Then one day, they get older and you see them do something, and you feel that feeling that you were pretending to have. And it feels like your heart is going to explode.
Sharing grief with an entire nation of people is a surreal, sensitive experience. In 2001, three days before September 11th, SB’s Great Grandmother died. SB told me that she felt as if the whole world was grieving alongside her. The world was not aware of her, or her loss, but everyone was experiencing the shock and terror of grief.
On Sunday night’s episode of Mad Men we observed everyone’s reactions to losing a leader, a real father, and a symbolic father to his followers, and everyone released their fear and sadness in different ways. Betty, who saw Lee Harvey Oswald shot on live television, forbid the children from the TV and squirreled them all away in one room before sending them to their father where she could have the TV on while she waited alone, just in case. Megan readjusted her fear at living high and enclosed but still amongst the sound of angry reaction by tumbling all her emotions onto her father and his uncouth words. Henry and Abe, who would strangely benefit from the event, reacted with a heart palpating excitement. Joan doled out hugs amidst tears. Dawn, eyes wide in shock, ached for her routine, something normal amongst the chaos.
Pete misdirected all his anger and fear and loneliness onto Harry, who exists only on the surface. Such an easy target, someone who says exactly what they’re thinking when they’re thinking, even if what they’re thinking is selfish or unnecessary. Pete, who tried throughout the entire experience to reach out and could find no one, finally found a passionate interaction with the office buffoon. We watched him wait frantically to make a call right after hearing the news; we watched his awkward interaction with Trudy, who, though gentle, had no interest in comforting or seeking comfort with Pete. And finally, in Pete’s last scene, we watch him in that sad lonely apartment attempt to talk to a delivery person who either didn’t, or pretended not to understand him. And there Pete stood, alone, with no words to share or recall except an impassioned speech to a person he doesn’t even care about or respect.
Don reacted the way he does best, by not reacting. Whenever grief strikes Don’s life, unless it’s very personal and very solitary, he seems to resemble the calm quiet voice of reason, offering reasonable solutions to problems, conjuring up wise words to steady the breath of someone actually feeling an emotion, but the truth is that Don isn’t feeling anything. We have seen Don feel. We know what it looks like. We saw it at the end of the episode, Don, deep inside a bottle, admitting what many parents never admit, that they go through the motions with their children until their children do something quietly extraordinary.
That afternoon, waiting for the encore of Planet of the Apes, Bobby Draper became a real human person to Don and to us as well. Bobby has become a bit of a joke to fans, hasn’t he? Four Bobbys, each one popping up to annoy Betty or deliver a cheeky one-liner. Nobody has paid much attention to Bobby, but now Bobby says something so decidedly Don that it makes us whimper. Now we know that Bobby frets for Henry. Now we know that Bobby curses. Now we know Bobby needs order and obsessively tears at the wallpaper that doesn’t line up. Now we know Bobby can offer wise advice to a stranger that he, through observation that Don was completely unaware of, knows his father does. Go to the movies when you’re sad. Watch it again if you’re still sad. Escape. It’s one simple, beautiful way to both cope with grief and reveal to a withholding frightened father that loving you will help heal his broken heart.