Postmodern Conservative

Don Draper as Superfluous Person

So I’ve gotten several e-mails and such about the last Mad Men. Well, I think it was very personal and relational and not so libertarian.

The most memorable and wonderful scene was Betty sitting at the kitchen table smoking (and dying of lung cancer) while Sally is cooking dinner. Death has caused Betty to take her life and her family seriously for the first time. It turns out mother and daughter don’t need Don at all, and they’re planning for a future where he will retain his default role of absentee dad. Don, having called person-to-person, offers to come and take charge of the kids, but Betty, condescendingly calling him “Don, honey,” appreciates his intention but knows better than to expect reliable follow-through.

Roger settles down with a feisty (and highly erotic) woman roughly his own age. Peggy does the same with a great guy who looks up to her for reasons both personal and professional, while teaching her (quite quickly!) that “work is not everything.” She recalls that she’s been relying on the judgment of a man who both loves and respects her.

Joan refuses to be a “kept woman,” while not being so proud as not to allow Roger to take charge of the security of her (their) son. She seems to choose work over love, but the guy doesn’t really love her. Joan knows herself as a whole person, and work is an indispensable part of her life.

And Pete Campbell goes off to live in Kansas, reconciled with his family and (somehow) with a great and seemingly not-so-demanding job. Who would have guessed that even several shows ago?

It’s pretty breathtaking: All these characters moving, with the help of moments of both self-discovery and grace, to person-to-person cures for being workaholic “mad men” and even for the spirit of the Sixties. Redemption is in the air almost everywhere.

Meanwhile, Don is a leftover. It turns out that nobody needs him. Why? He tells Peggy! He has broken all his vows and has done nothing enduring with the name he assumed. He’s never really been a reliably available person-to-person to anyone.

So for a moment Don seems near suicide. But he (also with breathtaking speed) becomes an ex-suicide. He hugs a pathetic man who testifies that he’s so boring he’s invisible, and so nobody needs him. It seems like a moment of “empathy.” But Don’s not really much like that guy at all. Don is endlessly fascinating, a babe magnet, and all that. Everyone wants to be with him, but he with them not so much. He is invisible to other people, but that’s been pretty much his call. (I know he was stuck with the assumed identity, but that explains only so much.)

Still, Don is shown reveling in yoga with the “om.” And we get the strong implication he thinks up that horrible “We’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” Coke commercial. Don turns out not to be so deep? He really buys into New Agey, self-helpy pantheism? Or does he simply grab onto it as the marketing ploy of the Seventies? So much for that tragic figure? It might be fitting, in any case, that Don doesn’t get what everyone else does — a person-to-person resolution. But it does seem he’s restored as a highly successful and somehow serene “mad man.” His redemption is impersonal but, we have to guess, real.

All this is very provisional and a failed attempt to cure insomnia.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...

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