MAD MEN: Don Draper’s Dream. How I’d Help Him If I Had Him On My Analytic Couch


Season 7, Episode 8, Severance, shows us just how much Don Draper needs therapy. With his traumatic history, analysis would be even better. He’s needed therapy for a long time. But, now, with Meagan gone and finally opening up about the secrets of his past – he’d be prime to get some help. If – he could.

It was very common for people to seek psychoanalysis in the late 1960’s and 70’s, even Roger Sterling. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) – with his proclivity to turn to women and booze? It’s a pretty big If. Let’s say he did, though. Here’s how I’d help Don if I had him on my analytic couch. First and foremost, I’d help him work out his early life trauma.

We see Don’s trauma in the dream he has when he’s in bed with the flight attendant after the spilled red wine he tries to cover up. The dream about Rachel Menken Katz (Maggie Siff):  “I’m supposed to tell you”, she says in the dream: “You missed your flight.” The trauma of what Don’s missed is what he needs analytic help for.

In this episode, different than others, we see Don actively searching for something. To, Di, the waitress, he asks:  “Do I know you?”  Who is she?  Who is he searching for in every woman – in every conquest? In every love he can’t allow himself to have? He’s searching for the mother he lost. He doesn’t know this – but if he did, he might be able to turn his life around.

Right now, he’s continuing to launch his escapes. In booze and sex – in women like the flight attendant – who’ll come at a moment’s notice. Like a mother who cared about her baby’s distress would do. These escapes are much less successful than they used to be – we see it in his distressed and lonely face. We see it in the fact that, everywhere he turns, he’s faced again and again with what he’s lost.

“You missed your flight.” Don’s missed out in many ways. Rachel’s dead. His mother died at birth. In this episode, Don flashes back on his life in a different way than before. “Do I know you?” He’s trying to make sense of things he’s never understood. He can’t do it alone. It’s too complicated.  It’s too unconscious. That’s what he needs an analyst for.

“When someone dies things get all mixed up,” the waitress, Di, tells him. Something I might say to Don if he was my patient. He’s been all mixed up from the beginning of his life. Now, he’s faced with the aftermath. His regrets. His missteps.  His mistakes.  What he’s passed by because of his history.

What wine’s been spilled and covered up?  It’s his mother’s death. A death he’s never cried about. A death he likely blames himself for (irrationally, yes, but children do). A critical stepmom doesn’t help. There was no fire in his childhood, apropos to Peggy Lee’s verse: “Is that all there is to a fire?” No warmth.

Don’s pain at never trusting love has never been more. He’s missed more than one flight – more than one chance to make it up. To have the love he missed out on. He’s beginning to see that when Rachel dies. The woman he couldn’t have. “You missed your flight”: he missed his mother’s love. And, this has shaped and misshaped his entire life.

“Is that all there is to love?” This is Don’s refrain. This is his despair. This is why he’s turned away from love. He never had the introduction to love that a baby needs. He never had love at all. And, he grew to distrust it. To miss out on a mother’s love makes it very difficult, sometimes impossible, to get life off the ground. This is what he needs analysis to help him with.

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