Don Draper, The Gypsy And the Hobo
In 1960, Don Draper meets a visitor at his office. Adam, his half brother, is thrilled to see him — but Don pretends not to recognize him at first. Don has so much at stake: his name and reputation, a wife and children, a home, a business.
When the two brothers do speak, Don is by turns careful – asking about other family members, securing answers (“She’s dead. Stomach cancer.” “Good.”) — and just terrified. Haunted by the thought of all he could lose, Don finally pays his brother to stay away.
“You already thought I was dead. Go on thinking that,” Don tells a crestfallen Adam.
More than six years after Adam’s suicide, Don’s ghosts walk again. After learning of Lane’s embezzlement, ordering him to resign, and offering some Dick Whitman-style advice for his exit (“Tell [your family] the next thing will be better. It always is”), Don sees Lane go his own way. As Adam did.
Again, he is haunted.
The former Dick Whitman got where he has in life by taking chances. “I’ve started over a lot,” he assures Lane. “This is the worst part.”
Dick once had so little to lose that it may have seemed a relatively small gamble when he moved to take the identity of another man. And what did he learn? From that impulse, Don Draper was born. He has lacked for so little, ever since.
The old impulsiveness still works. Don Draper’s adult life is the reverse of an Aesop’s fable: he falls in and out of love quickly, comes home late at night with a dog, freeballs a pitch to his firm’s major client, fires a subordinate without warning or authority, gives away money, picks up hitchhikers, proposes marriage to someone he’s known for a matter of weeks, throws down thousands of dollars to test drive a car.
And these things pay off. Don’s impulses work beautifully — until, suddenly, they don’t. His impulses that fail are catastrophes: asking Rachel to run away with him, “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco”, letting Adam go.
Don is still wearing the guilt of that last one. We saw it in his need to drive Suzanne’s brother to his destination in Season 3; we see it as he volunteers to take Glen Bishop back to school in Commissions and Fees. When Don finds Lane’s body, he is still inside that last human loss, the decisive break between his past and his present. Adam is the pain he will carry in his skin until he dies.
I am not forgetting what tends to follow these failures: Don’s Carousel pitch to Kodak, his award from the American Cancer Society. This man can go to even the heart of his own pain, and harvest it for whatever he might need in a critical moment: almost as if that pain isn’t his.
And honestly: is it? If you have traveled all the way from being Dick Whitman to living as Don Draper, haven’t you lost as much as you’ve found?