Mad Men : Don Draper Looks to the Future, No Matter What ('If 6 Was 9')

"If the mountains fell in the sea,
Let it be, it ain't me."

Jimi Hendrix


Don Draper

Is Don Draper getting back on track? It seems so.

But you know it won't go all that smoothly.

If 6 Was 9, Jimi Hendrix's anthem of individualism from the 1969 Easy Rider soundtrack and 1967's Axis: Bold As Love.

The third episode of Mad Men's Season 7, part 1, titled "Field Trip," presents not one, not two, but three field trips. The first two involve his ex-wife Betty, on school field trip with their son Bobby, and current yet increasingly estranged wife Megan, recipient of a field trip visit from Don in Hollywood. The last field trip finds Don journeying back to his office, and back to the next phase of his future, at Sterling Cooper.

It's not exactly a stretch to say that the episode is structured in three parts to show Don's past with his first wife demonstrating why she remains stuck in an untenable child-like mode, his present with his second wife and why her unstable situation is untenable for him, and his hoped-for future at his past employer Sterling Coo.

After melting down yet still surviving late last season, Don's been in limbo for five months. He's still a fully-paid partner at Sterling Coo after his erratic behavior led to his suspension, but he has neither been invited back nor let go. He's still married to Megan, who was furious that he had stepped away from his promised transfer to the agency's new LA office, but he's not out in Hollywood helping her through the process of repeated rejection that actors generally go through. He hasn't even told her of his suspension, which would certainly free him up to backstop her at her cool pad in the hills above LA.

He's also not climbing into the bottle or climbing into bed with other women, his patented distractions/pastimes of of the past. Instead, he's figuring out what he wants to do while he has relatively little to do.

What does he want to do? He wants to create advertising.

Which shouldn't be surprising, since it's in the action of being an advertising executive, a creative ad exec, that is, rather than a suit, despite the suits he so ably wears, that the fictional Don Draper that Dick Whitman has created becomes wholly alive.

But time and circumstance, largely circumstance of his own making through foolish and frequently destructive behavior, made all that awkward for him.

Not nearly as awkward as his marriages, of course.

When we see Betty, we see what is clearly the past for Don. She's in a better place with Henry Francis, the show's moderate Republican star pol, but her wounds are too deep, her ways too set, for her to move much beyond the too frequently petulant princess so easy to disappoint. In this case, with daughter Sally already lost to her, she reaches out to younger son Bobby, only to fumble with him as well. The eager yet unthinking lad, obviously thrilled to have his mom along on the class field trip to a farm, thoughtlessly trades away his second sandwich to a pretty girl with no sandwich but some candy to offer. Only to earn Betty's studied disdain for not realizing that the second sandwich was for her. You can bet that Bobby will be doing some serious pondering in the future about this seminal moment, not to mention the whole metaphorical notion of trading a sandwich for candy from a pretty girl.

If Betty was Don's past, Megan was to be not only Don's present but, as often the case with younger second wives, his link to the future he was having some trouble getting a handle on. The trouble is that Megan is in trouble, floundering with rejection in Hollywood and not taking it all that well, going so far as to practically stalk a rejecting director to a meeting with Rod Serling. (Sadly, there will be no Don Draper meeting with Rod Serling, something which would be far too meta.)

At first, Don is in his element, riding in on a surprise visit to "the Coast" as Daddy Don to help Megan snap out of it. But she doesn't need someone to snap her out of it. She needs someone to be there to support her throughout the process. In other words, she needs a very nurturing husband. Very.

This is something Don can't do. He can't fix this with a few grand gestures. He can't fix it with money. He can't fix it with working connections, because the movie world of Los Angeles is a very long way from the advertising world of New York and Don has no real points of leverage.

Nor, it turns out, does he want to move out to LA to try to develop them.

For he doesn't want to be Megan's life coach; he wants to do his thing as a creative advertising executive. Does that mean he doesn't love Megan, that perhaps he never did? Well, you can't say he doesn't like her a lot.

So the pair break up, or at least seem to do. Well, if I had a hundred bucks for every time ...

Once back in the Big Apple, Don looks at his options. He can't use Freddie Rumsen forever as a front for his ad concepts at other other agencies. For one thing, if caught he violates his non-compete clause as a partner at Sterling Coo. And a pitch from Freddie, no matter how good, is not a pitch from Don Draper.

So he gets a pretty decent offer from his buddy Commander Harm Rabb's agency -- okay, that's not the character's name but that is David James Elliot, star of the turn-of-the-century hit JAG -- and takes it to Roger Sterling to discuss his conundrum.

