Sean Beaudoin deconstructs Jessica Pare, Megan Calvet, and Megan Draper.
The overbite that launched a thousand irrelevant subplots.
Plus some ships.
Despite my aesthetic admiration, I have always rued that Megan was never given a chance to become a more interesting character. Her initial interest in Don carried a promisingly cynical mix of stubbled attraction and secretarial opportunism, but never really developed from there. Don hates his new wife because Don hates Don, a fact evident even before they picked the sand out of their swim trunks. So why does Megan hang around for the endless self-pitying silences and murky hangovers? If there’s an answer, it disappears in metaphorical cab rides and Charlie Manson-style LA parties, the opportunity for real significance lost amid riffs on era-ending and the soul-less-ness of Madison Avenue.
Is there a chance by the way, that the phrase “Jumping The Shark” can forever and permanently be amended to “Your Louche French Mom Giving Roger A Velvet-sofa Blowjob While Your Faux-intellectual Dad Spouts Socialist Economic Theory In The Next Room”?
Especially when it happens at The Codfish Ball.
Far less important than the audience not knowing what’s in it for Megan is the fact that Jessica Pare never seems to have a clue either. She’s caught short in scene after scene without much to be intuited in her eyes or stance except a pleading hope for a decent line, or at least a palpable ambition or two.
She is a pretty fascinating casting choice, though. On the surface, what else does Don Draper want besides a rare steak, some scotch, a Jaguar, and a few hours to pretend to read Dante? Jane Russell, of course. Or some similarly pneumatic skirt full of obviousness. But Megan isn’t that at all. She’s tall, gawky, awkward, a tomboy playing at fashion. She’s not your grandfather’s bombshell, she’s the next iteration: Francoise Hardy or Jeanne Moreau. In the 60’s, only bookish, jazz-inflected types with bad perms and an aversion to being stabbed by Norman Mailer would dare fess to craving such smart, arch sexuality. Conversely, the generation of Dons who returned from Utah Beach or Panmunjom were uninterested in a discussion of Beckett over Malbec, predictably insisting on the sort of muscle car blonde the 60s pretended to be full of but rarely was. If only because it turned out that people actually had thoughts and feelings and distinct personalities, all of which got in the way of wooing a less erudite Tina Marie.
Which brings us to the five central themes of Mad Men:
1. Men are oblivious, entitled, immature, and frequently bone-stupid. Women who are uninclined to hide their gifts or superior intelligence from such men in order to be ceded a taste of middling success are not only denied, but ultimately crucified for wanting it to begin with.
2. Despite the skinny ties, rivers of booze, slightly-less-fat-January Joneses, and big houses in Connecticut–everyone one is deeply, irreparably unhappy. Life is so short as to be practically theoretical, and the wisdom of age that is supposed to ease the predations of body only serves to make one fact clearer: absolutely everything is meaningless.
3. That’s what all the lovingly recreated sets and outfits and haircuts and suits and art and cars and booze and Linoleum and Magnavoxes and computers and sleek furniture and tacky furniture and endless plumes of smoke are supposed to tell us: This isn’t a nostalgic reverie. Our sense of being in the present, at the height of social, political, or cultural advancement is a fraud that allows us to live with ourselves (just barely), to wake up every day and light a smoke without anything ever really changing.
4. And that the most meaningless thing of all is the slick con: advertising. For six seasons audiences were suckered into worrying about the triumphs and failures of a man paid to convince housewives that one brand of soup is superior to another brand, which is the ultimate opening of a big ole can of Campbell’s X-tra Chunky FUCK YOU on all our heads. So, kudos Matthew Wiener.
5. Don Draper is nothing. Not in some poetic sense, as in he epitomizes the Soul of a Lost Generation. Don is, in terms of mass or physics, a zero. An empty shot glass. A null set. A Venn-less diagram. Don isn’t even himself. Dick Whitman wasn’t either. They’re a pair of ratty suits hanging in the closet of an abandoned brothel. Don is completely ductile, because, in the end, the shiny suit is wearing him. He’s an assembly-line chin, a random lung-full of smoke whose greatest skill and contribution to society is the tying of a perfect Windsor Knot. Don is America: big, dumb, ready to be pushed in any direction, as long as it includes an empty job, a harridan wife, and, eventually, a traipse into the heart of Southeast Asia.
So where does Megan fit in?
Sadly, as either France, or a cheap plot point. Which in an America of Freedom Fries is basically the same thing. Megan is Sissyphus’s slyly sophisticated girlfriend, forever on the verge of doing something different with someone different.
But instead of leaving, she watches while Don watches.
With his cig and witless grin.
Just like he did when she sang him this:
Ah, the joy of “Zou Bisou Bisou.” The openness. The utter lack of cynicism. It’s the soundtrack for a generation doomed to miss out on guileless pleasure, partially because of dictates of the church, but more often because sincerity is about to be replaced, or at least sold, by the new campaign that Don and his buddies are even now hashing out in a conference room. That’s the brilliance of the Draper construction–we are meant to root for this man when he is the one selling us all along, cheapening us, making duplicity seem cool because it appears in the perfect Armani silhouette.
But Jessica Pare is so present in the Zou Bisou scene, by far her best on the show. Gamely trying to be the fantasy for a man who has no fantasies: I care about you so much that I will debase myself for your pleasure, which deep down I know has nothing to do with pleasure and everything to do with making other men jealous while pretending that you have no interest in their opinion at all.
And of course, Don has no clue about the subtext. In fact, he seems a little embarrassed. “My wife is talented?” or “My wife is capable of summoning a sexuality that not only trumps mine, but renders it inert?”
Don watches with a look on his face that all of conscious male America longs for him to resist: I have no idea what this means, but I’m Don. I deserve it.
For Jessica Pare, it’s the kind of performance overlooked or easily dismissed by those who “take their craft seriously” while holding down a part in an avant-garde production of Mother Courage: pure vulnerable innocence tarted up as sexual adventurism.
It’s a great performance that convinces the entire audience, both male and female, that they too would be deliriously happy–if only one time in their entire lives, someone (preferably a secretary that can also babysit) offered them a love so pure as well.
This article originally appeared on The Weeklings
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ABOUT SEAN BEAUDOIN
Sean Beaudoin (@seanbeaudoin) is the author of The Infects and Wise Young Fool. His stories and articles have appeared in numerous publications, including: The Onion, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Al-Jazeera. His short story collection Welcome Thieves will be out with Algonquin Press spring 2016.
This article originally appeared on The Weeklings