This is a series it took me awhile to do. This blog has been an experiment for me. I’m not a great writer, and a piece like this is difficult for me. However, difficult is often not an excuse and if anything comes out of this blog. I want to be able to appreciate and articulate the medium I love so much better. So for today, join me for the first installment of Dig Deep. This will be my in-depth analysis of a single character from film or Television.
I love the show Mad Men. If it wasn’t for things like Battlestar Galactica and Stargate SG1. It would sit as my favorite show of all time. The only thing that holds it back in my personal eyes is that it’s not science fiction. I only started watching Mad Men because it was wrecking shop at the Emmys for best drama. Even in the face of the mighty Breaking Bad. On surface value, it didn’t have any of the qualities I typically looked for. I wasn’t the biggest fan of period dramas. This has since changed, I didn’t know what I was missing. So I finally decided to see what all the fuse was about. I was hooked on the pilot, instantly. and why? because of Don Draper, thats why.
“People want to be told what to do so badly, that they’ll listen to anyone”
TV in the last 15-20 years has had 3 major characters. These 3 characters took their shows to new levels, and the actors who played them were the cause. The first being James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, the next was and probably the most famous Bryan Cranston as Walter White and finally rounding out the list was Donald Draper played by Jon Hamm.
WHO IS HE?
Donald Draper is an ad man in the 1960s. This was a time where print media was at its peek. While TV and film media were emerging, it still didn’t hold the sway print media did over the nation. Don Draper was one of the best Ad Men in new york, maybe the best in terms of lore. He had a reputation of coming up with the most incredible pitches no matter what the idea may have been. While his talent for coming up with pitches was one thing, he was an even bigger legend in his delivery.
Peggy Olson: “And then you turn and hit the tag like you just thought of it.”
Don Draper: “Do I do that?”
However, if that is all he was. Then this show wouldn’t be the crown jewel that it really is. Donald Draper is more than an Ad Men. Somehow throughout the course of 7 seasons, he has become every single man in america. Let’s take a second to dig deep. The first.. Don Draper is a serial adulter. I’m not saying every man is unfaithful, but in the 1960s. The man is a man and woman and woman divide is still strong. Wives were expected to stay at home and what a man does during the day is the man’s business. The initial pilot of Mad Men does not explain much about Don Draper in terms of exposition. What we learn about Don is explicitly told to us through his actions. You don’t learn that Don has a wife and kids til the very final minute of the episode. The entire episode went out of it way to give you the impression that he was a single man. He then comes home and gives his wife a kiss and comments on how his day was uneventful. Mean while, it was anything but that. It started with him seeking advice from an African-American janitor which is pretty racy. A mid day trip to see the mistress and of course pitching an impossible ad.
Even still, you might be saying to yourself. That’s not really too interesting. Corporate executive who cheats on his wife, big deal. It’s just scratching at the surface, you come to learn that he is a great many things. He was an orphan who was raised in a brothel. He is a proud veteran and a deserter at the same time. While he lives in a climate that actively goes against social progression. You see Don advocate and mentor a female copy right, advocate for African-American rights, support some truly dark secrets for his coworkers. He’ll even stand up against cigarettes in America, which was probably the most taboo thing you can think of for an ad agency in that time. He is a man born of questionable circumstance but exudes a confidence that seldom few can match. He is the penultimate follow my gut kind of character. At the end of the day, it all circles back to his Work. Everything good he does, everything bad he does, it’s all really just an allusion to his work. Does he feel every woman should have the same opportunity as his male counter parts? He doesn’t care. The specific woman he did advocate and mentor though happen to be really good at coming up with pitches. African-American activist? African-Americans buy things too. For what it’s worth, as active as he is in so many aspects of life, he has a pretty unhealthy detachment from most things. Don doesn’t just enter your life, he breaks down all the doors and makes himself comfortable on your couch right after. He is there for a reason and to quote Kevin Hart “You gon learn today”.
