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

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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.)

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