Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A MOST LOVELY NIGHTMARE: HANNIBAL's Radical Reinvention of an Iconic Monster

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”  Edgar Allan Poe/”The Raven”

It wasn’t supposed to work out this way.  The third reboot of a pop culture icon whose identity had become fused to one person.  A second attempt at a prequel story which had been a financial and critical failure the first time around, which would lead into the third version of the story that first introduced this character to the world.  Which would theoretically progress toward a remake of that character’s most well-known exploits, which are already regarded as canonical works of grand guignol horror.

Oh, and it would all be on network television. In prime time.

And that was my initial thought process when I heard that NBC had commissioned Bryan Fuller to create an expanded universe through which Hannibal Lecter could romp.  In an era in which the entertainment industry is obsessed with rebooting pre-existing properties (often to greatly diminishing effects), spinning off a character as memorably chronicled as the good doctor seemed like a desperate move of creative bankruptcy.  Hannibal is Anthony Hopkins!  And the Goldberg Variations!  Quid pro quo!  Liver and fava beans!  And c’mon, it would be a prime time network show.  With commercials!  Years of watching HBO had clearly taught me that networks plus commercials equal creative death.

(If this line of reasoning sounds familiar to those of you who read my Mad Men essays, you’re not dreaming.)

So I ignored this obviously inferior work of televisual storytelling.  That is, until a good friend (prompted by a discussion about our mutual love of serial killer mythology) started prodding me to give it a try.  And then, during a discussion about Cotard’s Syndrome, she mentioned how that medical condition had featured in an episode of this new Lecter-centric show.  I’m a firm believer that sometimes the cosmic consciousness throws multiple instances like this at you because it’s trying to send a message.  So when the first season of the show became available on Amazon Prime Video (during a period where I had some time to kick around), I finally dove in.

And as I soon found out, once you dive into the world of Hannibal, there’s no returning to the surface.

It’s hard to describe in words just how flabbergasted I was by Hannibal’s greatness, at the deep and seductive spell it casts on the viewer.  The early episodes display some of the hallmarks of the network formula (a killer of the week approach, comic relief sidekicks, etc.), but those begin to fade into the background as the show progresses through its first two seasons.  And even such well-worn devices gain a new and vibrant life through James Hawkinson’s lush cinematography.  Those stock murder scenes are each arranged as a work of art, blood-spattered tableaus in which the victims gain a sort of metaphysical transcendence through literally being transformed by death.

Indeed, no other current television show luxuriates in its visuals like Hannibal does, the decadent, nightmarish palate an extension of Lecter’s refined, hyper-gothic/modernist aesthetic.  It’s almost like Fuller and company have turned the character of Hannibal Lecter into a virus, so deeply does his presence infect every aspect of the storytelling process.  (Even the opening credits suggest Lecter as not a person, but a great wash of blood taking on human form, or as his psychiatrist Bedelia du Maurier puts it “You are wearing a very well-tailored ‘person suit’.”)  Brian Reitzell’s hypnotic score is both perfect complement to the visual scheme and a creature unto itself, its slow burn phrasing and often atonal excursions creating an almost tactile sense of alluring dread.  And this stylistic drive is only heightened throughout the first 26 episodes; Season 2’s nightmare landscape is some of the most avant-garde material to ever be broadcast on a major network…or even a cable network.

Of course, aesthetic formalism alone doesn’t carry Hannibal.  At its dark heart is Mads Mikkelsen’s sleek predator of a title character.  Trying to reinvent the character of Hannibal Lecter is no small matter, so indelibly stamped upon the cultural consciousness is Anthony Hopkins’s award-winning turn as everyone’s favorite cannibal.  While the filmic serial killers of the ‘70s and ‘80s served as larger than life boogeymen providing vicarious thrills, the advent of Hopkins as Lecter in Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs changed that dynamic for good.  Michael Mann’s Manhunter serves up a Lecter (Brian Cox) in cameo form as a cold, vengeful, would-be puppetmaster, but Hopkins brings a jet black humor and maniacal playfulness to the role.  And Silence also introduces a twisted moral code to the character, as his motivations for killing originate from a sense of perverse justice (in the words of Ridley Scott’s Hannibal “He preferred to eat the rude.”)  Thus, Hannibal Lecter becomes our favorite boogeyman, a dark avenger of our conscience, a projection of our ideals and our fears.

