Don Draper Studies I: Shoring Fragments Against Ruins

J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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7 Responses

  1. Tony S. says:

    I think you’re right about Draper’s relationship with Megan as well as about Draper’s difference from Sterling. But as much as I would want to see it, I can’t imagine the writers telling the story of his genuine redemption. They always seem to err on the side of “complexity” and that usually means “laying waste.” Hopefully somewhere along the line he’ll be able to answer the question, “why should you deny yourself something you want?”Report

  2. Michael Drew says:

    This was probably intentionally an overly generous interpretation of Draper’s behavior over the season, but I agree that these points are a needed corrective to the prevailing judgement interpretation of the character’s path that dominated as analyses proliferated immediately after the finale.

    I just remember shaking my head at those who argued in earnest that Draper “should” have made a commitment to Faye; that he had some type of real obligation to make that choice rather than the one he did.Report

  3. Robert Boyd says:

    I agree with this interpretation. With both Faye and Megan, Don seemed to be unconsciously trying them out as potential wives. While Faye failed the parenting test, she was pretty successful in other ways. I think Don likes women who are accomplished and intelligent–he loves Peggy (as a protégé rather than a potential romantic partner) for that reason. And he is seduced by Megan when Megan suggests to Don that she aspires to be like Peggy. We don’t know if that’s really true yet–we don’t know Megan that well. But Don thinks it’s true. So Megan passes that test, and then passes the parenting test. Next stop, matrimony.

    At the same time, we see Don imaginatively chart the course for his new firm through a major existential business crisis.

    It may be true that the writers will throw some more misery Don’s way, but it’s also not hard to imagine Don’s life getting boring as he gradually corrects and reverses his various interesting self-created flaws. That wouldn’t be a tragedy for the show–there are so many other characters it can focus on–Betty, Pete, Lane, Peggy, etc.Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to Robert Boyd says:

      I think this responds to Tony S. above as well as to you, Robert:

      I doubt that Don’s life will be allowed to get that boring. He is, in a sense, trying to build a house on a foundation of sand. There’s a sense in which the Don Draper we first met in Season 1 was a very naive man: Betty couldn’t cheat, have an affair, get angry with his philandering, or leave — because Divorces Don’t Happen. His past wouldn’t catch up because it’s something you can abandon. Look at how crushed he was when Hilton ditched Sterling Cooper in Season 2: how could this happen? He was on an Upward Trajectory.

      Don has a particular vision of an ideal American life — ultimately, it’s very “1950s” (or, more importantly, the opposite of his own, miserable childhood). The house may fall down, but I suspect he’ll be caught inside trying to prop it up.

      Plus, there’s Betty. Even if the writers do, SHE won’t let his life get boring. Getting to watch Pete and Peggy develop is also always great, but while Lane entertains me, he doesn’t quite complement this exploration of America (the American Dream?) in the same way that Don, Peggy, and Pete do.Report

      • Tony S. in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        I’m sure you’re absolutely right. Something still nags me about it though. I think it’s possible to underestimate Don’s actual talent and to overestimate what you call his naivete. If his response to Betty is that “Divorces Don’t Happen,” this is not because philandering goes unpunished in his ideal picture of the 1950s, but because he simply cannot convince himself to sacrifice his talent. His genius for advertising and persuasion is partially born of his willingness to submit to the whim of the moment (and the woman) while remaining aloof and observant. The show needs to resolve somewhere what Douthat called the “yearning for domesticity” that is constantly confronted by both the “gleaming workplace” (which requires that he remain aloof to his wife) and the actually miserable “domestic sphere.” He has to find a way to, as The Killers (a band that is, like Mad Men, all about American nostalgia) put it, make sure that “merry still goes ’round.” If anyone can do it, Don can. He already came up with the carousel pitch.

        I agree, though, that there is really no show without at least Don, Betty, Peggy, and Pete.Report