Donald Draper, or should I say Dick Whitman is often portrayed as Mad Men’s libertine. His often perceived as living without moral principles, and takes no responsibility for the mess he leaves behind. Throughout the show we learn that this only one of the many layers of Don Draper. A man who seems to have endless layers. I believe this is what makes him such a compelling character to the audience. As the series goes on and the audience can grow with Don and see the unending ups and downs that fill his life. Don is searching for the meaning of it all, just like the rest of us, and that’s what makes him such an endearing person.
In the first scene of the first episode of Mad Men“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, the opening scene is Don Draper have sexual relations with a woman in a grungy New York City Apartment. It is not until the latter end of the episode in which we find out Don Draper has a wife and kids and a house in the suburbs representative of a Norman Rockwell painting.
The viewer’s first impression of Don is this lying, cheating, duplicitous man who does as he pleases. This very well is the intention of the shows creator Matthew Weiner. He wants to create this character that seemingly has no moral compass, and juxtapose that with the real internal struggle occurring within the being of Don Draper.
Don in fact to the core does not know his true identity, it was lost somewhere on the long road that has ironically brought him success. See it is important to know that Don Draper was not always a hot shot Creative Director pioneering innovation and insight into the advertising world. No his beginnings and much less glorious, not humbled, but depressed. Don Draper’s enigmatic past only surfaces throughout the series when Don is struggling to battle with his true identity.
The real Don Draper lies dead somewhere in Korea. As I stated before, Don Draper is really Dick Whitman. In the episode “Nixon vs. Kennedy” we find out the true nature of Don’s identity. Don Draper was Dick Whitman’s commanding officer during his short duration serving in the Korean War. During a unexpected artillery attack by enemy forces, Don Draper was victim of an explosion leaving his remains unrecognisable to the eye. This was when Dick Whitman decided this was his chance to leave his current life behind. The absurd nature of the events, present this decision as an illusion of destiny.
You may ask yourself why would a man go to such great lengths, and possibly face imprisonment just to change his name? The answer is the makeup of who Don truly is. Dick Whitman a bastard child from rural Illinois. Dick grew up in an abusive household with alcoholic father and a mother who despised his existence. For the moment Dick was born he was not accepted, he was lost, an outlaw to society. He was a constant reminder of infidelity to his father, and therefore was never accept into his fathers arms. On a fateful stormy Illinois night Dick watched his drunkard of a father stumble into the stables to prepare a horse for a delivery ride to the city. His father on the verge of being broke, was desperate for any money he could get. Dick was called on to help his father make this critical trip. While helping his father saddle up the horse, a roll of thunder spooked the horse sending a hoof into Archie Whitman’s face. His father too numb to feel anything died instantly. Dick stood above his lifeless father, neither sad, nor happy, only indifferent in the wake of absurdity.
Dick loved his father nonetheless, but he could not see it then. At that moment everything had changed, he thought it would be for the better, but things would only get worse. He spent the remainder of his childhood years living at his Uncle’s whore house, where he grew up fast. Surrounded by sex and women Dick cultivated a jaded view of how women are supposed to be treated.
Throughout the series we learn about Don’s unfortunate formative years through a series of flashbacks that begin to peal away the bravado of Don Draper’s illustrious character, and allude us to deeply vulnerable man battling with his morality. At the core of Don Draper’s being he is lost, and he consistently behave’s incongruous with his moral principles to cover up the true darkness that haunts him from the past.
That’s why he took a new identity, because he thought everything he would instantly vanished. The past would disappear, leaving all his problems behind. For a while this worked, until these feelings suppressed by the pressures that be could not be held in any longer. They may have not been explicitly stated in lines of dialogue or emotional discourse. Instead they were explained by his immoral behaviour and disregard for moral implications.
In the episode “Forecast” in season 7 of Mad Men Don has gotten past sharing his true identity with those who surround him. During a client meeting with Hersey the season before Don left everything on the table about his dark past. While his vulnerability was of great relief to him, it cost the company business, and his job. With everything out in the open to his peers, the only one left to deal with is himself. Don is constantly running away from his true self, he can’t accept it.
The episode “Forecast” deals with what Don see’s for the future. He is asked to write an address for the company of where he see’s it going in the future. He struggles deeply with this proposition, because he doesn’t know where he see’s himself in the future. The future cannot be predicted, and often times when we try to predict the future we are wrong. Much like the metaphorical meaning of this episodes title, the weather forecast is often times unpredictable.
We have been on a tremendous journey with the mysterious Don Draper, while things seem to be slowing down in the world around him, he is racing to find answers like us all. That what keeps us coming back, this yearning for a solution, a concrete answer of our existence, but it only leaves us with more unanswered questions. It’s time for Don to stop running, or maybe this is only the beginning of his journey. For the answers ahead lie unknown.