Which is what makes Mikkelsen’s take on the character so fascinating.  Gone is the arch humor and almost camp charm of before.  In its place is an icy magnetism and a dark eroticism.  This heightened sexuality is one of the most compelling aspects that Mikkelsen brings to the role.  The budding pseudo-romance between Hopkins and Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling (made more explicit in the film sequel with Julianne Moore) infuses those proceedings with a whiff of sexual tension, but Hopkins’s Lecter is much more of a mentor figure and surrogate father to Starling than a sex symbol.  Mikkelsen’s Lecter, on the other hand, is a creature of stealth erotic power, his distinctly European background and unconventional looks adding a deep sense of otherworldliness to his character.  But in many ways, he’s also a complete blank, an abyss that threatens to swallow up all who stare into him.

And stare at least one person does.  For even though the show is called Hannibal, its portrayal of FBI profiler Will Graham is what cements its status.  Graham has always been a somewhat problematic character in the Lecter mythos.  Manhunter’s William Peterson smolders in the neon-noir landscape, but he’s so subdued that it’s sometimes hard to connect with him (a tricky balance that Michael Mann protagonists often walk.)  In Red Dragon, Edward Norton is a bit more relatable, but there’s something missing from his performance, almost as if we’re watching him play himself (this happens sometimes with Norton.)  It’s only in the hands of Hugh Dancy that Will becomes a fully-realized person.  Part of this is due to the extended character development that a 13 episode season affords.  But part is also the writing and the actor.  From the start, Dancy is a bundle of nerves (it’s off-putting at first, yet logically developed as time goes on), a mildly autistic savant haunted by his enhanced perception, a man who’s been close to the edge one too many times.  In conveying these complex emotions, Dancy brings a palapable vulnerability to Will, one which greatly engenders audience sympathy.  And the first person perspective of his mental crime scene reconstructions is easily the best representation of his tortured mindset that the character has received.  We witness several different character perspectives throughout the two seasons, but we’re clearly meant to identify with Will.  So when the virus that is Hannibal Lecter begins to burrow into his mind, we’re fully accompanying him on his descent into madness.  On his descent into the abyss.

There’s so much more to talk about, but this essay has its own limitations of time and space.  So in preparation for Hannibal’s Season 3 premiere on June 4th, I’m going to attempt to one up the Mad Men series I recently completed by penning a new essay for each of Hannibal’s 26 episodes.  I might also delve back into the Lecter film mythology here and there, although I can make no promises as to the extent of that exploration.  But this should all be a lot of fun.  Or insanity.  Or both.           

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hieronymous Bosch is Alive and Well and Producing Tastefully Decorated Interiors (or: Thoughts on Gilliam's JABBERWOCKY)

“The terrible thing for a guy who wants to make popular films is that I keep ending up being coursework in film schools.  I don’t want to encourage film students, I want to encourage the public.  But you end up being the darling of film schools”  -Terry Gilliam/Gilliam on Gilliam

…so yes, some of you were asking about the Terry Gilliam series of essays that I teased last week.  My intentions were good, hot to trot I became, vigor and enthusiasm and delusions ran wild.  But the catch was that to go through Gilliam’s directorial career chronologically, I had to procure a copy of his first solo effort, the one film of his that I haven’t seen…well, until last night.  A somewhat unheralded little flick called Jabberwocky.

It’s an odd way to kick off a director-focused series, having to finally watch said director’s first feature.  And in true Gilliam fashion, this minor matter of achievement was delayed by a formidable layer of bureaucracy and paperwork: the inter-library loan system.  Yeah, I had to wait five days for a copy of Jabberwocky to get transferred over to me.  (Some of you are probably laughing at this seemingly prehistoric concept.  But my Sisyphean adherence to such systems is part of the entertainment value of this series, right?)

This essay might be a bit of an odd duck, as I’m not sure how much I have to say about Jabberwocky.  It’s an interesting film, but in many ways plays like a student project, a dry-run for Gilliam’s later, more accomplished works.  Maybe the best way to provide some context is to discuss my history with Monty Python, the group, the concept, the legend (sadly, not the stage show, the souvenir program, the CD-ROM, the Officially Sponsored Peanut Butter, the commemorative underpants, or the Fully Licensed Python Burial Plan.  Not yet, anyway.)

