Who is Don Draper?

Don Draper is a very complex character and I believe the terrible actions he made in his work and personal life stems from the very beginning of his life: his childhood.

THE CREATIVE GENIUS

He is the man responsible for bringing in the cash flow to the business. He is a talented and creative businessman who knows how to identify clients’ needs and pitch the right ideas. In short, Don has proved himself a valuable asset to the firms he has worked for, even earning a CLIO Award for himself. He is a great mentor and friend to Peggy Olson as well, often providing his personal advice to the up and rising girl in Madison Avenue. Interestingly this was possibly the few non-sexual, strictly platonic relationships Don has with a woman.

He possesses strong ethics as seen when he had a dispute with Joan who had volunteer to sleep with a Jaguar executive to land that account in return to being a full partner at the new firm Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP). However, there are occasional moments where his professional self gives way. In season 6 Don ruins up a client meeting when he implicitly requests the clients to pull connections to prevent the son of a woman Don was having an affair with from being drafted.

In seasons 5 and 6, his alcohol problems take over him and gradually, we see the distraught and miserable side of Don where his work ethics start to deteriorate. Much to Ted Chaough’s annoyance, Don develops the habit of calling the shot in the office without consulting the partners in the firm. The rivalry between Ted and Don reached its peak when the latter embarrassed the other in a client meeting, nearly resulting an awkward situation where Ted admits his feelings for Peggy in a client meeting (S6E12). As the Chinese idiom goes, one mountain cannot contain two tigers. Ted, Don and Stan desire to escape to sunny California and away from the hectic New York city life when Sunkist demands a guy in the West coast. At the end of the day, Ted is the lucky one who flew west. Unfortunately for Don, his marriage troubles with Megan remain unresolved and his state of mind worsen. Ultimately, Don breaks down in tears and confesses about his impoverished childhood during the Hershey’s Kisses pitch.

“It was the only sweet thing in my life”

Donald Draper in “In Care Of”
Don Draper confesses his childhood stories at a client meeting

P.S. my favourite pitches in the show are mostly by Don and Peggy and they are (strictly not limited to this short list):

  • Belle Jolie in S1E6 (because it was here did Don first recognised Peggy’s talents)
  • The Nixon Campaign in S1E10
  • Heinz Beans, various episodes (I mean who doesn’t love beans?)
  • Honda in S4E5
  • Hershey’s Kisses in S6E13
The Heinz campaign
Credit: https://www.grubstreet.com/2017/03/heinz-don-draper-mad-men-ad.html

While he is a successful and likable businessman, one of Don’s greatest weakness is the inability to adjust and his need to be in control. When given an open-dated leave of absence from SCDP, what the partners actually want is for Don to seek employment elsewhere. With the exception of Roger Sterling and Pete Campbell, nobody really wants him back and we can see why: the partners felt that Don will not suit the new dynamics. We see from his point-of-view and we see a frightened Don as he struggles to fit the new environment. For instance, Dawn Chambers, his ex-secretary, got promoted to office manager and Don Draper has to report to Lou Avery. In simpler terms, in a fast-moving industry like advertising, Don has lost. When SCDP was absorbed into McCann Erickson, Don could not even sit through a meeting and he did what nobody is expecting: a road trip to Wisconsin.

THE HUSBAND

He is rich, charming and capable. Donald Draper is living the chased-after American dream but things are not as rosy at all in his personal life. Although his relationships with his ex-wives were rather affectionate, Don is guilty of infidelity with countless of women who have crossed paths with him. In the pilot episode, Don’s drawer (at his work desk) is revealed to store many white shirts, hinting to us that he often spends the night outside of home.

He has three children with his first wife Betty but they divorced midway in season three. He then marries his secretary and later a television actress Megan. He cares for his children Sally, Bobby and Gene well and wants to remain as a father figure in their lives. But actions speak louder than words. Donald Draper, like their mother Betty, is not a good father figure for the children.

Pushing his businessman persona aside, Don is a contradictory man in his personal life. A man of high caliber, Don, however, continues to seeks refuge and comfort in women and alcohol. There is no healthy outlet for him to vent his frustrations away. Like every guilty pleasure, this only pushes Don further down the rabbit’s hole. It seems that Don wants to be in control of others’ lives but at the same time, is seemingly unaware of him losing control of his own life.

