Why Are You Here, Don Draper?



MAD MEN REVIEW: Season 7 Episode 4 — The 60’s were the era of re-defining what tells us who we are. The country was at war in more ways than Vietnam. Women fought stereotypes at home and in the workplace. The Black Panther movement empowered marginalized citizens. This country’s cultural revolution was a sign of just how much oppressive status quos would be challenged.

People like Don Draper (Jon Hamm) live under similar but internal oppressive beliefs originating from childhood trauma. Don’s is the dark specter of “the unwanted boy”, now being repeated at Sterling Cooper and Partners. Will Don survive being unwanted and pushed aside at SCP?

Not if Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) has anything to do with it. Cooper’s lost the Zen attitude and stocking feet of those old days when he reassured Don that re-inventing himself and leaving Dick Whitman behind was no big deal. But, he hasn’t any patience now, nor does he have the capacity to empathize with Don’s real struggles. Freddy (Fred Rumsen), on the other hand, has been there himself. Can he catch Don before he goes off the deep end once again?

Don will have a big fight. Yes, he’s stopped lying. But, that may be, if I can be so simplistic as a psychoanalyst, the easier part. Deciding which internal voice is the voice of truth is much harder. Does he listen to Cooper? He seems to believe Bert’s cruel rejection in Episode 4. It’s pretty hard not to. Cooper is all the cruel voices of Don’s childhood rolled into one.

When Don tries to pitch an advertising idea for IBM’s competitor and Cooper unceremoniously dismisses him, Don asks: “Why am I here?” Can we not help but remember Don’s stepmother in a much earlier flashback? A stepmother who looked at him like she wished he’d disappear? Bert Cooper’s retort: “Why are you here?” is no different. Someone else who wishes Don would just go away. And, then, when he’s left out and pushed aside by not being included in partnership meetings and being told by Peggy to do tags the way Lou Avery likes them, that’s more than a helpless and marginalized Don can take.

Don almost does go away again in his uncontrollable rage and alcoholic haze, until Freddy comes to the rescue. If we can say that Bert Cooper depicts one internal voice, who is Freddy then? Freddy is the voice of hope: “You never have to have a drink again.” “Are you going to kill yourself? Give them what they want. Just do the work, Don.” This Freddy voice tells him he can change. He can work out his old problems. Things can be better and different.

Believing that is Don’s challenge. The Bert Cooper voice of his past has taken up a strong residence in his mind. The voice that says: “Who wants you here? Leave. We never wanted you. You don’t belong. You’re no good. You’ll never be anybody.” This is the voice that must be confronted for what it is. It may sound like the voice of truth. But, it’s not – even though there are too many reasons that Don, as a child, would believe it. Don probably felt his very being was a mistake – and this is what he’s been trying to escape from.

Mistakes are mistakes. Many can be recovered from. Don’s have mostly come as a result of his various unconscious methods of escape from the past. And, yes, those mistakes have ruined many things. If he’s lucky in some instances – not quite. Perhaps some things, and relationships, can get better. Mistakes can be rectified, if they can be faced and forgiven – particularly by Don himself.

Granting himself some leniency would mean Don seeing he’s not as terrible, or such a hopeless case, as the Bert Cooper voice would make him believe. But, that will take work – a different kind of work than the real Freddy tells him to do at SCP. Changing means not feeling trapped, like he did as a child, by doing what people want of him. Not having to rebel against his fear of being controlled, humiliated, and rejected. And, mostly, knowing that the cruel Bert Cooper voice inside his mind doesn’t define him.

Can he do it? In real life, it might take turning to more intensive help (like I might give him) – and more than the kind and devoted Freddy can offer. But, as Mad Men goes – only time and further episodes from the creatively surprising mind of Mathew Weiner will tell.

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