The episode title “Babylon” is more oblique than many. What does it mean?
Over lunch, Don asks Rachel about Judaism and Israel. She says the Jews have always been exiles; first in Babylon, and then all over the world. She tells him “Zion” is just an ancient word meaning “Israel” (Don is a little threatened by those “Zionists”), and that she has no interest in living in Israel, but it’s important to her that it exists.
It seems that, if there’s a Homeland, she is more at peace with living in exile. Don, too, lives in exile—from himself—and we see the first flashback to the childhood of Dick Whitman in this episode.
One thing that’s interesting about Don/Dick is that he has no education. Dirt poor, abused, neglected, Dick joined the Army and then began the life of Don Draper. Betty tells him what she learned in “first year Anthropology,” and Rachel tells him the Greek meaning of “Utopia,” which she learned in college; he is hungry not just for these women’s bodies, but for the knowledge they have. And that underscores his outsider/exile status.
Later, Don meets Midge, longing to satisfy both hungers. He grabs her passionately (right after seeing Rachel…) and then she shows him a beatnik underground in which he is an alien. It is there, at “The Gaslight,” that Midge and Roy’s friend sings a version of Rivers of Babylon (at least, I think it’s Rivers of Babylon—it might be one of the other songs based on Psalm 137).
And, finally, Joan and Roger. He is alienated from his wife and daughter. Which is clearly his own fault. They are in a hotel, which is a no man’s land, a place between, a territory for the homeless that reminds Joan uncomfortably of a hospital room (suggesting some back story there, I think). It is also a waystation, a place where they can find comfort in each other. In the final seconds of the episode, as the song plays, Joan and Roger are apart from each other, and leaving the hotel. Leaving Babylon? Or leaving Utopia to return to Babylon?