Happily ever after; why the dogs were humping in Mad Men

Humping dogs from Mad Men

A while back, a friend of mine asked me what I thought was the purpose of life. “To ensure the survival of our species, nothing greater,” was my reply. To him, that sounded incredibly sad but for me, it is incredible pragmatic with a sense of ultimate clarity of purpose.

I still believe that and believe also that it can be expanded out to cover the whole condition of the human animal with this simple formula:

Step one; create.
Step two; develop and nurture.
Step three; release, let go.
Step four; repeat.

Whether we’re talking about raising kids, writing a book, building a bridge, mentoring a protégé, composing a song or any of the thousands of things human beings do, the formula remains the same. Create-nurture-release-repeat.

Where people get hung up (yeah, pun intended) is when they become scared of step four or hang too long onto step two and never pull the trigger on step three or never even start step one. Throughout season five of Mad Men, this has been the theme; the journey each character takes through each of these steps on the way to letting go and starting over, to sharing their creation with the rest of the species to ensure its survival. Some made it through the formula while others got caught up in the tentacles of one or more of the steps.

When Matt Weiner puts a two-second scene of two dogs humping out on the sidewalk, you bet we’re gonna notice. You bet we’re gonna write about it. While some have called the scene “completely unnecessary” and put in as a “cheap attempt at soliciting a reaction,” I disagree. Two seconds of airtime is just way too expensive to just “throw in a couple of dogs shagging each other” for the heck of it. I say the scene sums up the meaning of the season perfectly.

Hear me out.

It would be easy to say the humping dogs symbolizes that the old Don is back, but that is missing the mark. I think the dogs humping in the parking lot symbolizes nature’s way of forcing a species to start something that they will need to nurture (nurse), let go and repeat. Dogs do this in a care-free, almost matter-of-fact way. To a pair of dogs in a parking lot, the act of copulation is neutral; it has no moral value. Its only purpose is to ensure the survival of their species.

The activity will eventually result in a litter, which will be nursed along until the pups are ready to be nudged out on their own. The mother’s job will be over and they will go forth and be “successful” on their own without her. She will then repeat the process with another litter.

This is Don’s role. When he was younger, creating, nurturing, releasing and starting over was easy, especially when it was only him. But these days, the formula includes other people. As he is aging, he is also forming attachments that are harder and harder for him to let go. But in true Don Draper stoic style, he finds a way and when he does, he closes the door and moves on even as he cares deeply and honestly about everyone with whom he gets involved.

When Don watches Megan’s screen test, he is not going through the act of falling in love with her all over again or realizing she really is perfect for the part. What he is doing is realizing he has fallen in love with the two-dimension, celluloid version of Megan. The “real Megan” is far more complicated, far more damaged than stylized, acting Megan. In that moment of clarity, Don realized he had hung on to her too long. He realizes that for her to grow, he needed to let her go on without him. That light-headedness was not the smoke in the room, or the sadness in his heart, but relief. He does the right thing even if nobody will ever know he did, even if the right thing looked to the outside world like two dogs humping in a parking lot.

Real life has no happily ever after. It just has a never-ending cycle. But it is it’s purpose.

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About Rufus Dogg

I'm a dog who writes a blog. It is not a pet blog. It is a real blog that talks about real ideas. No, really. I do my own writing, but I have a really, really cool editor who overlooks the fact that I can't really hit the space-bar key cause I don't have thumbs. I talk about everything from politics to social issues to just rambling about local problems. And, sometimes I just talk about nothing in particular. Google+
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7 Responses to Happily ever after; why the dogs were humping in Mad Men

  1. Saxon Henry says:

    Wow, Rufus! You nailed this one! The thing that struck me about the scene as Peggy lifted the curtain is that it has so many layers to the meaning of all the characters in the show. I agree that a big part of the emphasis was placed on Don, but Peggy had dealt with her own issues with being screwed in more ways than one (having had the baby out of wedlock early in the show and being castrated for it by her Catholic family; the fact that she wasn’t treated the same as the men on staff during her time at SCDP). Also, think about Joan during this season. She actually had sex with a potential client to bring them on board and has had multiple affairs with one of the principals, a fact that made her rise to partner both tougher and easier. Then, there is Roger, who had just slept with Megan’s mother (great performance by Ormond, I might add). The depth of meaning in Pete’s affair with the woman who had just had shock therapy is remarkable: he wanted to have more with her but he got screwed out of that chance because the woman got the ultimate knife in the back–she lost her memory of who she is. Then there’s Don, who used to be the one screwing every woman in sight coming full circle, but not in terms of going back to the way he was. He walked back into a different self than he could have been before when he walked into that bar.

    Thanks for writing this. It gave me the opportunity to process all that had been swirling around in my head about the season for the past few days. I’d like to know what you think about my take on things.

