Don Draper: Appealing, yes. Revolting? Unfortunately, yes.

A bit of a disclaimer: I intend for my writings in this blog to mainly be centered around critical analysis. However, I wanna do other stuff too sometimes. I intended to write some critical analysis about Mad Men, but it came out as mostly summary. So, if you haven't seen the show, I marked where the spoilers begin and end. Also, this post will likely not interest you unless you have seen it. It may serve as an introduction if you have been thinking about delving into the wonderful world of the New York ad scene in the late '50s, early '60s. If you haven't watched Mad Men, do! It is soooo good.

Mad Men: Season Four starts in only a few short days and I am pumped. It is by far one of the best television shows I’ve seen. Never before has a show piqued my critical thinking for many hours after I watched it. And here I thought it was all about the production design and the fantastic clothes…

The show’s ensemble cast is amazing, the writing and direction superb. The glue that holds it all together? Don Draper (John Hamm.) I could probably write for days about Don Draper. There is something altogether appealing and revolting about him, and I think it is this quality that keeps viewers coming back for more. In the first episodes, we (as well as Don's wife!) knew nothing about enigmatic Don aside from what we were allowed to know. He has a well-paying job, and is seemingly the best ad man in New York. He has a perfect, pretty blonde wife and perfect, pretty children. He lives in a nice house and drives a nice car. The Drapers embody the idea of the ideal of the ‘50s family: husband, wife, kids, and a big yard, and all of these things are wholesome and good.

Spoilers begin here!

Soon, we begin to see the cracks in the Draper family’s perfection. Don is a cheater and a liar. Betty, his wife, is selfish and can be kind of a bitch (though, I could write pages on Betty too. I understand her and sometimes think that if Don was just honest with her, they would have a more successful marriage. But that is for another time…) Don, seemingly, is a man about appearances. He came from a very low class family and his past haunts him (and I really do mean that--through murky-colored flashbacks that take his full attention, almost like a hallucination). Don stole the identity of another man to remake himself, in the true “American way” (by that I mean the “remaking,” not the stealing.) He found himself a pretty girl, and made for himself the ideal family unit. He hides everything about his past from everyone to protect his new identity (as well as himself.) He lies continually to his wife about his infidelities (oh, they are many, and he cheats without scruple.) From my description here, he sounds like a pretty bad guy.

But that’s just the thing—he’s not, not really. Don has these moments of shining goodness. He loves his children. He helps advance his secretary, Peggy, into a higher “creative” position at Sterling Cooper, which is a male-dominated agency. (The relationship between men and women in Mad Men is so intriguing, I nearly want to go off on a tangent, but it would be a loooonnnggg tangent.) I almost never know what Don will do next. The loving/aloof dichotomy in Don is present all the time, and is so thought-provoking.

Spoilers end!

However…there has to be a point of no return for Don. He will have to do something so horrible or so good that I will finally be able to make up my mind about him—is he revolting or appealing? I say this as an audience member, not as a member of the real world, only because eventually I will tire of waiting for him to do the right thing. As an audience member, I have to be invested in the lives of my characters. I form relationships with them. (For god sakes, when I finished Star Trek: Deep Space 9 I felt like I was losing my friends, it had been such a long journey.) I realize that in the real world, everyone has a bit of Don Draper in them. We all possess within us the good/bad push and pull. However, in watching television, something has to keep me going back to the show. My relationship with Don will eventually be on unsteady ground. This is why I’m so excited about season four. The dynamic of the show has changed, which paves the way for new, fertile character development. (Really, though, I will miss having Sal in my life.) I hope Mad Men will continue to keep me guessing in this next season, and continue to be one of the best shows on television.

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