Home / General / Ads without products; or, “Don Draper” is now never himself

Ads without products; or, “Don Draper” is now never himself

Comments
/
/
/
715 Views

In the previous post, I called the transition from the scene at the firm to the one in Draper’s hall a “wipe,” but that’s not quite right. The camera pans left into the wall:

But the second it succumbs to pure black, it bounces back to the right to place the viewer in the hall outside Draper’s apartment:

I debated calling this a “manual wipe” before my better angels piped up, but now I’m not sure what to call this. (An artifact of an impending commercial break? Irony itself would get the vapors.) All of which is only to say that whatever this particular transition is called, it creates a continuity between Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce and the hall outside Draper’s apartment. Why?

Most likely because Draper has finally decided that he will never be more than the professional persona he created. Not to sound my own trumpet, but my first attempt to understand the Peter/Peggy/Draper dynamic turned out to be largely correct: Peter and Peggy are headed into their respective futures, whereas Draper is slowly become solely an object of his own creation. His last link to Dick Whitman — Anna Draper, the wife of the man whose identify he stole — will be dead within months, at which point the only person who will that “Don Draper” deserves those quotation marks is his ex-wife. Soon he will be his creation, but instead of this moment marking the culmination of a lie or life self-fashioned, the result is as devestating to his personality as it was to his marriage.

If there were some way Draper could arrange a divorce from himself at this point, all indications are that he would: he deliberately sabotages the family-friendly Janzen campaign by presenting the company with the very sort of lascivious material they wanted no part of; he sleeps with his secretary then treats her in a way that invites retaliation; and he starts drinking alone. The vast quantities of alcohol consumed on the show serve a social function, and they continue to do so during working hours. But without a wife and a fiction to uphold, “working hours” for Draper consist of his entire waking life, as when he drinks alone in his apartment and watches his own commercials on television. He has become the man he created and is miserable.

In the final scene of “The Rejected,” John Slattery provides a clue as to why when he transports the viewer into the hallway outside Draper’s apartment. He begins behind the head of an old woman whose husband has stepped in the hall and asks “Did you get pears?”

Whether or not she bought pears is a private matter. The whole hall neither cares nor needs to know the answer to that question and so she refuses to answer it. His wife seems more concerned with what her husband is unwittingly communicating: not that he needs to know whether she purchased pears, but 1) that he is so obsessed with trivial matters that he will wait by the door until he hears footsteps and accost his wife about pears, or 2) that he doesn’t trust his wife to remember to purchase the object of his obsession because she cares neither about it nor him, or 3) that he believes she will remember, but deliberately refuse, his beloved pears out of spite, or 4) all of the above (or something equally private). In short, his wife wants their private life to be transacted in the privacy of their own apartment, as is evident when Slattery reverses to guage her reaction:

In addition to her stoic expression — eruptions of the private in public seem to have long been a feature of her marriage — Slattery allows the viewer to see Draper’s reaction to this particular display. The man whose public has become his only self is forced to witness an old woman enforce the distinction between private and public better than he had. He would not be in that hallway had he only had her ability to manage his public and private selves. As she walks toward her apartment her husband continues to hector her, but she betrays no emotion until she is entering her apartment, at which point she informs him that “We’ll discuss it inside.”

That she tells him this when she is already inside indicates who won this particular power struggle. No doubt she will answer his question once in the apartment, but the significance of her maintaining her public face in public is not lost on the man across the hall:

Whereas she has a private face to complement her public one, Draper is about to enter his apartment wearing his public face because now he has no other. There is no “private” behind his “public” face. “Don Draper” has finally fulfilled his destiny: he is an ad for a product that no longer exists. (I wonder what someone might think of this.)

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • Simple match cut, with a fade in and out.

    • SEK

      It was the lack of a fade—I took my screen caps from a torrented version—that confused me. (Before someone complains: I own all three previous seasons on DVD, and will purchase the fourth when it comes out. I’d just rather take a capture from an .avi than a digital picture of my television set.)

