Sunday’s return of Mad Men for the start of it’s official swan song (a second half of the final season, a’la Breaking Bad) saw Don back to his old womanizing ways as a newly separated, newly re-coronated king of Madison Ave.
All of the at-first sultry and-then repulsive sexism seems to have come rushing back into the frame during the interim between Bert Cooper’s sudden moon-landing-triggered death and the merger of SC&P with McCann Erickson. But as is usually the case, things are not as they seem on the glossy magazine surface. Don dreams of Rachel Menken who, he learns later, has just died of leukemia. In a particularly terrible encounter, Don shows up at the wake and tries to place himself back into the world of this woman he loved and left a long time ago. Rachel’s sister reminds him he has no place there – the sight of Rachel’s small children confronts him with his inappropriate intrusion and heavy loss.
That Don’s life is laced with regret is no secret – at least not anymore. But another encounter, this time between Vermont-bred Ken Cosgrove and his wife, presents another terrible glimpse. Ken is a writer (why I like his character so much – in addition to the Vermont thing) but he’s settled for the ad man rat race. He’s angry. His wife is unhappy. He doesn’t need the job – but he’s compelled to succeed, to be significant, to keep climbing the ladder.
When his wife urges him to quit, move to the woods, and write that novel, he lashes out.
The next day, he’s fired.
These two terrible episodes come together when Ken talks with Don about how the firing and severance will now allow him to avoid the “life not lived.” He can move to Vermont and live a deep, meaningful life doing what he loves! Don’s eyes betray the regret, the same regret he feels heavily as he observes the “life not lived” in Rachel’s children at the wake.
The saddest thing of all, though, is that Ken changes course. He takes a job with one of SC&P’s clients in order to exact revenge on Roger and co. from the other side of the conference table.
The whole episode resonated deeply with me because recently my wife and I have been talking a lot about choosing this deeper, more authentic life (woods and writing are definitely involved) even over the rat race of church and ministry significance. It got me wondering how many busy, burdened, success-driven pastors and leaders need to confront this very question of the life not lived.
Of course, the time to do this is now – before, like Don at Rachel’s wake, we figure it all out too late.