I have been struggling this season. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved this season, it has been my favorite so far, and that is to be a separate post. But I have been struggling to understand what is going on with Don at work.
Lane Pryce: Hello Don.
Don Draper: How was your morning?
Lane Pryce: Very productive.
Genuinely confused. I just couldn’t get a handle on where he was at. He was being downright nasty to his group, he was following Conrad Hilton like a child trailing the Pied Piper, he wanted nothing to do with Roger. I kept thinking I was missing something, some over-arching blueprint of this dynamic, something obvious that everyone else saw (and not for nothing but I’m supposed to be good at this show), some big cause and a diagnosis of its effect. But I couldn’t.
I even asked Rich Sommer about it:
Me: I guess I’m asking [what you mean by everyone is in over their head] because I’m trying so hard to understand what’s going on with Don this season. Most scenes with the creatives, he’s kind of a dick (no pun).
Rich Sommer: Yeah. Clearly he’s got other fish to fry. He’s got a baby at home and he’s got the fact that he’s got these dual personalities that he’s still trying to rock somehow. When he’s dealing with people like Roger Sterling and Lane Pryce and Bert Cooper, clearly starting to put a thumb on him, like when Cooper, in that fantastic scene at the end of Seven Twenty Three where he says, Who’s really signing it anyway, and that Don’s response is, I don’t want to have anything to do with Roger Sterling. This is a guy who’s kind of up against the wall everywhere he turns; things seem to be closing in on him a little bit. And you look back at season one, and this is a guy who when the walls are closing in.
That didn’t help. And still, he’s answered it, it’s all there, but I don’t get it. I stumble blindly along through further episodes, and further interviews. Jon Hamm tries to help me out as well.
Me: Why do you think that Don is so angry at Roger? I mean, why do you think?
Jon Hamm: I think what Don -I think that part of Don’s professional life is wanting to be in control. I think we see that in Seven Twenty Three when he does not want to sign a contract. He’s essentially forced to do it. And the reason he’s forced to do it is because they don’t own the company anymore. Don’s situation, as we saw at the end of Season 2, is that he has personal relationships with the people he works with, but that is his sort of the core of his realm, and he has done very well by that. So when he stands up in the PPL meeting and says, “I don’t have a contract,” and they look over at Roger and he says, “We’re friends. We didn’t think we needed one,” which is another amazing John Slattery line. When that is taken away from him, and part of why it’s taken away is because Roger in choosing to marry Jane and divorce Mona needs money, and part of needing money is selling his company, selling his birthrights, selling all this, and ostensibly selling a lot of Don’s freedom without consulting him. Now, the reason he didn’t consult him was because he was off the grid in California, but that’s neither her nor there. So that was the first kind of domino falling.
JH: And I think he sees Roger as sort of being frivolous in his care of this thing that he feels that he has helped to build as well.
JH: More than just for the pursuit of money. And I think he sees Roger as being kind of checked out of the whole thing. And a lot of the responsibility and a lot of the stuff that’s falling back on Don’s shoulders once he’s forced to sign a contract and be beholden to these people that he does not get along with, doesn’t like, the PPL folks, he looks at that as a further thing to blame on Roger. And I think that’s the heart of it. You know, they are friends. They are friends, and Roger is responsible for bringing Don into this world, but I feel like he’s looking at Roger as a guy who’s kind of being frivolous with all of this power in many ways. And I think that’s what the majority of the conflict has been this season. Now whether or not they get to a place where they’re able to –
RL: Hug it out?
JH: – work it out. Hug it out, yeah. (Laughs) Whoopee. When they’re sitting there getting their shaves, “That’s what I did to you? I made you a half a million dollars. Gee, I’m really sorry.” You know, it’s much less about money for Don as it is about control.
Now this starts to make sense. I am fascinated by his answer, and it was one of my biggest takeaways from the interview”the loss of power. I don’t know how I didn’t miss it. And how in Don’s mind, the loss of control and the loss of the friendship are intertwined.
Understand, I’m finally getting this insight mere days before the final episode is aired. And I’m ruminating on it, because I’m still a little confused and frankly, disappointed in myself.
I discussed it with some friends.
Me: Maybe it’s a guy thing. Maybe this was the kind of a man’s world dynamic that still eludes me.
My friends: Yeah maybe.
It wasn’t until the finale that I truly understood what’s been going on with Don. With all of them.
Sterling Cooper had been castrated. These guys were walking around with their balls cut off.
How each of them reacted was its own fascination. Remember, they’d seen all the layoffs. Bert was being old, quirky, and patient”playing well with others, figuring to bide his time. Roger did not know where he fit (understandably, considering the new org chart in Guy Walks Into an Ad Agency), and was getting a bit sloppy”he was too drunk to well manage the Madison Square Garden lunch. It was a bit different for Lane of course, who had handed his balls over voluntarily.
And there was Don was fighting it, and also fighting for something, whether it was trying to bring in his own clients or just order appropriate office supplies or being angry at Peggy for wanting more money or Sal for not keeping in line*. He was harder on his staff because nothing was good enough.
And nothing was. Good enough didn’t get you Madison Square Garden, and great didn’t get you Conrad Hilton. Don was making it happen, and nothing was being received. How frustrating.
Don Draper: I want to work.
Don’s life ostensibly fell apart in one day. And somehow, with hardly a pause for a breath, he walked into Coopers office and took his balls back. Then Roger, then Lane, gaining momentum Blues Brothers style. I know we weren’t the only ones who cheered out loud at Roger’s Let me make a call.
(please know that this fan/blogger is heartbroken at what may likely be the farewell of some of her favorite characters. but that is not what this post is about.)
Suddenly there was energy. And I finally understood just how deadened they all were since the takeover. Once I saw the life force rushing, I got it.
They are working. Working for something–building something exciting. And every time I watch that final scene, even think on it, tears of joy come to my eyes.
*Yes I just gave Don a pass on Sal. He doesn’t really deserve it and it certainly ain’t this simple, but it felt like one bit of truth in this context.