If he goes with Harm's agency, as Roger points out, he'll have to take a role which is beneath his rank, though it can develop well enough. Of course, he already has a role which is not beneath his rank, the job he's been suspended from at the agency he helped found.

Roger agrees it's time for Don, the chastened and more thoughtful Don, to come back and says he will make it happen.

Not that Roger would flake or anything.

In retrospect, it's obvious that Don has been planning to return to Sterling Coo all along. That accounts for his having ex-secretary Dawn, now head of personnel, keep him fully updated with nearly daily reports about the agency. He knows that with Ted Chaogh moping out in LA, the creative situation at Sterling Coo under the odious mediocrity Lou Avery has turned dire.

The agency garnered only one Clio nomination, for a Michael Ginsberg spot, with Peggy Olson's work shut out entirely. Of course, it didn't help that Lou only submitted work he was involved with, and since he is bent on stifling her her best work is in the Don Draper past.

But when a rather nervous Don shows up bright and early on a Monday morning, with Roger nowhere to be found, it's awkward for all involved.

Aside from Ginsberg, Stan Rizzo, and Ken Cosgrove, few are all that happy to see Don. More to the point, they don't know what to do with him, since Roger forgot to talk with the other partners or even phone ahead -- or show up himself anywhere near on time, for that matter -- so he's tossed into the creative team meeting. Which, in those little chairs and with those low tables, looks uncannily like it's set up for a crew of middle schoolers.

Not only was the underwhelming reaction to Don something of the stuff of nightmares, albeit rather mild nightmares, especially considering how he once bestrode the Sterling Coo coop, there was some active hostility from key people. And not only Jim Cutler and Lou Avery, but also Peggy Olson and Joan Holloway, two longtime Draper allies.

Why them? Well, Peggy hasn't flourished in Don's absence, as she had expected. Quite the contrary. And Peggy, now full of all kinds of resentments, often played out in petty and officious ways, resents that, too. With Don back, she'll either have a big new competitor or she will have another uptick that others will ascribe to his presence.

As for Joan, let's not forget that it was Jim Cutler who made the logical choice to move her directly into accounts. And that it was Don, for all his supportiveness, who cavalierly threw away the Jaguar account which she had gone above and beyond the call of duty in landing. His sudden move, taken without consulting anyone, made her personal sacrifice in having sex with the smarmy dealers association head seem relatively meaningless.

Which raises a very legitimate question. Can Don be trusted to stop making whatever the hell decision he makes whenever the hell he feels like it?

At the end of the day -- literally in this case, with Roger finally meeting with the other partners not out in California and carrying the argument -- the logic of the situation prevails. Of course Don is coming back. But under somewhat restrictive conditions that some think were designed to get Don to say no.

But that's the old Don. The restrictions on behavior -- such as no office drinking except with clients, no unapproved pitches -- are only common sense given his past offenses. Even having him report to Lou as a new number two in agency creative is something Don can live with.

He is, after all, a partner, whereas Lou is just a fancy hired hand. More to the point, he is Don Draper.

And while Jim Cutler may say he doesn't care so much about the quality of creative, other players in New York do. Ted and Pete Campbell out in LA, natural Draper allies in this once he has assured of his reformed ways, most certainly do.

Is there time for not so much a new Don Draper as an improved Don Draper?

There is if he gets to do what he does and does best.

So of course Don says "Okay" after hearing the terms for his return.

That's why the signature song of the episode, Jimi Hendrix's "If 6 Was 9," is so telling.

Originally on the Jimi Hendrix Experience album Axis: Bold As Love at the end of1967, in a few more months, it will explode again in Easy Rider. A month after that, Hendrix, already a superstar, himself explodes as one of the most iconic of American cultural figures when he closes the show at Woodstock -- which I am willing to bet will not be attended by Sally Draper -- with a unique version of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Is Don Draper, a Nixon man when we meet him in 1960, a Kennedy man in the year Nixon finally becomes president, 1968, has come some distance over the course of the series, despite some constantly predicting his imminent doom at every turn of the Sixties wheel. Does the old Sinatra fan share my fondness for the acid blues rock of Jimi Hendrix? Doesn't matter.

Though he's not a Jesuit, we know now especially that he is into their concept of "Age quod agis." Don is into doing what he does and doing it well.

Like Hendrix, if the sun refuses to shine, if the mountains fall into the sea, it doesn't matter to Don Draper. He is going to embrace the opportunity to do what he does, to do his thing. That's how he expresses his individuality, no matter how crazy the rest of the world can get.

"Now, if 6 turned out to be 9, I don't mind, I don't mind ... Fall, mountains, just don't fall on me ..."