[This! Is! Mad Men! recaps the newest developments of Don Draper and his ragtag group of cohorts. In the spirit of the show, it will often be sexist and drunk. Apologies ahead of time.]
I’m worried about Don Draper. He’s always bent the elbow liberally, but never before has alcohol been such a destructive force in his life. Sure, there’ve been plenty of drunks in Mad Men — Freddy Rumsen and Duck Philips spring to mind — but Don’s supposed to be the exception to the rule!
When we first learnt of Don’s exploits in season one, there was a certain charm to them. He drinks? He philanders? He steals identities? All right…That’s not too cool but I guess I can see where he’s coming from. He was sympathetic – coming from nothing, he sought solace in the pursuit of the American dream. And just like Gatsby and Willy Loman and Hunter S. Thompson, Don Draper found out the hard way that the dream is dead.
How do know that that Don Draper has hit rock bottom? He gave away his secret identity.
More on that later.
Waldorf Stories sees Draper and Sterling tying one on after accepting an award. It’s all good in the hood until they get called back to the office. Despite his inebriation, Don insists on presenting to the clients. Heck, Joey tries to lend and hand but Draper shrugs him off and continues solo. Which is normally fine, as he’s one of the best creative directors Madison Avenue has to offer…but this time he’s fuggin’ hammered.
What does Donnie end up doing? He pitches a slogan from the portfolio of Danny Siegel, a copywriter he refused to hire that very morning. Peggy’s disgusted and tries to explain to Draper that he ripped off an idea, but he ignores her and starts his weekend early by heading out for more drinks.
After some scenes of barroom revelry, we watch Don return to his apartment with a woman. A smokin’ hot woman. A smokin’ hot woman who works in advertising and admires Draper’s work. Yeah, as the scene fades to black it’s obvious that the chief Mad Man is in for own hell of a Friday night.
In the very next shot, the phone is ringing and Don is rattled into hungover consciousness. He answers and it’s Betty, pissed that he’s two hours late to pick up the kids. Don tries to rebuke her, declaring, “I’m coming on Sunday.” Her response? “It is Sunday!”
Don then realizes that the woman from Friday night is not in bed; she’s been replaced by a far less attractive mate, a waitress named Doris. Saturday, as the epiphany reveals, has been erased. A blackout of an entire day.
Okay, so before continuing let’s just lay out what we have so far. Don Draper’s drinking has officially interfered with both his professional life and personal affairs. First, he slept with Allison and now he’s pitching other people’s ideas. Instead of preparing to spend time with his children (who are of the few with whom Don has a genuine relationship), he drank and fugged himself into a mini-coma. Watching this unfold is pretty depressing.
But the biggest shock comes when Doris, the butterfaced remnant of Saturday night, refers to our hero as “Dick.” As in Dick Whitman. While some select individuals know the truth, his name has never been thrown around so recklessly. After all, there’re still plenty of ways in which unearthing the past could end disastrously.
Imagine if Superman woke up to find a floozy exclaiming, “Good morning, Clark! Are you headed off to the Daily Planet now?” Or better yet, “Hey there, Kal-El! I thought my world was going to explode last night!”
A whole day is missing — if he told this waitress his given name, only the gods know who else he might have blabbed to. Perhaps Ted Chaough or another one of CGC’s twits overhead him. So if anyone doubts that Don Draper’s slow downward spiral has become a free-fall, just remember that he has compromised his secret identity.
And everything he holds dear, the achievements and professional success and even the few relationships he values, is predicated on his ability to be Donald Draper.
See, I’ve been working through the early stages of a hypothesis dealing with this issue. Maybe my brain’s rotted from all the literary theory I’ve read, but I’ve had the urge to sit down and write an essay based on some notions I can’t dispel. Since I’m not enrolled in any courses at the moment, I’m going to use This! Is! Mad Men! to jot down my ideas. I promise, they may very well be half-baked and self-contradictory.
To maximize one’s potential for actualizing an idealized state, one must adopt an alter-ego.
By living through a fabricated persona, an individual is able to gain access where she/he would be otherwise denied. The ability to take risks is increased, as the accompanying danger does not affect those associated with the individual; in a sense, the alter-ego acts as a sort of buffer. The double-life is marked by existential possibilities that are either in conflict or even mutually exclusive.
Don Draper is just another example in a long line of characters that use fabricated identities to better their situations. Only Jay Gatsby had a chance of winning Daisy Buchanan. Raoul Duke stormed Las Vegas with a drug-fueled insanity Hunter S. Thompson couldn’t handle. Doktor Sleepless is the cartoon mad scientist needed to inspire true change. And of course, every damn superhero dons a mask so that their loved ones aren’t put in harm’s way.
So what does this kooky theory have to do with Don Draper and his actions in Waldorf Stories? Well, there is a second component to my incipient theory; In order for the idealized state to be attained, both personae must be maintained and kept from interfering with the other.
For instance, Jay Gatsby’s world comes crashing down because he tries to cover up the fact that an individual named James Gatz ever existed. In his attempt to gain access to the upper echelon, he completely neglects his roots and it ends up biting him in the ass. On the other hand, Hunter S. Thompson assumed the identity of Raoul Duke so that he could effectively blur the lines between reality and fiction. In doing so, drug binges and other illegal activities could be written off as imaginative products. “No officer, those things never actually happened. I’m merely a writer…”
Now, a standard superhero predicament is that of the secret identity being discovered. Often, the consequence affects the friends/family; e.g., Green Goblin finds out Spider-Man is Peter Parker, Aunt May/Gwen Stacy/MJ is put in danger. The bottom line is that the two personae can’t be revealed to be one and the same.
So what the fugg does this have to do with Don Draper? As I said before, he has loosened his tongue and told a one-night-stand that he is actually Dick Whitman. Does this mean that everyone in NYC knows this to be true? No. If I had to bet, I would say that Doris the ugly waitress is the only person who received this information. The secret is probably still locked up in the vault.
What’s worrying is the fact that Don’s drinking and reckless behavior led him to this. It’s alarming that for the sake of partying, he’d jeopardize everything that’s riding on his being Mr. Draper instead of Mr. Whitman. He might’ve dodged a bullet this time, but who knows about next time?
We shouldn’t forget that Don Draper has an alter-ego to maintain.
And neither should Dick Whitman.