Growing up when I did was a strange time in which to become acquainted with the Pythons.  By the time I became aware of their existence, they’d long since split as a formal entity.  My somewhat anachronistic childhood influences (Hitchcock, Kubrick, G.I. Joe) and four much older siblings endowed me with a dry sense of humor, but somehow it wasn’t until my teens that Monty Python became a tangible thing in my mind.  And by that time, the legend had begun. And everyone knows that legends without the initial experience can either be deeply inspiring or deeply annoying.

Such was my initial exposure to the Pythons.  For a time, it seemed like every geeky kid I knew found tossing off Python quotes to be the height of humor and wit (because “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition” never gets old as a one liner, right?)  It reminds me of the numerous people I’ve met over the years who’ve trotted out their satchel full of memorized movie lines as indisputable proof of their love of film.  And the sum effect of my Python-quoting friends and acquaintances was about the same.  Sure, small talk, cultural glue, etc. etc…..I get it.  But when you were like me and hadn’t actually seen the source material, the whole Monty Python enterprise seemed a masturbatory.  (I still hold the same thoughts about great swaths of geek culture.  But I should probably stop there, lest I spit in the face of my audience too much.)

Fast forward to adulthood when, library card in hand, I finally borrowed the first three volumes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus on DVD.  And suddenly, revelation!  Beyond the parrot sketch and all the famous quotes was this labyrinthine construction of absurdism, dry wit, scatology, and highly evolved literacy, a half-hour of comedic brilliance that required the audience to actually pay attention to the finely weaved connections therein.  And to hold onto those connections from week to week.  (I had obviously also missed out on Odenkirk and Cross’s Mr. Show at this point…and any number of other children of Python…but cut me some slack, okay?)  It was a comedy Road to Damascus moment for me, and like any good convert I dove into the scriptures whole hog.

As I mentioned in my intro essay to this series, I became fully aware of Terry Gilliam around the time of 12 Monkeys’ release, so the Pythonic sensibility wasn’t totally alien to me.  Still, finally visiting their canon after years of absorbing the legend could sometimes be underwhelming.  To this day, I admire Monty Python and the Holy Grail more than I genuinely love it, so beaten into the ground have its classic bits become.  Same for Life of Brian, which I can still appreciate as a great work of religious satire (although part of me still pines for Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory, the joke title for the project that the group would use to shut down inquisitive journalists.)  Maybe it’s not the material; maybe I just have an inherent bias against medieval period pieces.

Which would explain my reaction to Jabberwocky upon finally seeing it.  Gilliam has noted how Bosch and Bruegel were primary influences on the material and that he didn’t set out to make a Python movie, but it’s still hard not to view the film as an extension of Holy Grail and Brian…or an alternate plot tendril of either.  So while I find Jabberwocky to be amusing and inventively constructed, it might be my least favorite Gilliam film (although that sentiment might change by the end of this series.)

But that doesn’t mean that it’s not an interesting film, especially in the context of what was to come in Gilliam’s career.  The opening scene is a veritable stylistic calling card, with extensive usage of wide-angle lenses, slightly absurdist costumes (Terry Jones’s hat prefigures the cartoonish ones worn by Bob Hoskins and Derrick O’Connor in Brazil), fog-filtered shafts of backlighting, and a mythological monster stalking the featured character.  Religion and the business mindset are ruthlessly satirized; the presence of the monster is decimating the kingdom, but the local merchants are thriving and church attendance has tripled.  There’s also a great scene early on in which Dennis Cooper (Michael Palin) sits outside his would-be paramour’s window in a boat, pining for her affections.  This brief bit of business serves as a microcosm for the Gilliam oeuvre: it’s a beautifully framed twilight scene punctuated by filth and grime (her family tosses garbage out the window in his direction, part of which splatters water on the camera!), featuring a hapless dreamer of a protagonist.  (Authentic filth is something that Gilliam and Jones aspired to when co-directing Holy Grail, partially inspired by the bawdy, dirt-encrusted neo-realism of Pier Paolo Pasolini, especially in his version of The Canterbury Tales.)

This last bit is what makes Gilliam’s films such a love/hate proposition for some people.  Viewing Jabberwocky today can feel slightly alien because the modern entertainment business has conditioned us to root for mildly geeky outsiders who manage to rise above it all and tap into their inner hero in order to save themselves/their romantic interests/humanity.  Ever the iconoclast, Gilliam has never fully embraced this motif, sometimes aggressively so.  We love Michael Palin because he’s Michael Palin, but Dennis is about as ineffectual a hero as you can get, bumbling his way through the story until he accidentally kills the Jabberwock, then lauded by the same people who mocked him before being married off to the mad princess (and essentially transferred from the prison of his poverty to the prison of nobility.)

