why I hate Don Draper, and can’t stop watching

I’ll admit I’m kind of a latecomer as far as Mad Men is concerned.

Heard about it now and again for a while, but didn’t start watching it until about 6 months ago. Caught up through Season 4 on Netflix, and then waited, and waited, . . .  and waited. . . . . . . for Season 5. Just noticed a couple of weeks ago that it was available, I believe the day before Season 6 started airing on AMC, so have been playing a frantic game of catch-up.

Some of it is a bit overblown, although I wonder if it seems overblown in the “enlightened” two-thousand-teens  compared to what it was really like in the 60s. (ha!) I fear that maybe it’s not overblown at all.  I do especially love the depiction of Peggy and Joan in their efforts to be taken seriously as professional (women) while not really wanting to give up actually being perceived as actual women. Unfortunately some of their battles don’t seem all that different from battles still being fought.

But except for Henry, all of the men are pleasepardonmyFrench assholes. And of course, Henry, not being an asshole, is married to a woman who is so bored she’s gained 30 pounds. (Of course, within 2 episodes, she’s lost it all, despite the “half pound a week” or “maintaining” progress noted during her Weight Watcher’s meetings.)(No one said it was a true story.)


But Don. What’s to be done about Don.

The writers do a good job of, just when you have decided that Don has no redeeming qualities at all, re-humanizing him. He displayed great sympathy (albeit in retrospect) for Peggy when she unexpectedly  —  to her and everyone else (really? she didn’t know she was pregnant? this is a reasonably smart woman, how would you not know you were pregnant?) — had a baby, gave it up for adoption, and suffered some kind of breakdown afterwards. He displayed great empathy when he went to Joan to tell her not to sleep with a potential deal-maker-or-breaker for a new ad campaign (too late, but he didn’t know that at the time).

We get to see him wrestle with his demons — his dead-too-soon prostitute mother, his resentful, dishonest father, his disillusionment with his chosen career despite his virtuosity at it, his need to be taken care of and his refusal to be vulnerable. But he is newly married to a stunning woman, Megan, (who adores him), and still needs (?) to have an affair with the doctor’s wife downstairs. This is the wife of a doctor he has befriended; a woman who has offered understanding and sympathy to Megan despite the fact that she is SLEEPING WITH HER HUSBAND, and then humbly admits that she has no right to be jealous.

The fact that Don was faithful while Megan was working at the agency with him, and still when she was basically staying at home while pursuing an acting career at which he had no faith in her ever succeeding reveals his vulnerability. The fact that the day she acted in her first professional role he apparently (it was only implied) resumed his previous role as a five-star cheating sleazeball is also probably supposed to reveal this vulnerability. I wonder if it is the writer’s goal that this also seems to reveal his complete lack of maturity and character. Probably. Maybe this is the kind of nuance that keeps me watching. Or maybe I’m making more of it than there is.

I will also admit that I am still completely puzzled by the bizarre scene when Megan was upset with Don because he was unhappy about her throwing him a surprise party, so she begins cleaning up the apartment in her black, lacy bra and panties while scolding Don like a shrew. Don was oddly turned on, apparently as much by the scolding as by the attire. What he actually needs is his mother?

The depiction of the struggle of women to find their place both professionally and in the home is compellingly told. Many of the wives seem to know that their husbands are unfaithful — how could they not, really? — but don’t mind as long as they’re discrete. (Pete’s busted as of last night. What a whining sycophant he is. I still can’t figure out why Don brought him along when they began their new agency. He clearly loathes him, as do we all, and as we should, although he displayed a bit of humanity toward one of the women he had an affair with, but that hardly counts. I guess he’s good at what the agency needs him for — to be a sycophant.)

Joan could gain more of my sympathy if she didn’t use her feminine (ahem) qualities so blatantly — could her dress be any tighter? Could she sway her hips any more when she walks? She is a partner now (albeit for nefarious reasons, see paragraph 6 above), does she still have to wear that pen around her neck so it dangles right there between her quite ample bosoms? It reminds me of my post once about this “professional” outfit in Victoria’s Secret:


Nothing like a bandeau top to tell the world to take women seriously in the workplace.

I do love that she is a full-bodied, fearless, ambitious woman playing the role of a real person, living comfortably and happily in her skin and not wishing she were a stick. Maybe we should just focus on that.

CHRISTINA HENDRICKS at Promo Shoot for Mad Men Season 5

All part of the idiom I guess.

And I can’t stop watching.

13 Responses to “why I hate Don Draper, and can’t stop watching”

  1. April 15, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    Have to defend Joan here. As an ample woman with an hourglass figure and who used to be slimmer and look more like Christina Hendricks, I know how difficult it is to find work attire that DOESN’T reveal curves. Hers are so well-defined, I know from experience, she’d have a hard time finding something that didn’t show off her curves. I’ve had comments many times about my attire, even when I went out of my way to buy the most professional and chaste looking attire. I drew the line at wearing clothes that look like tents and sacks because I don’t feel confident, comfortable, or professional in them. But when even the boxiest cut of a suit ends up falling into those curves and amplifying both bosom and hips, there’s not much left to be done about it, even with today’s more conservative styles.