THE LIAR

Donald Draper is a mysterious and reserved man too. In the entire show, only a few people say 2 – 3, truly know him inside out. Even Betty did not know anything about Don’s past when they first met. Known to only a few, Don’s true identity is revealed to be Richard “Dick” Whitman, a soldier from a poor and dysfunctional family. He assumed the identity of Lieutenant Donald Draper when he was killed in front of him during the Korean War as a means to escape from his background. And this truth is known to only a few, including the wife of the real Donald Draper, Anna Draper. Don Draper has been stuck in this big secret ever since. He is given a chance to renew his life but living in a life created out of a lie has proved too much for him to bear. Apart from Anna who later died of cancer, no one can truly penetrate the man behind countless successful advertising campaigns.

The opening credits shows Don literally falling but never touching the ground as he picks himself up before that

No amount of material wealth and ladies can satisfy Don Draper. What’s more is that Don is unable to commit himself entirely to someone. Alcohol and sex can free him of his huge responsibilities and stress but only temporarily. His childhood experiences and upbringing in a brothel is a double-edged sword; it pushes him to success even to creating a new persona but it also proves that he is not good enough.

But the problem is this: how can he be satisfied when he does not know who he is? The advertising genius is not pleased himself because he is not himself. Simply put, Jon Hamm’s character is acting up because the boy from Pennsylvania is merely roleplaying a character he knows nothing about, like an actor reading the scripts of life. The real Donald Draper has died in Korea and as he later explained in S7E13, he ‘killed’ his commanding officer. Is he still Dick Whitman hiding behind the identity of Donald Draper? Or has he fully assumed the identity of his lieutenant? We cannot confirm this because our character is unsure of it himself.

THE NEW DONALD DRAPER

I am glad for Don when he shared with his children the neighbourhood he grew up in the moment he took a mandatory leave of absence. For a long time we have seen this man rise up the corporate ladder while falling into a bottomless abyss that is his personal world. It really was an emotional moment when we get to witness Don finally starting to come to terms with his reality instead of running away. It is time for Don to take a break from constructing ideas and images for others and start generating ones for himself.

The journey to satisfaction and fulfillment in Don’s life was not smooth. Stephanie left him halfway in the resort and as he confesses his wrongdoings to Peggy over the phone, he had a sudden epiphany and he realises that he has no home to go to. But Don is a smart man. He knows how to get himself together and he is finally at peace with himself in the series finale.

We don’t know for sure if Don assisted Peggy with the 1971 Hilltop advertisement with Coca-cola when Peggy reached out to him. But I believe that the television advertisement could not have escaped Don’s natural talent in painting ideas into consumers’ minds. Don is simply not the guy who would give up easily. It is at a cliff – a place of high-attitude – did Don finds himself and the idea for Coca-cola might have conjured to him when he is meditating. coincidentally, the television advertisement was filmed at a hilltop.

Don Draper meditating in a resort
Credits: https://legomenon.com/mad-men-meaning-ending-series-finale.html

I love Mad Men and I love its characters equally. I would give this series a re-watch but unfortunately, nothing can take the magic away from understanding this character again. Thank you Jon Hamm and Matthew Weiner.

P.S. I feel that Don Draper is very much similar to Bojack Horseman.

Jon Hamm literally rolled up the stage to deliver his acceptance speech

[REVIEW] Mad Men

Sex, cigar and alcohol. These are the three defining elements that marked the glamorous world of Mad Men.

Mad Men is a period drama set in 1960s America about a group of advertising executives in Madison Avenue, New York. The drama follows the lives of these executives, in particular, Creative Director Donald “Don” Draper. Set against the backdrop of a tense decade, the story explores themes such as racism, gender roles in society and identity.

The 2007-2015 American drama features an ensemble cast which includes Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks (Good Girls), Jared Harris (Chernobyl) and Kiernan Shipka (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina).

The brains behind Sterling Cooper
Credits: https://www.amc.com/shows/mad-men

THE KODAK CAROUSEL REALLY BRINGS BACK MEMORIES

Mad Men is a period drama and what is a period drama without a little touch on history?

In Mad Men, we see America as she progressed through the years. The show highlights monumental events like the 1960 U.S. Presidential Election campaign, the Civil Rights Movement and the years-long Vietnam War. My personal favourite was the British Invasion (to clarify, British CULTURE invasion).

As I watched Mad Men, I felt like I was an American or resident living in America in that period. Perhaps because of the no-joke aura from the show or the elaborate mise-en-scene, it seems like I was in the show experiencing the events real-time.

One of Don Draper’s finest pitches

“I DO” NOT PROMISE TO STAY FAITHFUL TO MY SPOUSE

The characters have imperfect marriages and the people in their lives tempt them to commit extramarital affairs. Even the wife-loving television guy Harry Crane slept with Carolyn Jones in S4E13. It comes at no surprise that these other people they have sex with seem to understand the characters better than their spouses.

