Tag Archives: Don Draper

Mad Men – The Complete Series

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

– Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” 1923

Most of the notable television dramas that have aired since 1999 (called by some the Golden Age of Television Dramas) have used the language of cinema to examine certain issues.  The Sopranos uses that language to deconstruct an American myth, the Wire to examine the troubles of urban America, and Breaking Bad to document one man’s descent into evil.

Mad Men’s storytelling has  much more in common with the Modern American Theater of Tennessee Williams or Eugene O’Neil than these other great dramas.  It doesn’t examine myths or cities or evil.  At its core Mad Men is about something much more intimate – the unrelenting arrow of time.

Don Draper has often been described in the same breath as the criminals and monsters of some of these other series – but what has he done?  Don doesn’t kill anyone, and the one crime he does commit haunts every aspect of his life.  That doesn’t make him a good person – far from it – but just because he’s not a hero doesn’t make him an anti-hero.  In the end he’s just a man with problems and flaws that, the desertion and identity theft part aside, aren’t that different from the problems and flaws of regular people.

While Don is the central pivot of the show, it really is an ensemble.  The core six characters (Don, Peggy, Pete, Roger, Joan, and Betty) each has their own unique hopes and dreams, struggles and flaws.  The only character that gets a definitive end is Betty, the rest just keep moving along.

One of the key frustrations of watching Mad Men is that its characters never seem to change.  I would argue that if you watch all eight (sorry AMC, seven) seasons in a row you would see the characters change a lot, but not drastically and not quickly.  There are no epiphanies, just six main characters doing their best to adapt to changing circumstances.

The slow and erratic progression of the characters makes the last few episodes all the more satisfying when the core characters finally appear to start learning from their mistakes.  Each of their endings, in a vacuum, would feel a little too tidy if it weren’t for the fact that these endings are the result of a decade of trial and error.

And what of the final scene?  There are two interpretations that come to mind, and both fit the central theme of the show.  Either 1) Don has found some semblance of self-forgiveness and moved on, while the advertising world moves on his absence or 2) Don has come up with another brilliant idea and, setting his baggage aside, returns to a job that he’s very, very good at.

Matthew Weiner couldn’t have Don explicitly create the famous Coca-Cola ad.  After all, real people came up with that real ad and should be given their due credit.  Whether Don contributed to that ad campaign or not, it doesn’t matter.  The world keeps moving along, and our characters will need to adapt to survive. And even if they seem content today, nothing gold can stay.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe

Mad Men Season 6 Reflections

By D.G. McCabe

“History repeats itself first as tragedy, second as farce”

– Karl Marx

Last night’s season finale of Mad Men was one of the most climactic of the six season finales so far in a conventional sense, as several of this season’s storylines came to their apex.  The undercurrent of this entire season, however, was not the “will they or won’t they” Peggy and Ted story, the saga of Pete’s mother in law, Sally’s coming of age, Don and Megan’s distant marriage, or Don and Betty’s detente.  The theme of this season has been the increasingly diminishing returns of Don Draper.

In professional sports, there is the phenomenon of the cocky “playmaker.”  They argue with teammates, coaches, and officials, they say outrageous things to the media, get in trouble with law, and basically do whatever else they feel like.  Still, they perform masterfully on the field, court, diamond, pitch, etc..  Their talent, you see, makes their asinine behavior worth putting up with.  Eventually, their skills deteriorate, but even as they drop passes or miss open shots their bullcrap maintains a steady high.  Inevitably, the grim reaper of diminishing returns comes for their career a few years earlier than the guys who built up enough goodwill to overcome their fading talent (as opposed to having enough talent to overcome their circus antics).

Don Draper is a playmaker.  In previous seasons, we’ve seen him drunkenly lurch through his life and career, leaving a trail of empty bottles of Canadian Club and brunettes in his wake.  Still, he was the man who drove business for the agency, who nailed pitch after pitch, and whose reputation as a can’t-miss creative director was relied on by a small ad firm to stay in the game.  Even after his seeming disasters (the anti-tobacco letter, the Dow Chemical meeting, or this season’s Jaguar meltdown), he was able to pull something out of his back pocket to save the day.

As the 60’s moved forward, however, his colleagues learned that they could get along without Don Draper.  They tired of the missed meetings, the endless drinking, and the razor’s edge business transactions.  They grew tired of riding the hurricane, and now, as a top thirty agency, realized that they didn’t have to anymore.  Missing one important pitch meeting in the drunk tank or nosediving into uncomfortable personal history in another may, individually, have been reluctantly accepted as the price of doing business.  Both events in a 48 hour period were finally a bridge too far.

It should be noted that Don “rehabbed” himself was when he was single in Season 4, so we know it can be done.  For a minute, he controlled his drinking, had a healthy adult relationship with Faye Miller, and had a steady hand on the wheel.  Of course he quickly backslid into a bender of angry front page letters and impulse marriage proposals, but even those risks seemed to be paying off for him in Season 5.

Somewhere over the course of this season, or maybe at the end of last season, the bottom fell out.  Don Draper’s first instinct at the first sign of trouble has always been to run, but in the end he was unable to run from himself.  Will he be able to gain any of it back after losing everything?  We’ll have to wait until sometime next year to find out, as I expect the final season of Mad Men to hinge on this question.

(c) D.G. McCabe