A stock Gilliam protagonist like Dennis (or Brazil’s Sam Lowry for that matter) is a prickly thing because he simultaneously embodies a dreamer’s aspirations and an incompetent buffoon’s foibles.  In other words, he’s extremely human.  It’s no coincidence that Gilliam started his directorial career at the end of the ‘70s, a decade in which ambiguous characters thrived in the film world.  But while George Lucas and Steven Spielberg ushered in a new set of white-hatted heroes perfectly fit for the feel-good new dawn of Reaganism (to be fair, the moral streamlining of the film world is much more the responsibility of the television and business execs who took over the studios), Gilliam stuck with his principles concerning the fog of heroism…and humanity.  Redemption has become the lingua franca of modern film heroes, but a Gilliam protagonist is still just as likely to achieve a minor victory (if any at all) at a film’s end.

And it’s this relentless iconoclasm that also puts some people off.  Our base human desire to repeatedly witness classic heroic narratives as a bulwark against life’s travails doesn’t sit well with Gilliam’s yen for depicting the uneasy balance that corruption, lies, love, and triumph must sometimes settle upon.  Even the title of the film is a feint against traditional narrative logic, inspired by the Lewis Carroll poem, but ultimately having very little to do with the content of said poem.  Gilliam has said that he enjoys the free associative nature of titles in relation to the content of the work, which is somewhat reminiscent of William Burroughs’s cut-up method (cue Burroughs in the trailer for David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, gruffly intoning “Go back to sleep America!”, a very Gilliamesque sentiment if there ever was one.)

I was reminded again of Gilliam’s sensibilities, appropriately enough, during his cameo in Jabberwocky, in which he plays a man trying to gain admittance to the walled city by claiming that a rock he’s holding is actually a diamond.  A few scenes later, Dennis meets him in the forest, where he’s sitting on a whole mess of rocks that are supposedly diamonds.  It’s never quite clear whether he’s a con artist, or a madman who actually believes that the rocks are diamonds…or both.  But we don’t have the opportunity to find out, as he’s duly snatched up by the Jabberwock and stripped of his skin.  What an apt metaphor for Terry Gilliam’s long, quixotic career in the film world this would prove to be.    

Monday, April 13, 2015

MAD MEN Ep. 87: "New Business"

In which you think you’re going to begin your life over.  But what if you never get past the beginning again?

One of my all-time favorite episodes of The Sopranos is “The Ride”, which takes place just before the halfway point of the epic sprawl that is the two-part final Season 6.  (SPOILERS ahead)  For a show that deals so heavily in characters who, despite their best efforts, never really seem to change, this episode serves as one of its most direct (and powerful) statements on the subject.  At its heart is Christopher Moltisanti (the great Michael Imperioli), the tortured prince of the Soprano kingdom, the wayward son who despite his dalliances in heroin and general self-destruction still seems to be the heir apparent to Tony’s throne.  Following the accidental pregnancy of his girlfriend Kelli (Cara Buono, who would later appear as Dr. Faye Miller in Season 4 of Mad Men), he tries to make amends by marrying her in Atlantic City.  In a lifetime of attempts at redemption, this seems to him to be a real step toward getting it together.  His moment of glory in telling the Soprano crew about his marriage, the purchase of a new house, the promise of starting a family…all the trappings are there.

But of course, the indomitable sadness that rules Christopher’s heart is still there.  He may try to embrace a new and better life, but he’s forever haunted by the guilt of having given up his true love Adriana as a FBI-pressured snitch (at the end of Season 4), choosing loyalty to Tony over the possibility of a new life with her outside of la cosa nostra.  Her murder is one of the most horrifying moments in the show’s history; while she’s definitely an accessory to crime, she’s also one of the few somewhat innocent characters in the Sopranos universe.  The moment that Christopher signs her death warrant is finally depicted here in flashback, during a petty crime spree/road trip in which he and Tony reminisce about the good old days.  The irony of the sequence is that those memories are seemingly all they have; trying to follow them up just results in awkward small talk.  And the uncomfortable realization that part of Christopher died out in the New Jersey woods when Silvio Dante put a bullet in Adriana’s head.

