“Mad Men” doesn’t often go in for shock, but there’s no other way to react to Don Draper’s decision to take the deal he’s offered at the end of “Field Trip,” the third episode of the show’s seventh and final season. In retrospect, the previous episodes — including nearly all of this one, since Don’s unexpected “Okay” is followed immediately by the end credits — has been preparing us for the moment when Don, isolated and adrift, accepts the onerous terms of his readmittance to Sterling Cooper & Partners. There’s no room for the untethered genius of years past at the new SC&P, whose new direction is embodied by the efficient but uninspired hackwork of Lou Avery. “How does he fit into everything now?” Joan wonders.
The answer, of course, is that he doesn’t. Don hasn’t been gone long, but the void left by his absence has been filled: The only empty office is the one in which Lane Pryce hung himself. Don, however, is still empty, and with his marriage to Megan foundering, his job is all he’s got left. “I don’t know if I can undo it,” he tells Megan after she’s kicked him out and sent him back to the opposite coast with his tail between his legs, “but I think I fixed it.” Don could just start over; he’s got an offer from a rival firm on the table, its promise symbolized by the shapely blonde who none too subtly invites Don up to her hotel room when he’s meant to be “digesting.” But he’s chosen SC&P as his hill to die on, which may be a classic case of making the right decision in the worst possible way.
I spent much of my own review of “Field Trip” trying to make sense of Don’s decision, and so did most other writers. Here’s how they saw it.
Logan Hill, New York Times
Why didn’t Don fight to leave Sterling Cooper and Partners and take that new job? Why, instead, did he humble himself? Peggy dealt with her Clio defeat in the way she deals with each rejection: passive-aggressive, ineffectual grousing. But Don has always been more direct. He dealt with the destruction of his marriage by leaping into another. When he figured that Chevy would probably reject his pitch, he pitched a major merger. When Don’s back is against the wall, he always doubles down. His strength — and weakness — is that he won’t take no for an answer.
Scott Meslow, the Week
It’s a contract that will prevent him from doing literally all of the things he’s best at, and it probably prevents him from doing the one thing that stands a chance of saving his marriage: moving to Los Angeles. Does this new position offer an opportunity for a humbler, more stable Don Draper, or is Don’s fear pushing him to reenact a lesser version of the life he once had?
Julia Turner, Slate
This is a bald attempt to force him out on the cheap, and a very, very, very bad deal for Don. And even though the partners have every right to be skittish, it felt indirect and underhanded. I was rooting for Don to tear up that offer. But he accepts.
Walter Dellinger, Wall Street Journal
So why would Don agree to such terms? And to return to a place where no one seems to want him, not even Peggy or Joan? Perhaps it is desperation. But I don’t think so. I think Don turns down other offers to return to Sterling Cooper because he knows he is destined to wind up on top. You may mark my words, fellow watchers: Lou Avery is not long for this world. In due course, Don will have him for lunch and the stars will be back in their proper alignment.
Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter
This seems more like Don wanting to do what he’s good at, what he’s always loved to do. Being an ad man gives Don about the only slice of happiness he gets in his life. The women can come and go, but the job, that’s something he wants to keep. It’s his only real constant.
Heather Havrilesky, Salon
Remember that scene in “Boogie Nights” when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, 1979, and all of the free-loving, “Spill the Wine,” good times of the ’70s give way to the dreary, addiction-plagued buzzkill of the ’80s? That’s how the new, modern, ultra-professional SC&P office must feel for Don now, with its talk of financial considerations and computers and its joyless, sober, thoroughly unromantic worker bees like Lou Avery.
Maureen Ryan, Huffington Post
Let’s face it: Don’s confidence has been worn down by all the rejection he’s faced. Think about how long it took for anyone to say a word to him when he returned. When he arrived, Don glided through the office like a ghost. Most employees didn’t even notice him.
Bonnie Stiernberg, Paste
When we fail at the jobs we let define us, we freak out because we’re losing something—a way to make a living, potentially, but it’s more than a livelihood. It’s a life, one we’ve worked hard to establish and grown accustomed to, and when we can feel it slipping away from us, we get scared. That much was evident this week in “Field Trip,” which saw several characters grasping at clearer answers about what exactly it is they do.
It should also be noted that no one in that partner’s meeting has any real respect for creative work. Jim clearly hates creative and considers things like computers and press to have more value to the company. Joan, as savvy as she is in a lot of other areas, would have no real reason to elevate the creative side of the agency. In fact, from her perspective, from working 16 years in administrative, the creative types just make a lot of messes that she has to clean up. Bert was always way more interested in the business side of things and Roger never hid his disdain for how childish and silly he finds most creative people. Ironically, if Ted had participated (and wasn’t a depressed shell of his former self at the moment), he’d likely have been the one person among the partners to defend Don. Although Pete’s absence was the one we felt most strongly. We suspect he’d have given a rousing speech in support of Don if he’d been asked.