The tendency of people to find themselves again always seems to reflect in some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Don Draper of “Mad Men” is no different. In trying to affect his own sense of moral center, he is moving against who he really is and not what he is appearing to be. After the jump in years which made intuitive sense, the ideas of the entire agency begin to show the motivation of who they want to be. Pete Campbell, the newly fulfilled partner in the firm, wants to create the perfect view of what life should be in his eyes but, in doing so, feels even emptier than what Don has become. In doing this parallel storyline with Pete’s fading morality and belief in what is really definitely shows the dexterity of Matthew Weiner’s writing. The progression of “Mad Men” is cyclical but also universal: one always wants what they don’t have. This is especially true in high-competition industries.
The handling of the female lead story lines, particularly Joan and Peggy through the season, shows two characters moving towards the same center from completely opposite directions. Joan starts off the season as a new mother trying to adhere to her place but realizing that this is against her nature which she promptly rectifies at a certain point. Peggy’s ambition, like everyone, reflects in how much she is needed and what she has learned. When she comes to a life change (which also inter-played with her decision in an earlier season arc), she makes the right decision. At one point, she and Pete intersect and the slight moment created is just enough to show the cycle.
Don meanwhile, in this deck of cards, is trying to be the doting husband and be supportive in what ways he couldn’t with Betty because of the secrets he is hiding from her. His wife, albeit 15 years younger than him, knows all his secrets and he tries to stay in line but anything that is familiar can eventually get boring which eventually strays his thoughts. The intention of the closing of “You Only Live Twice” shows that life renews itself but creates the same temptations. The use of different emotional components like Don’s supposed hallucinations of one of his old conquests coming back to haunt him shows that the ghosts are still there. Like Pete who is experiencing his similar problems of year past, the belief of redemption is steeped in thoughts of middle-dom which does not suit this world. Life is short.
Don Draper, as a functionality of modern man set within the structure of a 60s era world, has become a focal point and personification of ambition and cool within the modern TV landscape even as his own personal demons threaten to bring him down. Jon Hamm, embodying Draper in full costume with a tumbler of Scotch at the AMC “Mad Men” Cocktail Party at the Winter Cable TCAs, discusses with The Inside Reel’s Tim Wassberg the notion of ambition and the changing face of this titular character.
Tim Wassberg: Can you talk in terms of the new season of the aspect of ambition versus life experience in Don Draper?
Jon Hamm: I think they are very closely related. I think sometimes your life experience can inform your ambition and very often ambition can inform your life experience. And I think that Don has a crazy life experience. He has a double life. He comes from nothing. His ambition has certainly got him where he is. Often the problem with people who are incredibly ambitious is what happens when you get there? Then what?
TW: What questions does Don Draper ask himself?
JH: Is this it? Are we done? What’s next? That kind of stuff. If your ambition is to rise to the top and you get there and there is another mountain, you go “Oh Shit!” Or if you look around and there ain’t no more mountains, then what?
TW: Can speak on the evolution of Don’s psychology both in his physicality and emotionally as he puts up more and more masks.
JH: I think what happens is that everybody gets old. None of us are immune to that particularity. Some age faster than others and other age, psychologically, not at all. What ends up happening is that your life happens, and you get older. And sometimes what happens when you get older is the things you did in your past, which seemed so big and so hard to deal with, kind of don’t matter anymore or matter less. I think Don is in a place in his life where that is beginning to happen.
TW: Does that mean Don is more prone to second guessing himself?
JH: I think he is just getting older and realizing the old saying: “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. And, by the way, it’s all “small stuff”.