  2. Rufus Dogg says:

    Oh, snap!! I totally missed that Peggy lifted the veil and revealed the ugly truth of what really goes on at an ad agency! OMG, that is huge!! She saw it, crinkled her brow a bit and shrugged as if to say, “I see that and I’m ok with it. c’est la vie!”

    When Matt Weiner puts out something literal that is always misdirection. He wants people to comment on the obvious. The more he hits you over the head with a literal, the more it is not even the point (tooth is not the only thing rotten, dogs humping, etc.) In fact, he even goes on the “behind the scenes” videos to fuel the misdirection even more. All these bloggers do these reviews and mommybloggers get all bent out of shape over Don’s behavior and they all miss the mark because they focus on the literals. And all the while you can hear Weiner cackling with laughter in the background

    The plot of Mad Men is just an excuse to search for meaning. It is a moment in time, a stop on the Hobo Rail Line for Don, the end of the line for Roger and where Peggy hops on board. The plot of Mad Men is just an excuse to explore meaning in the human condition. In other words, I dunno where this is going, but season six will be closer to the soul of verisimilitude than most people feel comfortable getting 🙂

    BTW, did you know that Weiner studied to be a dentist?

  3. Saxon Henry says:

    Well she pretty much acted the same when she had to deal with the unsettling situation she found herself in when she was “with child”; it’s her survival nature. I think that’s one of the interesting things about her being the one Don bumped into in the movie theater. He taught her well, though there were so many similarities to them already he was essentially preaching to the converted. So are you thinking that Peggy being the “witness” is the obvious thing he wanted everyone to see? My guess is you’re talking about Don walking into the bar and being up to “his old tricks” (teaching a dog, ahem!)?

    Well, Weiner’s past education explains why Don’s tooth trouble felt so real. As someone who’s had a root canal or two, I was wishing I had gas as the camera zoomed in on him in the dentist’s chair!

    I have to say, Rufus, I’ve never seen verisimilitude and a smiley emoticon in the same sentence: Keats would be freaking proud of you about now!!!

  4. Rufus Dogg says:

    Nope. Joan Harris is the witness.

    “You’re one of the good ones, aren’t you Don?” Pair that up with the election episode where her and Kinsey had a conversation on the stairs where he asked “Why didn’t we work out?” and Joan replied.. twice, I think, “You have a big mouth.” Her and Don — in that instant where she hugs him in her living room — have an immediate and deep understanding of the value of discretion, honor and mutual respect. When Don was getting raked over the coals by Lane’s wife, he could have easily said “Your husband embezzled money from SCDP” but he didn’t and never will. A weaker man would have. A weaker man would have thought it better to set the record straight about HIMSELF. But Don did not. He thought it better that Lane went out a better man than a common thief. Regardless of what debauchery Don engages in, he maintains a deep respect — dare I say even love — for anyone he has a relationship with. That is what makes him one of the good ones. That’s why the metaphor of a humping dog does not apply to Don.

    But it applies to Pete. That was established in episode one when we first see Peggy, Don and Pete in Don’s office. (You could also stretch that to include a “bitch in heat” when Pete stays in manhattan during August, but that is just way too punny to be a serious metaphor.)

    I may have been able to work “verisimilitude” and a “smiley emoticon” in the same sentence, but I failed miserably in also wedging in juxtaposition and Charlie Sheen. I may just have to throw my English degree back over the University of Minnesota wall 🙂

  5. Rufus Dogg says:

    Argh.. Totally forgot to include this.

    Peggy is not a witness because she is the female version of what Don is. The rules are slightly different for women than they are for men. Think back to the hospital waiting room when Don was waiting for Betty to give birth to Gene. He spent the time “building a relationship” with the prison guard. They bonded; Don was the older buck giving advice to the young stallion. And the young stallion was attentive and receptive. He was not yet the alpha male of a pack. But when him and Don passed in the hallway, he ignore Don as if the entire scene of the relationship-building had never happened. As first, I think it puzzled Don but what was going on is the younger male assuming the role of the alpha male of his pack. In that short exchange, Don created a relationship, nurtured it and then released it, albeit not consciously. He learned by accident what is true of every male leader.

    Women leaders are different and Don is trying to figure that out. Women “collect” other leaders whereas men use them to a point and create their own packs. It’s also why mommyblogging works but daddyblogging doesn’t.

    It will be interesting to see how Don handles his relationship with Peggy.

  6. I am not sure I agree with this. I think Peggy witnessing the scene with the dogs was a much more sinister message. The bitch gets f***ed. She may be looking into her own future. Poor Peggy has struggled to get where she is and we don’t know much about this new firm she is with. Don has always been her hero, I don’t think he is done saving her yet.

  7. Rufus Dogg says:

    Maybe. Maybe this is Weiner’s way of saying Peggy is moving forward with eyes wide open. Peggy will never get f***ed; she will steadily gain more and more ability to move forward with ease from a bad situation if it gets there with the new agency (probably will, the first jump always ends badly…) Her character has already developed that forward motion….