  • va

    Very nice. I’ve long thought that most if not all drama is fueled by imbalances in characters’ private and public existence (it works better for me than the “individual v. society” or “two bad choices” generic formulations). The complete intrusion of DD’s public life into his private life surely indicates that some major breaking point is nigh.

    • SEK

      That’s where this scene seems headed: if even an old lady with an obstreperous husband can successfully negotiate their private and public lives, Draper’s failure is all the more complete, and scenes like this one make the pain of it all the more acute.

  • What Urizon said. Think about the opening scene of Saturday Night Fever in which a cut is made from the subway to Tony Manero’s blow dryer.

  • John

    IIRC, Bert Cooper and Pete Campbell both know that Don Draper isn’t his real name. Cooper blackmailed him into signing his contract based on that knowledge.

    • SEK

      I could be misremembering, but I thought Don called Pete’s “bluff” by indicating that the information couldn’t be damning, or true, if he was willing to parse it before Cooper. Granted, Cooper didn’t care, and Don knew he wouldn’t, but I thought that undermined the evidentiary value of Pete’s “discoveries” to the point where even he didn’t believe them.

      That said, I think I need to rewatch “Nixon v. Kennedy” and see whether Pete’s knowledge represents a wrinkle or a wretch in my theory.

      • John

        Yeah, you’re probably right that Pete has forgotten the whole thing. Cooper, on the other hand, really does know that Don has something to hide, although he probably doesn’t know the details.

  • Medrawt

    John –

    They know his real name is Dick Whitman, but they don’t know Dick Whitman. The only person who really knows Dick is Anna. We don’t know how much Don told Betty beyond the outlines of his parentage, but I doubt she has any insight into him; it’s certainly not like he ever relaxed into his “other” self before her except out of fear when caught. The name-theft was a practical necessity to get home from Korea but not much more than that (he isn’t even pretending to the real Draper’s college degree, is he?). The public biography he’d have as Dick Whitman, Ad Man isn’t *that* different from what he has now; other than the (admittedly lurid) detail of who his mother was, everyone’s more or less figured out that he grew up poor on a farm in the Midwest. Cooper’s soft-touch blackmail is delightful – “After all, who’s really signing?” – but Cooper really doesn’t know the answer to his own question. He imagines Don as a Randian conqueror, and probably conceives of the name-theft as a calculated necessity to get Dick Whitman to where he wanted to be; I don’t think either Pete or Bert have any notion of Don’s internal life.

    • SEK

      They know his real name is Dick Whitman, but they don’t know Dick Whitman.

      I can’t be certain, but I do think he’s introduced as a “war hero” a few times in the first season … and doesn’t Sterling bring it up in the first episode of this one vis-a-vis the one-legged reporter? Which is only to say, I thought “his” war heroism was part of his operative biography, the one that they use to sell his genius to clients.

      He imagines Don as a Randian conqueror, and probably conceives of the name-theft as a calculated necessity to get Dick Whitman to where he wanted to be; I don’t think either Pete or Bert have any notion of Don’s internal life.

      I’m not so sure about Pete: I’m past the point of underestimating him. I think he’s come a long way since, or perhaps because, he raped the au pair, and that he’s hiding some of that growth in order to have something in reserve, should it come to that. (By which I mean, whatever “that” he imagines precipitates the necessity of having an “it.”)

      The idea of Cooper as a disciple of Rand is an interesting one, but I’d require evidence that he’d care about such a thing before I ventured that. Not that he necessarily wouldn’t, but Cooper strikes me as too idiosyncratic to appreciate the sort of sculpted genius Rand requires of her conquerors.

      • John

        Cooper specifically talks about how great Rand is and how Don reminds him of Howard Roarke (I think) at some point in the first season.