Take for instance the relationship between Ted Chaough and Peggy Olson. They are, in my opinion, the best, if not the second best match in the series. They enjoy each other’s company, they have great dynamics together and most importantly, they are of the same standing. They want to be together, except they are unable to because Ted is, well, married with kids. The creative director realised the stakes at play, decided to take up’s Sunkist offer and station himself thousands of miles away at sunny California. As he later said to Peggy, the world is such a chaos he has to hold on to his family or risk getting lost in the chaos.

No relationships seem to work in Mad Men and we witnessed the first of it in Don’s and Betty’s failed marriage. It is the 60s, the period where men ruled the streets while women the homes. There were in fact very few remarkable career ladies in the series. The notable ones being my personal bias Peggy Olson and one of Don’s earliest romance, Rachel Menken. In fact, in the pilot episode, Don mistakes the Jewish mail boy for the client and shook his hands instead of Rachel’s at the client meeting. Women are either stuck at secretarial jobs or end up working in the service industry.

As the head of the household, Betty’s everyday routine comprises of the house and the kids. She had a career ahead of her but has to give it all up for the children. She is not exactly the best mother in the series and is especially estranged from their oldest child, Sally. IN S7E3, she actually got pissed at Bobby the whole day when he traded her sandwich with another girl at the cow farm. But she still fulfils her basic responsibilities as a mother. Don, on the other hand, lives and breathes advertising. In simpler’s terms, Don brings in the money for Betty to buy food on the table. Living in suburban New York with three beautiful children, they are the American family. Don and Betty do not understand each other’s lives detail and there was too much secrecy, or as Betty would like to call it ‘privacy’. They seek comfort in others except for their spouses and unexpectedly, Don and Betty must leave each other.

We hardly see any successful relationships, let alone marriages in the series. The characters hide behind masks and they do not take them off even to the closest ones in their circles because doing so jeopardises their lives. To climb the corporate ladder, Don assumes the identity of another person. Meanwhile, Bob Benson and Salvatore Romano conceal their sexual orientation because of the discrimination back then.

Unless you are as easy-going as accounts executive and writer Ken Cosgrove (well, before he turned nasty in the last season) or someone who is generally satisfied with your status quo, chances are you will not have peace with yourself in the complicated world of Mad Men. As British new wave band Tears for Fears has put it, it is a mad world.

AMERICA, THE LAND OF THE FREE ?

The series featured hardly any African Americans and even when we see them, they are just working. For example, the audience only understands Dawn Chambers as the secretary to Don at Sterling Cooper & Partners. We know nothing about her personal life. Later in S5E2, we also see a distrusting Lane Pryce who insisted on returning a lost wallet himself than handing it over to a black taxi driver.

Panic spread across the nation as the civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. In that episode, I was genuinely afraid for the characters here. Will Dawn be attacked by pro-White activists or will she remain safe at home? Nobody knows what will happen and why America was witnessing these assassinations. FYI this took place four years after US President John F. Kennedy and a month before Robert Kennedy’s assassination.

The intentional exclusion of black characters or more accurately, the lack of insights into their personal lives, only outlines the general attitudes the people had of the African American community back then.

MAKE IT SIMPLE, BUT SIGNIFICANT

The beauty of this show lies in its solid script, subtle references to the cultural and political events in 1960s America and the complex development of its characters. We saw America bracing through a turbulent era as assassinations took place and we saw it emerged victorious in the Space Race as the NASA team became the first to land on Moon.

The writers have definitely aced in creating such distinct and authentic characters. I love series with ensemble casts in it because first off, the show won’t be that boring, and secondly because it adds variety to the show. No character steals all the limelight and all characters play a reasonable influence in the plot progression. I applaud Matthew Weiner for telling us so much about the main characters and even giving our supporting characters (e.g. Harry Crane, Michael Ginsberg) something beyond lines.

Overall, Mad Men played great homage to the 60s. The subtle change in props, setting, characters (and their hairstyle, clothing etc) marks the change in the times. The clever script and retelling of the monumental events in the 1960s really resembled the tense period in America. Its creators have built up a rich premise and have successfully made each season better than the next.

If you are a history student (or understand a little about the country’s past), you will be able to appreciate the emotions felt by characters in the show. If you think Stranger Things depict the 80s well, try Mad Men for a glimpse of America in the Cold War era.

The ultimate dream team
Credits: https://www.indiewire.com/2012/06/how-the-changing-visual-style-of-this-season-of-mad-men-reflects-its-characters-uncertainty-about-whats-to-come-46778/

P.S. I love how almost every episode of Mad Men ends with a different popular song of that era. My personal favourite was “Tomorrow Never Knows” in S5E8.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

(would actually re-watch if time allows but the experience when viewing it for the first time can never be the same again).