Mad Men: Behind Every Person is a Story: What’s Jim Cutler’s?

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MAD MEN REVIEW: Season 7 Episode 7 — Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin) is a mad man full of envy. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be so bent on getting rid of Don Draper. And, he wouldn’t be making unilateral decisions to be sure no one gets in his way. Contrary to what the soon-to-be-deceased Bert Cooper suggests, Cutler’s not a leader, a team player, or anything like that.  Ultimately, he wants to be the very thing he accuses Roger of when he announces the McCann merger: King.  Anyone who gets in the way of a King? Well, it’s “off with their head”, so to speak. Like a ruthless dictator, Cutler will have Don’s head on a platter if it’s the last thing he does—unless, it seems, that platter is first used to offer a handsome ransom of dollar bills.

Cutler’s obsession with Don is consistent with envy. Envy is typically aroused when someone else has more. There are different ways to try to get rid of envy: to ruin the envied person or to greedily get as much as possible to make yourself feel like the bigger and superior one. And, better yet? If you do end up with more, you might just be the one that others envy. Does it work? No. The problem isn’t solved. But, it’s a temporary way out of horrible inferiority feelings. It’s easy, then, to justify bringing someone else down.

Why Don Draper? Remember how Cutler confesses his long-standing envy of Don before going in for the kill: “Ted and I – every time we’d hear your agency was involved we’d wonder: ‘What’s that man up to?’ Your cloud of mystery – now that I’ve been back stage; I’m deeply unimpressed, Don. You’re just a bully and a drunk…” A bully? Who’s the bully?

Like many bullies, Cutler needs to see Don as the one who’s no good so he can justify his attack. And, in Cutler’s eyes, Don does not deserve another chance no matter how hard he works or what he does to try to earn it. What point is there to tear a man down when he’s on his way back up? No reason at all, really, except extreme envy. Jim Cutler needs to keep Don down to feel good about himself.

Why is Don Draper such a big threat to Cutler? He’s talented. He‘s good looking. People gravitate towards him. Despite his obvious shortcomings, he inspires devotion among the SC&P staff who, as Peggy reminded him in Season 4’s “Public Relations”, are “all here because of you. All we wanna do is please you.”  Don’s a decent man in many ways. And yet, as the inevitable loss of Megan this episode proves once again, he’s paid a high price for the “success” that birthed such envy in Cutler and Chaough.

If Cutler was on my couch, I’m sure I’d feel empathy for him. Envy is born out of a terrible sense of inferiority – whether someone is conscious of it or not. And, feeling inferior is painful. However, trying to ruin the person you envy is a sad and destructive solution because it ultimately causes an even more lasting pain: guilt. In the series, we’re not given enough information about Cutler’s background to help us understand why he feels so inferior. As a psychoanalyst, I can’t make guesses. Evidence matters. And evidence is found in someone’s history and in how that history informs experiences, relationships, and behavior. What I do know, though, is that Cutler’s demeaning behavior towards Don is envious behavior.

If it were possible, I’d wish for Cutler a healthier solution, like getting some help so he can feel better about himself without having to bring someone else down to do so. If Cutler wants to win his real battle – against his true adversary, that is – Envy – he’d have to face up to his excruciating feelings that Don is the more talented man. That’s unlikely as things stand at the end of “Waterloo”, since Cutler has convinced himself the problem is Don Draper’s and not his.

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