      • Medrawt

        I’m certain Cooper specifically told Don to read one of Rand’s books at some point in a prior season.

        But here’s the thing: Dick Whitman IS a war hero. I’m 100% certain of the Rand thing, but I’m 98% certain the medal we see in his desk drawer back at the beginning of the show is a Purple Heart. Well, both of the men who got blown up by the Korean mortarfire would have been eligible for Purple Hearts; I’m certain the real Don Draper’s body was sent home under Dick Whitman’s name w/a Purple Heart. Unless Dick Whitman is using Draper’s educational history (and I don’t think he is, but I can’t put my finger on why I’m certain of that right now), the only thing he “needed” from the real Draper was getting out of the army almost immediately. I don’t know if Weiner knew this when he wrote the pilot and first few episodes, but I think if you carefully parse the details, Dick/Don created a double life that served almost no practical purpose (other than, you know, getting out of Korea). It’s an edifice that bought him nothing in practical terms, but everything in psychological strength. (Until it started falling apart.)

        • wsn

          re: city college

          I forget where (I think when talking w/ Connie at Roger’s wedding in “My Old Kentucky Home”), but once or twice Don qua Don talks about going to City College. Night school at that, I think. He doesn’t brag on it, but it’s part of Don Draper canon, as he defines it.

          • Jay

            The only time I recall Don bringing up night school was during “The Good News,” when Anna’s niece asked where he went to college.

        • dave

          A definition of ‘war hero’ that includes stealing another man’s name to get out-of-theatre after a few hours’ exposure is pretty capacious, frankly. I think he knows his behaviour was cowardly.

          • Medrawt

            Oh, of course. He’s clearly ashamed whenever somebody brings it up. All I’m saying is that if Dick Whitman hadn’t switched dog tags, he still would’ve gotten a Purple Heart. If he’d survived the rest of his deployment, nothing that happened afterwards needed to be any different. He could have shunned his family and left them behind, gone to night school, sold cars, written copy for a fur coat company, and so forth. He doesn’t talk about where he’s from, but he isn’t pretending to be from somewhere he isn’t, and he doesn’t contradict people when they guess accurately that he grew up on a farm, which given Don’s age would’ve implied pretty dire circumstances. (My own grandfather, who would’ve been a few years older since he was of age to serve during WWII [though he spent his service stateside] grew up on a small farm and remarked that the sign of his family’s prosperity relative to their neighbors was that they were able to hold on to their cow, and never needed to sell it or slaughter it for meat.) He didn’t take anything from the real Donald Draper’s life, except the name (which is inconsequential) and the early discharge.

        • SEK

          I’m certain Cooper specifically told Don to read one of Rand’s books at some point in a prior season.

          I tend to block out all mentions of that name, you know, to preserve my sanity.

          I don’t know if Weiner knew this when he wrote the pilot and first few episodes, but I think if you carefully parse the details, Dick/Don created a double life that served almost no practical purpose (other than, you know, getting out of Korea). It’s an edifice that bought him nothing in practical terms, but everything in psychological strength.

          I’m in complete agreement with this: Dick benefited not from becoming Don, but simply by becoming someone other than the son of a poor farmer.

  • Erin

    I haven’t commented before, but I do love your Mad Men posts :) Wonderful insight, as always.

    Another element that struck me in this scene was how closely the behavior of the querulous old man paralleled the interactions Don has had with women recently, and particularly in this very hallway. Twice we’ve seen young women ushering him through his own door (the neighbor who notices that he always fumbles his keys, and Allison when she brings his keys after the Christmas party), and naturally those are only two examples in the ongoing pattern of women meeting his needs without any reciprocal caretaking on his part. (As an aside, it kills me that when he fills his glass after Allison’s meltdown, it’s from the very bottle that she had clearly brought in to replace the one he’d earlier noted was empty.)

