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18 Reasons We Were Wrong About Don Draper

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Ahead of the final episodes of Mad Men, how do we feel about Don Draper – the creative genius whose workplace drinking and shagging so impressed in 2007 that we rushed to get one-button suits? Some won’t be sad to see him go. Jon Hamm, who’s played him for eight years and recently had to be treated for alcohol addiction, says: “That whole ‘Be Don Draper’ thing is sad. This is a fundamentally f*cked-up human being. A dismal, despicable guy.” Is he right? We re-watched the first six and-a-half series to see…

1. He’s a ladies man

Or not. At the start of the first series, Don cheats on his wife, then pitches lazy ideas to a female department store owner. When she demands better, he fumes: “I’m not going to let a woman talk to me that way.” He refuses to let Peggy earn the same as the male copywriters. And when Joan Holloway is sexually harassed by a co-worker, he reasons, “Boys will be boys.”

2. Women love him

God knows why. Adultery aside, he also torpedoes his wives’ careers – Betty’s as a model and Megan’s as an actress. There’s violence: when Betty complains
at him for throwing their son’s toy at a wall, he threatens to push her through a window. When she tells him she’s marrying someone else – after his affairs destroyed their marriage – he says, “You’re a whore, you know that?”

3. He loves his kids

Maybe. He spends his daughter’s birthday party drinking until Betty reminds him to get the cake – he drives off, parks, drinks more and returns cakeless. Another time he wakes up in bed with a stranger, having been drunk for an entire weekend when he was supposed to be looking after his children. And the time his daughter walks in on him having sex with a neighbour. “I was comforting Mrs Rosen,” he lies. “It’s very complicated.”

4. He’s always in control

Driving to a mistress’s beach house he crashes the car, fails a Breathalyser test and makes Peggy pay the fine. Another time, asked to sign a contract he doesn’t want to, he drives off – whiskey in hand – and picks up two hitchhikers who drug him and steal his wallet.

5. He’s refreshingly selfish

Yeah. Halfway through Series 2 he takes his family out for a picnic, then slings the empties in a hedge.

6. He’s dignified

Early on, when rival Pete Campbell’s idea for an ad goes down better than Don’s, Don gets miffed and fires him. Later, Don is supposed to pitch another new guy’s ideas to a client, but leaves them in the cab, pitching his own ideas instead. In the most recent series, when he has to file 25 ideas to Peggy, he hurls his typewriter at the wall.

7. He’s humble

A beatnik asks Don how he sleeps at night. “On a bed made of money,” he replies. Trying to shag his daughter’s teacher, he says: “I want you. Doesn’t that mean anything to someone like you?” And when an underling (who he’s sabotaged) says he feels bad for him, Don says, “I don’t think about you at all.”

8. He’s hip

Don smokes pot, but it makes him paranoid – it once made him try to drown himself. Megan buys him Revolver – the moment the Sixties cracked open, spilling psychedelia and open-mindedness – to help him understand the youth movement. He hates it.

9. He’s presidential

In the first series Don says: “Kennedy? I see a silver spoon. Nixon? I see myself.” That’s Richard Nixon, widely viewed as the worst ever US president, forced out of office for cheating and lying. 

Mad Men

10. He’s not bigoted

True, Don’s the only one who feels uncomfortable when Roger puts on a ‘blackface’ minstrel show. He’s also happy to work with closeted gay colleague Salvatore – until Don fires him to keep an account.

11. He’s good to Peggy

He really makes Peggy a copywriter to spite Pete. And after that, he takes the credit for her ads, makes her work all night on her birthday (causing her to split up with her boyfriend) and never says thank you. “You just assume I’ll do whatever you say,” says Peggy. “I’m not going to beg,” replies Don. “Beg me? You didn’t even ask me.”

12. He’s a creative genius

The Kodak Carousel pitch in Series 1 – “It’s not a wheel, it’s a time machine, that takes us where we ache to go again” – moves men to tears. Three series later, he’s drunk in meetings, passing others’ ideas off as his own. He cheats, winning the Honda account by tricking a rival ad man into spending more than the rules allow. The Japanese client respects his ‘honour’.

13. He’s just looking for love

Is he? “The reason you haven’t felt love is because it doesn’t exist,” he tells a client, while trying to get into her pants. “What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.” He pays prostitutes to hit him in the face. He has a fantasy where he strangles a mistress to death and hides her body under the bed. In the Army, he caused the death of a superior officer and stole his identity. He might be looking for something quite bad.

14. He’s relaxed about drinking

By the end of the third series he’s having whiskey before breakfast. By Series 6, he’s blacking out for days and waking up in prison after punching a priest. After a forced leave of absence, he returns to work on the proviso he doesn’t drink. He steals booze from Roger’s office and hides it in a can of soda.

15. He’s a good friend

Don and Roger Sterling are best buddies. But when they go out for oysters and martinis, Roger is sick in front of clients; Don looks on with a hint of a smile. When Roger marries Don’s secretary, Don says, “No one thinks you’re happy. They think you’re foolish.” At Roger’s mother’s funeral, Don vomits into an umbrella holder. In fact, Don seems to have been using Roger all along: the young Don was a fur salesman Roger bought a coat from. Don pestered Roger into a drink, where he showed him his advertising work. The next day he turned up at the office, assuring a hungover Roger he’d hired him.

16. He’s good for business

When Don faces a background check by a new defence client, it risks uncovering his stolen identity so he makes Pete dump the $4m contract. He also writes an open letter in the New York Times lambasting tobacco firms, causing half the clients to leave his own firm.

17. He’s generous

When Don wants to take his casual shag to Paris, but realises she has feelings for someone else, he shoves the cheque in her bra and storms off. When he drunkenly sleeps with his secretary, the next morning he hands her $100 in cash, calling it “the bonus we talked about”. She resigns in embarrassment. When he tells Peggy he’s going to take a perfume account off her and give it back to a man, she complains and he flings money in her face. It’s not just women he throws money at; he gives his long-lost brother $5,000 in cash to go away forever. The rejected brother hangs himself.

18. He’s a protector

When a mistress admits she talks of Don’s sexual prowess, he ties her to the bed and leaves. He leaves another mistress waiting outside his house for so long she gives up and walks home. Another time, he argues with Megan in a restaurant and drives off. Yet another mistress is made to wait in a hotel room all day: “You’re not going anywhere,” Don says. “You exist in this room for my pleasure.” 

Mad Men’s final episodes start 9 April, 10pm on Sky Atlantic HD


Mad Men

What should happen to Don?

There’s a fan theory that Don will die by falling from a great height, as in the opening credits. There have been clues; Don’s fear of flying, the vision he has after falling down stairs in Season 1, the empty lift shaft he nearly walks into in Season 5, Megan’s comment in Season 6 (“You can jump off your balcony and fly to work like Superman”) and the plane crash film he watches in Season 7.

Then again, Mad Men has been full of allusions to death – from the books Don reads (Frank O’Hara’s Meditations In An Emergency and Dante’s Inferno), to the walking-into-the-sea end of Season 2. Of course, Don’s true identity, Dick Whitman, has officially been dead since the Korean War. So it might all be misdirection. Some say Mad Men is really about Peggy and Joan, who’ll start their own company. Maybe the most important thing about Don Draper is that he’s gone.

(Images: Justina Mintz, Sky Atlantic)

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