Jon Hamm deserves an Emmy for Don Draper. I agree with Variety’s Debra Birnbaum about that. But, I find it unfortunate that voters would only now consider awarding him that Emmy. As Birnbaum wrote, Jon Hamm likely hasn’t won in the past since “Don Draper … was a cheating husband, a neglectful father, an unapologetic alcoholic … it’s hard to root for someone seemingly so unredeeming.” So now since, at the end of the brilliant Mad Men series, Jon Hamm (Don Draper) apparently finds his “good self” it might be OK? In my opinion, they’ve mistakenly diminished the complex demands on an actor (as well as the subtle nuances required) of portraying a severely traumatized man.
Trauma is difficult to live with, to say the least. As a psychoanalyst, I know the effects of trauma very well. Matthew Weiner, with the use of flashbacks, gives us a window into Don’s traumatic childhood and just how much he suffered. It’s sad that his suffering was lost to so many viewers and voters. And, that he is shallowly and simplistically reduced to “not a good man.” Jon Hamm playing Don Draper gives us a perfect example of what happens when a child has been rejected, abandoned, abused, made to feel completely unwanted. On top of that, Don Draper has had no help because he’s been scared to turn to anyone (including a therapist). With his history, how could he possibly trust someone to care?
What Happens When Trauma Lives Deep Inside You?
It’s not uncommon when trauma still lives deep inside us as an adult – to turn to alcohol, uncommitted sex, and away from any emotional need. Love, especially, can’t be trusted. Don Draper is not a bad man. He’s a hurt and traumatized man who, until he has an all too brief experience at Esalen, had no help with his feelings at all. The moving scene when he hugs Leonard – is his first attempt to embrace his frozen, unwanted, and traumatized self. In a real (not fictional) person, that’s only a first step. Trauma requires much more intensive therapy for someone like Don to give up his various ways of running from his past and his feelings. Over time he might, then, find and trust love.