The stylistic and emotional centerpiece of “The Ride” occurs when Christopher lapses back into heroin use while paying off an associate with smack.  In a stunning sequence set to Fred Neil’s elegiac “The Dolphins”, he shoots up once again, drifting into the background of the midway for the Feast of Elzear of Sabran, staring into the sky, into nothingness.  Neil’s lyrics portray frustration with war and love in the ‘60s, but they also perfectly frame the shattering regret that eats away at Christopher.  The next to last shot of the scene (pictured above), as the midway lights turn off one by one around his nodding silhouette, is a haunting evocation of the loneliness and despair that have enveloped him. (You can check out the entire scene here.)  Like all of the characters in the episode, he desperately wants a new path, but the thrill of the old bad ways (and the guilt that often comes with them) is too hard to escape. (End Soprano-rific SPOILERS)

I was reminded of this episode, and this scene, during “New Business”, last night’s episode of Mad Men.  We’ve discussed Matt Weiner’s time in the Sopranos writers’ room extensively, but with this entry it seems like he may have created his own version of “The Ride”, a microcosmic portrait of the world we’ve followed for six plus seasons, in which the past repeats itself again and again.  And in which even fresh starts are ultimately dead ends.

Some of the callbacks to the past are fairly minor and entertaining.  Roger engages in a bit of slapstick with his two secretaries, in which he mentions Secor Laxatives as the old home of one of his appointments (Secor was famously Pete’s account in Season 1, which he manipulated to block out JFK ad buys in key election swing states.)  Roger also, once again, shares a drink in Don’s office, while mentioning that he won’t meet with Nabisco because Burt Peterson is their account man (Sterling ousted him from the agency at the beginning of Season 3.)  And of course, there’s yet another tryst between he and Marie Calvet (and the implication that she leaves her husband for him at episode’s end…although we’ll have to see about that.)

While on their way to a golf outing with the Nabisco reps, Pete and Don discuss the difficulties of divorce, climaxing in Pete’s utterance of the quote that opens this essay.  It’s almost a throwaway line, but it’s a marker for most of the new beginnings on display here.  The Annie Leibovitz-esque Pima Ryan (Mimi Rogers) seems to offer both Stan and Peggy new career and sexual opportunities, but as Peggy notes to Stan “she’s more advertising than art.”  Harry offers to advise Megan on changing agents, but it’s all a pretext for his hitting on her (the other day I noted to a friend that aside from Don, and sometimes Roger, almost all of the come-ons displayed by male characters in Mad Men are cringe-inducing.)  Marie tells Roger that Don signed off on she and Megan taking all of the Draper apartment’s furniture in the divorce settlement, but that turns out to be a lie.  There’s even a can of Tab prominently featured on Meredith’s desk with the word NEW emblazoned on it (a result of a ban on cyclamate in 1969…and a foreshadowing of the disaster that would be New Coke…and a reminder that NEW Tab is still Tab.)  Perhaps the only example of a legitimate new beginning that the episode offers if Betty’s revelation to Don that she’s pursuing an MA in psychology (which itself is a callback to the past, specifically her sessions with Dr. Wayne in Season 1.)

But of course, the merger of potentially pyrrhic restarts and the iron grip of the past ultimately focuses on Don, who continues his existential wandering amidst the finalization of his divorce from Megan.  And it’s here, once again, that we see his fixation on Diana the waitress (finally given a proper name after last week’s anonymity.)  As always, Matt Weiner refuses to play the easy narrative game with the Mad Men wrap up; this plot thread has been one of the most puzzling and enigmatic in the show’s run, literally introducing a character from out of nowhere to play a major part in the Don’s final storyline.  But maybe that’s the point.

I’m going to go out on a limb here…and I could be reading way too much into this…but I think there’s a distinct possibility that Diana doesn’t exist.  That’s she’s possibly a projection of all Don’s preoccupations and lingering guilt over the life he’s built.  Aside from Roger and the models (in “Severance”) no character other than Don has had any interaction with her.  She plays into his long-standing interest in brunette outsiders, prostitutes (their first real encounter in the previous episode has her mistaking Roger’s $100 tip for a down payment for sex with Don), and the unreachable (in last week’s “Severance” essay, I mentioned how Ted’s throwaway line about the three women in your life might be a marker for Diana’s purpose.)  She’s new to New York.  She mentions that her shampoo is Avon, the account for which Joan and Peggy pursued in Season 6.  And when she and Don embrace in the apartment, she mentions that “I have a twinge in my chest”, to which Don responds “an old pain?” (In another callback a Sopranos obsession, Don notes that she arrives at his apartment at 3am.)