WHY IS HE IMPORTANT
His job makes him important. A prominent piece of a rising advertisement agency. The same company where he eventually becomes a named partner. The consensus is pretty even among his coworkers and his peers in the industry. Don Draper is an arrogant and cocky man. Unfortunately for them, he is damn good at what he does. Most business are results based, and the world of advertising is no different. Don constantly steps on the feelings of those around him, but it doesn’t matter because his first love, and maybe his only love is the work.
“You don’t like what people are talking about, change the conversation”
WHY WE SHOULD BE WATCHING
Because Don Draper is a comet. He is literally a force of nature that shows up and takes your breath away. As fast as he arrived is as fast as he left. He comes into your life maybe just once. I think most viewers of the show have one central question. What is the matter with Don Draper? His flaws are numerous: Alcoholism , serial adulter, narcissism, workaholic, impostor, lack of human compassion. The answer to that question just might be all of the above. So why in the world would we want to watch such a character. The answer? somehow despite his negative qualities you understand that it’s not about being selfish. He is a product of the times, a product of the circumstances in which he was raised. It’s true that most audiences have a disdain for pure… wrong or evil as you will. You know what they love? ambiguous. Don Draper never comes off as the bad guy, no matter how badly he treats people around him. To be honest, as the show proceeds. You actually grow a bigger disdain for the people around Don. His wife Betty, who is initially pegged as the biggest victim to Don’s behavior. She becomes pretty detectable as time goes on. You kind of can’t wait for Don to get out.
I honestly wish I could explain it better. I probably lack the literary skills to do so , but most times it doesn’t make sense. Except you actually don’t want to take your eyes off Don. Maybe I can explain it better if I just tell you the first moment I knew Don was special. As I explained before, the first episode didn’t let us know about his family until the very end of the episode. So in a superb directorial move, the next few episodes were practically all about his family. His wife has just started speaking to a therapist, and Don literally cannot comprehend why. She has the house, the kids, the status and him. It’s his daughter’s birthday and he is spending the day in the garage building her a playhouse, with the aid of beer of course. Eventually he starts recording the party and catches a couple of parents having a passionate kiss. This sight seems to disturb him, moments later his wife asks him to go pick up his daughter’s birthday cake from the baker. Don says he’ll be right back… and doesn’t return for hours. Everyone leaves the party, the woman mostly wonder what happened to Don. A husband tells his wife he is ready to go and she replies “we havent had the cake yet” and he says
“There isn’t going to be a cake, am I the only one who knows that? Don Draper you are a first class heel and I salute you.”
He says this in front of every other woman in the party and doesn’t miss a beat. Could you image this happening in 2014? I can’t. Thats something that’s probably said amongst the fellas. That is what is great about this series, it’s a peak into a different style of America. A different impression on what the home is , who the bread-winner is, social norms, racial prejudices etc. And we have been here before, what makes this go around different is we are visiting it through the eyes of a very troubled man. For every amazing ad you expect Don to pitch, you expect Don to make a very above average poor life choice.
Mad Men is already one of the greatest shows ever produced on TV. It has racked up numerous awards and would likely be even more decorated if it was for Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad is widely considered best show of this generation and Mad Men kept up pretty much the entire time. Actually, outside of Bryan Cranston winning the best male award, Breaking Bad was playing catch up most of the time. Breaking Bad is over now, and Mad Men has one final run before it’s series finale. I’m hoping Jon Hamm finally gets to take the best actor in a television drama award. It’s sort of long over due, It literally took Walter White to keep him from it. It’s kind of a gift and a curse. Mad Men in its entirety is available on Netflix. You should give it a try to see this hurricane for yourself. I know period dramas are hard for a lot of people to initial get into. Have some patience and give Don the chance.
I’m gonna end with two clips. The first being one of Don’s best pitches and the second a heated exchanged between him and peggy. They are both great displays of his skills and his conflicted personality. A personality where your not sure just how much he really cares, he is vulnerable, cocky, arrogant and confused… all in one scene.