Don Draper: Man of Mystery
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He’s not who he says he is, yet he says so little. He doesn’t reveal much but even his sly smirk reveals he’s a man of leisure. We’re drawn to him because of his mystique. As viewers, we like him because of who he is now, but we want to understand who he was before and how he became the successful adman with all the answers.
Everyone wants a piece of Don. Co-workers – even clients – come to Don for that perfect ad line, to approve the art, and even for help with personal issues. He’s a verbal superman. His words are not lost on clients nor on the fairer sex. Women bat their eyes, offer themselves freely, and–if their poise equals Don’s–they may just pique Don’s interest. True, Don Draper is the strapping, handsome man that all the men want to be and all the women want to bed. But some women are savvy enough to realize they want what the men want – to have what Don has, not just to BE what Don has.
There are a couple of ladies in Don’s life who challenge his omnipotence, whether intentionally or accidentally: his wife Betty and his subordinate co-worker Peggy. The first few seasons reveal Betty as a weak, bored, dependent wife. In the beginning, Peggy exists as Betty’s foil at the office, while the dutiful wife smiles and cooks at home. Peggy is the only woman to rise from the secretary ranks to copy writer, and she has Don to partially thank for that: when he could have taken her ideas and thanked her as another “sweetheart,” he gave credit where it was due and asked her to officially write copy. Granted, we see Peggy’s dependence on Don, just as we see his wife unable to be her own person without a husband present, but Peggy takes more advantage of the assistance, even voicing her need to the owner about deserving an office like all the other admen.
Betty’s strongest moments come when she actually accuses Don of infidelity. Despite his guffaws and passiveness, she insists she knows what Don refuses to reveal, to which he can only state: “What do you want me to say?”. That’s the best our verbal superman can come up with?! Come on, Don! You have all the answers. Don seems to lose his finesse when confronted with strong women. (Yes, there was the Jewish woman, but she had her own issues.)
Don speaks these very same words to Peggy when she asks for a raise and he tells her it can’t happen. After she states her case, and he his (that he can’t back her request), his response is, again, only, “What do you want me to say?”. Obviously, the mysterious Don Draper folds a little under strong, female pressure – something he doesn’t encounter very often.
The women in Don’s life – Betty and Peggy – stood as foils in the beginning, but now seem to be exchanging roles. We see Betty at town meetings, multi-tasking–opening mail while talking on the phone about politics–and even sitting behind Don’s desk at home. Hell, she’s even fired the “help” and, gasp, gets up in the middle of the night to tend to one of her three children herself.
In contrast, Peggy fails to sway Don to root for her financial cause, and even gets chided by him for the first time (gasp again, but for real!).
One thing Don has great control over in his life and what has made him who he is, is his language ability: to know what to say, how to say it, how to persuade, how to control with words. When we glimpse his uncertainty, it is a first for us, and Don begins to lose some of his mystique. There is no mystery in being error prone. That’s human.
No doubt, the exquisite writers of Mad Men will continue to reveal the mysteries of Don Draper and will unfold the paths of Betty and Peggy, which will keep me coming back every week – and probably twice a week as I watch every episode again to ensure I didn’t miss any sly writer nuances the first time around. And I must add this: does anyone else out there wonder if the falling shadow man during the opening credits is supposed to be…say, Don Draper, at the end of the series? Say it ain’t so!!