Monday, October 18, 2010

A Sunday of Fresh Starts

This Sunday saw two remarkable rebirths, one all together new and the other a long overdue return to a better place. Don Draper, he of the lost and found mojo, took the only road offering a clean break from the last few years in making it official with his Canadian flame. And, back in Foxboro, the newest Patriot Deion Branch made the long overdue return to Brady's side running 15 yard crossing patterns in the guttiest win the Pats have had in years. Did they find the entire solution to everything that's happened? Probably not. But it's clear each jumped at the only chance they had to make it back.

The Mad Men season finale left the lady and I searching for why Don inexplicably signed on to marry the Secretary du jour, Megan. For chrissakes Don what the hell are you thinking? What about the Doc? Wait--is this actually a dream sequence? No? Oh shit. Don's going to marry that goddamn secretary with the janky teeth (Side note: If you're still hot with janky teeth, you're really, really hot.) This can't work.

But wait.

Why the hell not? If he ends up running with the Doc, he's literally going to spend the next 20 years on the therapist's couch trying to come to terms with a past from which it's probably best to just run. And she knows all the things that are just going to linger like cigarette stains on a mod couch. Maybe it's the mature, healthy approach to handling his issues, but taking these things head on just isn't the way Draper rolls. Hey, he's not perfect.

With Megan, at least there was a chance to get away from the last few years. Maybe she'll turn out to be a social-climbing snake or a closet sociopath like Betty. But she's the only real option to just kick things off completely free of prior restraints. Faye wanted to conquer Don's issues, but Megan just doesn't care. Who's right? Who knows. In the end it doesn't matter. The one person who needed to resolve the issues was never going to, so why keep beating the dead horse.

In New England, the return of Deion Branch marked the end of an unfortunate odyssey of 4 lost years and probably 2 sacrificed titles. I remember when Branch started holding out and the whole situatuon became bizarrely hostile out of nowhere. New England loved Branch, and Branch loved New England. He was a team-first guy, a worker, and didn't need a lot of publicity. But at the same time, what made the relationship so perfect--the team-oriented pay structure the Pats have long observed--ultimately limited the adoration he could receive. He forced demands the team wasn't going to meet, and in the end was sent to a Seattle club with a system that just didn't fit. Seattle wanted their star receiver, and paid for one, but Branch just wasn't that guy. And deep down, he must have known.

Without taking the analogy too far, Branch's Seattle downfall aligns perfectly with the train wreck period we saw last year for Don. Like Branch, Don had his chance to be his own man. Both were free of what had seemingly been perfect situations gone awry. (It's important here to differentiate Betty in reality as opposed to an idealized version Don thought he had early on: gorgeous, non-threatening, and adoring. When things went to hell, she started hitting .333.) And both certainly had some decent moments sewing the oats and getting the prestige they sought. Sure Don won a Clio and had some good moments in cabs, and Branch made some serious money with a sporadically good team.

At the end of it all, though, where were they? Draper's mojo was so far gone he'd become a connoisseur of the NYC hooker circuit, either getting a package deal with Lane or getting slapped on his own. Branch was an unwanted part of what became a bottom-dweller who didn't care about his chemistry with Brady in 2003.

The ability of each to figure out where they went wrong--Draper straying too far from a safe and adoring female and Branch leaving a team where he could play his style and maximize his talents--was what saved them. We always have seen Don as the great womanizer, but it only really worked in the context of his own stability at home. Branch's brilliance on certain routes masked the fact that he was small and didn't run long patterns. As it turned out, each had a chance at the life raft on the same day, and grabbed it as fast as possible. Good thing, because it may have been the last chance for both.

The unfortunate part of all this, as that poor bastard Henry barked the other night, is that life doesn't just start over when you want. Draper's older and divorced, the kids are older and moving to Rye, and the firm with his name on the door is damn near going under. Branch is 31, with too many miles on the tires, and a team that has declined since the halcyon days of 2004 and 2005. But it offers the chance to move on to a better place, and that simply couldn't have happened until now.

There's no way to know how things will play out for either of them, although the earliest signs are decent. Branch looked great against the Ravens and we all felt a lot better about things seeing Megan's calm handling of the spilled milkshake. Even if things don't pan out, though, each of the new starts offered the only chance at a better future for the two. At very least, now we can root for them.

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