It’s a moving reference to “The Wheel” that most famous of Mad Men episodes from Season 1 (my essay for which you can read here), in which Don’s masterful Kodak pitch centers around the Greek concept of nostalgia and it’s connotations of a pain from an old wound, a twinge in your heart.  And it’s here that my thoughts of “The Ride” come….yeah I’ll bite, full circle.  The stated appeal of the carnival ride in that Sopranos episode is that it provides a vicarious thrill while returning the rider to safety after three minutes.  Don’s pitch for the Carousel Slide Projector centers around its time machine qualities, how it “takes us to a place we ache to go again…lets us travel the way a child travels, around and around and back home again to a place where we know we are loved.”  In both cases, the promised end result is idealized.  But the Sopranoland characters just keep returning back to their own cycle of destruction.  And Don’s Kodak pitch is as much to himself as it is to the execs; he ultimately returns home to an empty house.

And it’s here that Diana refutes Don’s nostalgia-bound theory, later telling him that the twinge she feels is both for her dead daughter and the second daughter that she abandoned in Racine, Wisconsin.  During his visit to her spartan apartment (which mildly resembles a room from the whorehouse in which Dick Whitman was raised), she rejects his affection, affirming that when she’s with him she forgets the pain of her absent children.  And that’s something she wants to hang onto.  This could be what makes her intriguing to Don, but it could also be another projection of the guilt that drives him (especially in an episode where he obviously feels responsible for the breakup of his marriage to Megan.)

What really sent me down this line of thinking was the somewhat odd elevator scene midway through the episode, in which Don and Diana meet Arnold and Sylvia Rosen.  The neighbors haven’t appeared since Don ended his affair with Sylvia at the conclusion of Season 6, so their brief cameo here must be more than a mere reminder of their presence in the building.  That Inferno-themed season featured many meetings between these characters in that same elevator (elevators on Mad Men have been described by Weiner as midway grounds, almost purgatorial experiences), so on the surface this one is obviously another reminder to Don of the cost of his past (following Rachel Menken’s death in “Severance.”)

So is Don actually experiencing this elevator ride?  Or are the final seven episodes of the show turning into his descent back into his own personal Inferno, one last journey through his self-constructed circles of Hell, one last attempt at redemption?  (Diana asks him “How many girls have you had in this elevator?” to which Don replies “That’s not what that was.”) A popular theory about the final run of The Sopranos involves the opening montage for the last season (check it out here), set to William Burroughs’s “Seven Souls” (in which he describes the Egyptian theory that at death, the seven souls of human existence depart one by one.)  Some have viewed those final episodes as the gradual shedding of these souls by Tony Soprano, ending in either his literal or figurative death.  Could Mad Men be following a similar path in climax?  In a lifetime of doomed attempts to find himself, to really change, is the aging Don making one last leap into the abyss?  And are we, at least in part, witnessing his subjective view of reality (much as we often experienced Tony Soprano’s waking dreams, just as we’ve seen Don’s visions in the past)?

All of this is speculation for the moment.  But a poet’s soul has always driven Don, so an attempt at a poetic resolution to the mess of his life wouldn’t be out of the question.  In this context, maybe the scene in which he and Megan finalize their divorce is the most telling.  Driven by guilt and the desire to make things right, he writes her a check for $1 million, telling her “I want you to have the life you deserve.”  It’s one more reference to the past, and a chilling one at that: his words are a direct echo of when he pays his brother Adam $5,000 to leave his life forever in Season 1, advising him to “make your own life.”  That original sin is Don’s attempt to destroy his past, which ultimately leads to Adam’s suicide (which continues to haunt Don.)  Is his payment to Megan an attempt to get it right this time, to let someone go while truly giving them the deliverance they want?  The final five episodes will fill in some of these blanks, but at the end of “New Business”, Don is once again left alone, in an apartment stripped bare of all its furniture.  And the couch and chairs might not be the only part of his life vanishing before the story of Don Draper comes to an end.