    As for how she walks, part of that is the heels and part of it is her character — as you’ve pointed out both Joan and Peggy want to be seen as both professionals AND women, though Joan receives far more attention for the latter. The tightness of her outfit says more about the wardrobe department; I think if the character actually picked those dresses, they’d be the next size up.

    Just note, Christina can make even a worn out flight jumpsuit (http://youtu.be/rVxTsXRjNTw) or sack dress (http://www.brainplucker.com/sat-night-the-movies-firefly-our-mrs-reynolds/) seem provocative.

    • April 15, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      “I do love that she is a full-bodied, fearless, ambitious woman playing the role of a real person, living comfortably and happily in her skin and not wishing she were a stick.”


      • April 15, 2013 at 2:31 pm

        Yeah, ok. Touchy subject for me. I’ve been called into HR a few times at different jobs because of my appearance, despite wearing the same styles as my female colleagues. Once, when completely fed up with the bias, I came in with the previous day’s outfit on a hanger and asked if there was anything wrong with the outfit. When they didn’t see any issues with it, I pointed out they had an issue with it when it was on my body the day before.

        Even in loose-fitting blouses and slacks with flat, sensible shoes and no jewelry or make-up, I’d get nasty comments (behind my back or under the breath or anonymously sent to HR) about my attire. Just one of many things I don’t miss about office work.

        • April 15, 2013 at 2:53 pm

          It’s a tricky line — we want to be taken seriously, but we also don’t want to have to hide the fact that we are, in fact, women. It would be really nice if everyone could just focus on whether we’re doing a good job or not and spare everyone the nastiness.

          The feminist in me, however, takes issue with the idea that we also might (be expected to) “use” our feminine (ahem) attributes to get attention/ahead. Joan teeters on either side of that line, which is probably pretty realistic, and pragmatic, of her. I liked the episode when Peggy fires someone because he rendered an inappropriate drawing of Joan, and, rather than being appreciative, Joan admonished her for making it worse — I believe her words were something along the line of “All you’ve proven is that I don’t have any power, and that you’re a humorless bitch.” Or something like that.

          • April 15, 2013 at 3:50 pm

            We ought not to have to hide the fact that we’re women. Men can wear a suit and look amazing, even sexually attractive, and they aren’t assumed to be using their sexual attractiveness as a form of power, but women have to constantly check themselves to ensure they’re not putting off too many unintended sexual vibes in case 1) the men will take it as invitation, 2) the other women will become backbiting or offended, and 3) no one will take us seriously.

            As a feminist, I like to imagine an ideal world where people can be their professional selves in the office, wear what feels comfortable, and not be seen as a threat, a tease, or a person who “fucks her way to the top” (just as I’d like to see tg people not be seen as weird, uncomfortable entities in most work spaces), but the reality is still very far from such an ideal. In our current environment, it doesn’t seem much has changed in the underlying mentality of an office space, only the rules regulating behavior and dress codes, which still puts women at a disadvantage, because the same rules meant to protect employees from unwanted advancement from supervisors and colleagues are the same ones that become too regimented to allow for individual levels of sensuality.

            In my late teens, a friend of mine said I “oozed sensuality,” without having done anything to deserve it. It’s how I’ve been perceived over the years regardless of behavior and dress. This doesn’t work well in a professional office where zero tolerance policies of sexual expression, whether intended or not, are grounds for punitive action. I never been fired for it because I’d done nothing more than wear attire acceptable to the positions for which I was hired, but it didn’t stop the backstabbing from coworkers who pretended to be friends.

            If I’d had more sense in those days, I’d have taken daily photos of my attire both on me and on the hangers to document the differences. I always bought clothes in my size and saved revealing/tight clothes for off hours with friends when I *wanted* to draw attention or be playful, at say, a night club.

            Sometimes, I *almost* prefer being disabled now, because I don’t have to worry about these issues anymore. If I am up for working, it’s for short periods of time from home as a consultant (anthropologist) or writer. I’m sitting here, 9 months pregnant with my second child, wearing flowery gardening overalls and a bright yellow tank top underneath because it feels comfortable. And at my size, I’m more likely to get “gross out” sounds or comments than backbiting ones. Gods, I wish we women could stop tearing each other down so we could fight for quantifiable, broad-sweeping change for the better.

            My apologies for ranting endlessly about this topic in your space; I guess I just have some unresolved feelings regarding it. Thanks for responding, as always. ^_^

  2. 6 sam
    April 15, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    I believe you mean “Harry.” Henry is Betty’s new guy. Speaking of which, I like how no 2 characters in TV ever share a first name.

  3. April 15, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    I don’t watch television, and I don’t think we have this program here in Australia – so I know almost nothing about it. However it’s clear that there’s something significant about it as the two most thoughtful and intelligent bloggers I know (the other is writer Elizabeth Hay) have both posted about this show on the same day! Quite a coincidence in view of the fact that I don’t read many blogs. Also, I haven’t seen such a response to one of Sheriji’s posts for a while, either.

    All this suggests to me that the show is somehow reaching something deep within women. I’ll be interested to keep reading this thread.

    • April 15, 2013 at 8:31 pm

      I can only say that Ms. Hay’s response seems to be much more nuanced, and thoughtful, than mine. I find hope of salvation in Don’s character, but no evidence of it. I guess I could consider whether I would relish the chance to try to reform him. He seems like a user, but also used, so I pity him, which I guess is part of why I keep watching.

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