young confidence man after tossing him the keys to his Caddy. And so we come back to the enduring fantasy of Mad Men. That it's never too late, that we haven't wasted this, whatever the living of this is.
Sitting in my dark living room, I imagine myself slipping on a pair of sunglasses. Then I'm out there on the rails, falling west toward California, a shadow man running down the milk & honey route, covering my ears whenever I hear them church bells.