    So I connected Don’s reaction, as he watched the old man shout questions at his wife wearily walking toward him at the end of what was clearly a demanding journey, to his aborted attempt to write a letter of apology to Allison – an artifact of a growing discomfort with his own behavior, especially in terms of relationships. What he has with Betty was a mess, but at least there some genuine affection between them – now all he has is a series of women who treat him kindly until his behavior overcomes even their abundant goodwill. Metaphorically speaking, most of Don’s interactions with women since Betty could be described as him standing in a shabby hallway shouting for pears :)

    This is a problem for Don in particular because Don has an absolute horror of the ridiculous and the petty, and I think the hallway scene was yet another in a series of ego-bruising realizations that ridiculous and petty is exactly what his life is becoming, and in an increasingly public way. (Speaking of which, Joan’s choice of replacement secretary was a deliciously Joan-ish form of public censure, wasn’t it?) In fact, the old man is one up on Dan, because at least has a wife who cares enough to shop for him! Don no longer has that safety net. At the rate he’s going, he’ll be shopping for his own damn pears, and I’m pretty sure THAT idea is simply too humiliating for Don to bear.

    • SEK

      I haven’t commented before, but I do love your Mad Men posts

      Thanks. It’s odd how few comments they receive, but how many private emails they generate, so I’m always glad to see new comments and commenters on them.

      Twice we’ve seen young women ushering him through his own door (the neighbor who notices that he always fumbles his keys, and Allison when she brings his keys after the Christmas party), and naturally those are only two examples in the ongoing pattern of women meeting his needs without any reciprocal caretaking on his part.

      Absolutely, though I’m surprised it’s only been twice. It’s almost as if everyone except the elderly couple is shocked to see him in that building because, they believe, he clearly doesn’t belong there. And in a sense, they’re correct: “Don Draper” doesn’t belong there, and shouldn’t be there, and wouldn’t be there were it not for the fact that “Don Draper” has become Don Draper. (I’m putting a lot of interpretive weight on those quotation marks and should employ them more rigorously. Basically, I think he’s spent the majority of the series playing the part of “Don Draper,” and has only recently become Don Draper, the talented, sad, lonely drunk.)

      More later, as I think I may have set the kitchen on fire …

    • SEK

      This is a problem for Don in particular because Don has an absolute horror of the ridiculous and the petty, and I think the hallway scene was yet another in a series of ego-bruising realizations that ridiculous and petty is exactly what his life is becoming, and in an increasingly public way.

      This is spot on, and his behavior vis-a-vis Janzen highlights this–he wanted to make a successful ad, they wanted profit and petty moralization and he loathed them for the latter. He tried to organize his life such that only the important matters mattered, but ended up flattening his priorities to the point that he can’t tell distinguish the insignificant from that which really, really isn’t.

  • Henry Holland

    I don’t watch the show but read enough about it on blogs to know the basic outline of the plot. I think they’re in 1965 right now, correct? Is the show going to last long enough in terms of its own timeline to get to acid, The Human Be-In and Jimi Hendrix or is it so insular it can ignore all that? Thanks.

    • Gus

      I’ve been wondering who will be the first on the show to drop acid, and if his/her mind will be blown. There has been a certain amount of casual pot smoking. I thought perhaps Don’s trips to LA and his initial meeting up with a group of bohemian types there meant it would be him.

  • First, I too am a long-time lurker, first-time commenter at LGM and I too like SEK’s MM posts.

    I’m curious about your opinion re why you receive more email than posted comments. I have some thoughts but I won’t speculate publicly . . . maybe I’ll email you.

    I’m a Mad Men enthusiast. I’ve found “fan” can be a loaded word. At work, I’ve mentioned my enthusiasm and have received mostly shrugs, the occasional eye roll. I try to pitch the show as art, or a visual novel. More shrugs. I find my discussions on the InterTubes.

