Considering the character of Donald Draper throughout the Mad Men series, the magnitude of his deceitfulness with women stands in stark contrast to his serious, ongoing efforts to discover and distill his own personal truths about love, life, and his identity – partly by way of those many relationships. In Season 6 he tells first wife Betty that, for him, sexual relationships are like scaling mountains. Yet the complexities of Don’s relationships with second wife Megan and recent lover Sylvia cast doubt on that simplistic explanation. Clearly, he has more to learn about himself, but what’s interesting is that he keeps trying to do so.
In my opinion, growth is the essence of what makes people attractive. People’s attractiveness fluctuates because growing is hard work and not always fun. However, avoiding critical points of growth generally reduces a person’s attractiveness. I think that explains why Don’s attractiveness declines throughout Season 6 as he refuses to face his alcoholism. He is clinging to an outworn concept of male dominance, self-righteously maintaining a double standard towards women. And at work, he tries to dominate Ted, Mike, Peggy, and others rather than compete with them professionally, something that would enable him to growing creatively. It’s no wonder some fans are calling him a loser.
But fearing change and taking wrong turns don’t necessarily make Don a loser – they makes him human. Despite Don’s resistance to growth on so many levels, he continues to grow spiritually – not in the sense of following a religious doctrine or trying to avoid doing wrong, but in terms of learning to be more authentic, and passionately seeking his personal truths. Experiences like career failure, personal failure, and having a near-death experience (as when Don falls into the pool at the California party) can lead to spiritual growth and personal transformation as much as – maybe more than – a long string of worldly successes. Calling Don a loser misses the value of his spiritual journey. It’s reminiscent of Dante’s Divine Comedy, the epic poem that Don and Sylvia read together in two-part opener to Season 6. The poem describes the soul’s journey through hell and purgatory upward toward paradise and God.
Don’s Season 6 fascination with what follows death parallels the death of his old persona and birth of the new. At the start, Don asks Jonesy about his near-death experience, reads Dante, and proposes an ad campaign for the Royal Hawaiian Hotel depicting what appears to be a suicide.
Toward the end, Don experiences near-death and does’t like what he saw. Eventually he takes the “suicidal” step of being honest about his childhood in front of a client. This career suicide and his decision to reveal to his kids the house where he grew up signal that he’s reinventing himself once again, this time by choosing a path of increased authenticity. Will that trend continue in Season 7? What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below!
The final season of Mad Men premieres Sunday, April 13 10:00 p.m. ET on AMC.
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