Don Draper has been traveling between the coasts, a man without a purpose. He wants back in the ad game. He takes meetings with other companies, flirting with the idea of moving on. A new company, a new job; these would be good things for Don. But that’s not what he wants. He’s got something to prove.
It’s hard to believe that through two episodes in Mad Men‘s seventh season, Don has had such limited interactions with SCP. He’s been running ideas through Freddy Rumsen. He ate lunch with everyone’s favorite WASP, Pete Campbell. He’s been tethered to the company by Dawn. But, one of the staples of this show throughout its run has been Don Draper and Roger Sterling.
Don finally breaks down and decides to talk to his fellow train wreck of a human being after receiving an offer from another company. Roger all so casually tells Don to come back to SCP. He’s one of the few people that wants and needs Don around. They’re connected, symbolic brothers in a grand sense. In a far simpler sense, Don is one of the few people who Roger can actually speak to at SCP. He’s never been one to talk to the creatives and “underlings”. The other executives are either his old flame, ancient, out to take his own company from him, or just plain fucking horrible.
Don goes back to SCP, just to find that everything has changed. New girl up front, just plain fucking horrible is in his office. No one knows him and no one cares. That shot of Don’s hand on the doorknob shows that he’s ready to walk away. He’s turning his back on the company that pushed him away, when someone finally notices him and cares.
Oddly, that person is Ginsberg. The creative department is thrilled to see Don. They’ve been stuck with just plain fucking horrible Lou and crabby Peggy. They’re stifled and frustrated and need someone that appreciates good ideas, even if he occasionally pretends to leave them in the back of a cab. Don puffs on a cigarette and gets that creative spark in his eyes. It’s that same spark we saw when he was sitting at the movies earlier in the episode. He lives to be in the thick of it. He slips into the creative department like a comfortable pair of slippers.
The rest of the company is stunned to see him. Dawn is trying to settle in to her role as the new Joan, and here’s Don handcuffing her to the secretary’s desk. JPFH Lou immediately begins whining about how he has a contract and blah blah blah. Peggy wants no part of it. Don coming back is just one more thing in her life that she can’t control and makes her miserable. Joan, Bert, and Cutler are dismayed. They didn’t expect him, and they’re the people that are supposed to be making these decisions.
Ultimately, it’s decided that Don can come back, but it’s mostly so they don’t have to buy out his contract. They put heavy restrictions and clauses into this comeback, hoping he’ll turn them down outright. But, they never considered that Don Draper has something to prove. They missed the point of his breakdown. The alcohol played a part, but it was more about cutting the bullshit out of his life. Don isn’t cheating. He is actually boozing less. Don needs to prove that he can do this, and he needs to do it at the company he founded under the name he made for himself.