    Anyhow, for the record, on the background facts about “Don”‘s use of Don’s biographical history, Medrawt gets it right; he appears to have used the name just to get out of Korea alive. In the first episode this year, the reporter has an artificial leg and brings up Korea but I’m reasonably certain no one mentions Don served there. (But if the reporter has done his job, he would already be aware of this.) And Cooper is a Randian to a large degree and told Don he believed the two of them were very alike in this regard, then suggested Don spend $1.99 of his unexpected bonus to buy a copy of Atlas Shrugged. There’s been no hint that Don ever acted on this advice, in fact later he signs the whole check over to Midge, tells her to prop up General Motors (well, sort of).

    I really like “Don Draper is an ad for a product that no longer exists”. I may try to disseminate that concept as I wander the web. I’ll cite you. Great post.

    • SEK

      I’m curious about your opinion re why you receive more email than posted comments. I have some thoughts but I won’t speculate publicly . . . maybe I’ll email you.

      You’re more than welcome to speculate publicly, as it’s one of those matters in which my intuitions as a blogger are bound distort. That said, if I had to guess, I think it’s because when I perform close-readings of scenes or sequences from comics, they tend to be assertively making a single argument, and as such leave little room for dispute.

      I don’t think the average blog-reader encounters literary-type close-readings on a regular basis, so they’re not quite sure how to approach or criticize them–outside of pointing to factual errors, e.g. “wipe” above–even though there’s quite a bit of contestable material up there. (I know, because when I re-read these things days/weeks/months later, I cringe at what I missed, what I assumed, what I pressed too hard, etc.)

      But I might only think this because my professional life consists of training people how to be (and be critical of) close-readers, so that’s my go-to dynamic when a close-reading produces a reticent audience.

      In the same vein, because close-readings can only be refuted by other close-readings, and because people are reluctant to 1) perform and 2) share their close-readings in a public forum, many people respond to my close-readings but are uncomfortable commenting on them. Again, this may be me importing a classroom mindset somewhere it doesn’t belong, but it’s an understandable–and I hope, not insulting–instinct, because 90 percent of the time I present close-readings, it’s in a classroom.

      • gmack

        I think your assessment here is basically correct, though you leave off one crucial issue, which is that doing the sort of close reading on display here is really difficult. This is particularly true for me, at least with regard to reading the more straightforwardly “visual” dimensions of TV, film, and other media. Given my background, I tend to read visual media textually (i.e., I often focus on dialogue, story, character development, and so on; I have a much more difficult time understanding or interpreting the visual dimensions like camera angles and so forth–I’ve never been trained to do so, and I’ve never really practiced it).

        So for instance, when I first watched the scene between Pete and Peggy, I noted something close to your analysis of it, but I focussed on the lines between Peggy and the secretary (I think something like, “would you care to join us?” “I can’t,” or something like that. I’ll add that for a “textual” reader, the specifics of the lines are important, so my lack of memory here annoys me). The verbal lines end up pointng out the dynamics you identified through an analysis of the camera shots; and with the lines and the visuals we see the divisions between these spaces and the incapacity to “belong” multiplied in a variety of ways.

        Anyway, watching this show while reading your analyses has really deepened my appreciation of the show. So thanks!

        • SEK

          Two quick notes:

          1. It’s not actually that difficult to start noticing the visual aspects of the show, once you know what you’re looking for. I try to include links to the Yale site whenever possible, and once you’re acquainted with that basic vocabulary, you can start to understand what the person behind the camera’s up to.

          2. The best way to pay attention to the visual elements is to try and write about them. This is one case where the doing absolutely informs the knowing. As I wrote in response to one of the aforementioned emails:

          What I love about writing about film with screen shots (or comics with panels) is that the process of capturing, cropping and posting them forces you to slow the fuck down and take them in slowly. It’s almost impossible not to stare at whatever you’re working with for less than ten minutes, and the result is a close reading that’s much more observed than, say, one of a passage from a novel or a bit of a poem in which you cut and paste the relevant text. Insight follows tedious function, in this regard, I guess.

