Don Draper’s Purgatorio

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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23 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    This is a good read on Don and MM. I think what has kept Don interesting, despite his many serious flaws, is he has tried to consciously change The other characters change, but it hasn’t as been such, or even slightly, a conscious desire to change. Don’s ability to reinvent himself has given him the vision to try to make himself a better person. That he has failed in general is tragic but it is who he is. After he split from Betty he was journaling and actively trying to understand who he is. That was hopeful and positive. Unfortunately he also acts on impulse and to quickly moved for the security of a new marriage instead of continuing to remake himself. As much as he is an addict he is also a person who can’t be alone with himself. I’ve known and worked with a lot of people like him in that they will jump right into a new relationship as soon as a bad one ends. Often that leads to another bad relationship. Don can’t stop drinking but he can’t suffer being single.

    It always amazes me how people who are fans of MM get frustrated or are blind to the basic fact that the show works in long arcs. It plays out over a season or more. The season regarding Don was heading towards that last shot of him with his kids in front of the house he grew up in. Like it or not, that was the arc the show was on and yes it was unclear during the season but that is the show.Report

  2. NewDealer says:

    Random tangent because I don’t watch Mad Men: My parents had the same edition of Dante’s Inferno when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s. It must have been from their college days (64-68).Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to NewDealer says:

      Which brings me to an even more random tangent: In the DS9 episode “Far Beyond the Stars,” 1950s-Ben-Russell-not-Sisko is seen with a copy of Langston Hughes’ Selected Poems on his desk — except it’s pretty clearly a Vintage paperback from the mid-to-late 1990s. The moment I noticed that, the episode was pretty much ruined for me.

      TLDR: I’m really quite glad Mad Men got the book cover right.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        Never underestimate the importance of proper production design! I’ve read that Mad Men is very strong about getting all the period details right down to what kind of apples you would find in supermarkets in the 1960s.

        My mom does not get the appeal of Mad Men. It reminds her of everything horrible about the 1960s: the sexism, racism, anti-Semitism (at least in the early seasons), and having to wear uncomfortable dress up clothes all the time especially when going into the City. Now people in my generation have dress-up Mad Men parties. There was a time when it seemed like every woman on OkCupid had a picture of her at a Mad Men party as part of her profile.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        having to wear uncomfortable dress up clothes all the time

        I thought you were in favor of uncomfortable dress up clothes.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to J.L. Wall says:


        Cute. I split the difference between Will and Burt here. I find the idea of needing to wear a suit and tie all the time to be silly. I will wear it for court, interviews, depositions, required formal and social situations, etc. But if I ran a lawfirm, I would just tell my staff to be court ready but otherwise they can wear jeans to work. Crewneck, solid colored shirts and sweaters would also be acceptable.

        I also don’t find suits to be that uncomfortable. To me there is no difference in feeling between wearing a suit and wearing chinos or jeans with a button down shirt. I don’t get it when people are so uncomfortable in suits and get twitchy.

        Part of being an adult is understanding that certain occasions require certain modes of dress but it doesn’t have to be all the time.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        The problem is the extra layers of clothing (which make no sense in warm weather), plus the device whose only purpose is to cut off the flow of blood to the head.Report

      • aaron david in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        ND, the reason people feel uncomfortable in suits is that they don’t wear them often enough to have one that fits well, and is in style. And they know this, which makes them feel uncomfortable.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to J.L. Wall says:


        San Francisco is warm three days of the year.

        Warm/Hot really doesn’t happent until the Caldecott TunnelReport

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to J.L. Wall says:


        Hot really doesn’t happent until the Caldecott Tunnel

        Too soon!Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        Which is why lawyers in Danville dress sensibly in polo shirts and shorts?Report

      • NewDealer in reply to J.L. Wall says:


        Shorts are never sensible.Report

      • Chris in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        It was 101 at 9 pm here. If shorts ain’t sensible, nothing is. Unfortunately, nothing is not a clothing option in public.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to J.L. Wall says:


        Linen! I’m a fan of line.


        There are plenty of people who could get naked and have a massive influence on various swaths of the populationReport

    • LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer says:

      They had a lot of cool books from back then. Does mom still have the Strange Death of Liberal England?Report

  3. Glyph says:

    Nice piece. I’ve been saying for a while now that MM is one of the only long-form examinations of addiction/alcoholism I’ve ever seen on TV. It’s right there in the opening credits, and if people ever thought that the constant workday and “social” drinking was being portrayed lightheartedly, they were missing the bigger picture.

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    • greginak in reply to Glyph says:

      Yeah. A few season ago he mixed some pills with his booze and got rolled by a young couple he picked up. Same sort of deal. Same inability to learn and same bad result.Report

  4. Tim Kowal says:

    I like this piece, though I glazed over the “spoilers” because I’m woefully behind and still clinging to a slim hope that I’ll catch up. I wonder about the premise that MadMen is somehow transcending the norms of television because it’s showing life as it really is/was rather than a fairy tale version where we face our demons. Isn’t art supposed to strive for the ideal? And even if we’re being nihilistic, does it take six seasons to get the point across?Report

    • Glyph in reply to Tim Kowal says:

      Isn’t art supposed to strive for the ideal?

      This may be obvious to others, but can you expand on this for me? What do you mean by “ideal” – are you referring to ideal outcomes if the characters existed IRL, or a theoretical ideal for a given story’s form and/or content, or a notional ideal of what you think art itself is supposed to do?

      And in any case, who defines that ideal?Report

      • Tim Kowal in reply to Glyph says:

        Ideal as in the good. As in, to the extent some characters may be foils, they enable the protagonist to achieve the good, or at least something better than when he started. As in, the reason we engage in storytelling in the first place, and the reason there are such things as “critics.”Report

      • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        Hmmm. Doesn’t that exclude all of “tragedy” from art?Report