          Or maybe this is me preparing to teach again, because I’m about to have to convince a few roomfuls of students that what I do in posts like these is an acquirable skill.

          • I think that gmack is right on; at an International Studies Association panel on Battlestar Galactica last February, your name was invoked as someone who understood television in a non-textual manner. What we were doing with BSG was entirely textual, while this represents an entirely different level of engagement.

            • SEK

              Why wasn’t I informed? (I have an ego to be stoked, after all.) Also, should you ever need someone to perform a non-textual reading in the future, I’m more than happy to oblige/add a line to my increasingly schizophrenic CV. (One of these days I’ll publish something actually related to the dissertation I wrote on late-19th Century non-Darwinian evolutionary theory and popular culture instead of, say, Mad Men, Cerebus, Watchmen, The Wire, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw or academic blogging.)

            • gmack

              I’ll add that I do agree with SEK that this sort of visual interpretation is a skill that can be acquired (just like reading texts). However, it is not a skill that I have ever been trained in or have practiced, which is partly why I like these posts so much. Not only do I learn something new about various media that I like, but they also encourage me to focus on different aspects of the media I encounter.

              One more brief note: there is a direct correlation between the activity of taking screen shots and doing close readings of quotes from a text. When I’m doing a close reading of a text, I never cut and paste the passage, but instead write it out. I often do it long hand (rather than typing), because the practice really does help me to take my time, which in turn helps me to understand how the sentence is constructed and see implications or shades of meaning that I might otherwise miss.

      • Thanks for follow-up and the Yale link (further down-thread),that looks like something I will find use for, especially if you have time to keep posting all season.

        Just to clarify a bit, I like to publicly speculate just as much as the average pseudonymous blogger, (I was mostly aiming for some self-deprecating irony there with that line), but your response defines a lot of what I was considering to opine. And gmack and Robert actually fill in much of the rest; after reading I felt suddenly completely pre-articulated.

        Yet to be redundant because I’m here and all, I’m similar to gmack in that my tendency is to concentrate on the writerly aspects of a show,(e.g. over the course of the series they’ve made the same string of words come from different characters in different contexts produce a completely different effect, like Don, Peggy and I think Roger say “I don’t know if that’s true” multiple times) and because that is my natural inclination, I feel sort of negligent after I read one of your analyses because obviously television and film is very much a visual medium. I thought this vague feeling of inadequacy might be shared by some of your emailers, thus leading to the response imbalance.

        I see better now that your voice of, what I sense is well-earned, authority and certitude in this field combined in the post with the display of the actual physical, visual proof may be intimidating, for lack of a more precise word at the moment, thus the reticence. You’re spot on, the classroom tone definitely transfers to a post like this.

        Also, I get the impression you would have been an equally effective litigator. Is that how they justify not changing the header to Lawyers, Guns and Visual Rhetoric?
        (I trust the spirit of Zevon realizes I jest and chooses to not haunt my sleep tonight) Thanks again SEK.

  • Soren

    I just wanted to chime in.

    I enjoy your Mad Men posts very much. The new season hasn’t started yet, so I read them knowing it might tip me of on the storyline, but with a show like this, though the story is important, the real entertainment value is experience the story through the characters, so I tempt fate.

    The fact that I am behind in my viewing also gives me the advantage of seeing the episodes with your posts in the back of my mind.

    An I must say, I admire the skill you have for analysing the visual clues.

    When I saw the final episode of season three I tried to notice the camera work in the Peggy/Don scene, but my attention was lead astray by the story told, rather than the tools used to tell the story.

    I am not visually minded – I do not think in images but in words, For instance, if someone asks me how my wife looks, I have to struggle to see her for my inner eye clearly enough to describe her (in fact by now, I’ve got the salient facts memorized).

    So reading your analysis really opens up a whole new world for me. Very interesting.

It is main inner container footer text