This one almost ended the reading list before it got out of the gates.
Bertram Cooper calls Don into his office in S01E08 (The Hobo Code), tells him to take his shoes off and then offers him a huge bonus ($2,500).
Then he says the following:
“Have you read her? Rand. Atlas Shrugged. That’s the one… When you hit 40 you realize you’ve met or seen every kind of person there is, and I know what kind you are because I believe we are alike. By that I mean you are a productive and reasonable man and completely self-interested. It’s strength. We are different; unsentimental about all the people that depend on our hard work.”
I had no interest in picking up another Ayn Rand book after ploughing through The Fountainhead (because a friend insisted I “had to” read it), and I certainly didn’t have a tonne of appetite for Rand’s final novel: the “dramatization of her unique vision of existence and of man’s highest potential,” her 12-year project, her longest book (1,168 pages), the tome of tomes: Atlas Shrugged.
I went back-and-forth. Bert wasn’t actually reading the book, so I didn’t NEED to read if surely.
Then, Don rides his Rand super-hero character for two episodes, and Bert offers him partnership in S1E11 (Indian summer). Don accepts, but with “no contract.” Classic Rand. Bert doesn’t miss this.
“Beware the non-conformist. I’m going to introduce you to Miss Ayn Rand. I think she’ll salivate.”
Dang. No getting around it. I had to read it or the project would be nothing.
So, I read it. Well, I actually did this one on CD, which was a pretty fun experience actually. I was commuting a lot so why not?
For this project, and for this show we have to ask the following question: Is Don John Gald? Is he the Rand super hero?
Based on how the Hobo Code episode ends, it seems a simple: yes.
Don flings his bonus check to his mistress Midge and walks out of her stoner apartment past a cop Midge and all her friends are afraid of with a nod and a good night.
SIDE NOTE: The Hobo Code may be the best title for an episode ever.
Rand super hero indeed.
Don is devoid of sentimentality, community, nostalgia, and driven by productivity, creativity and self-interest.
Or is he?
There’s a scene or two where we see cracks forming letting his pesky past come to the surface. In After he finally convinces Rachel Menken to sleep with him in S1E10 (Long Weekend), Don tells her about his prostitute mother who died in childbirth and drunk father who died getting kicked in the face by a horse when Don was 10. He is looking back.
Is this Don or Dick talking here? Both? How would Rand look at Don here?
Adam Whitman hangs himself at the beginning of the next episode.
Here’s a quote from the book:
“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.”
This is so Don. This type of philosophy follows him throughout the series, but it is always threatened by friends, family, our past, circumstances, love, lust, and support. This is not Don’s inspiration’ it’s his torture.
At the end of S01E11 (Indian Summer), Pete Campbell intercepts a box of photos and mementos from Don’s past when he was Dick Whitman and had a brother named Adam.
Pete, predictably, tries to blackmail Don. Give me the position or else I’ll tell Bert Cooper.
Don runs directly to Rachel frantically asking her to run away with him. She is repulsed and sees right through it. She sees Dick Whitman.
“You don’t want to run away with me; you just want to run away,” she says and kicks him out. She’s gone on an “ocean voyage” an episode later and returns just twice. She knows Don and Dick, and she is ejected unceremoniously.
When Peggy breaks down asking why the evil of the office are allowed to run around while those trying to do good are punished, Don calls Pete out. Go ahead. Tell Cooper. Pete tattles, Bert says, ‘who cares,’ and Don is vindicated. The super hero has survived an attack that seemed fatal.
Then we learn about Dick Whitman.
Under fire in the Korean War, a cowardly Dick hugs his rifle in a foxhole and waits for the firing to stop, while Don (the real Don) keeps his relative cool. Dick, having pissed himself, then drops his Zippo which lights a trail of fuel and triggers an explosion that kills Don and wins Dick-now-Don a purple heart and trip home.
Liar, coward, lucky loser is what Dick Whitman is. Turns out he’s an opportunist too. He abandons Adam, his past and his cowardliness and creates Don.
Here’s a question: Is the created and false Don relevant as Rand’s prototype or does he fail because he is not, indeed, true? Dick certainly is not Rand’s ideal. Dick, however, created Don, so is he writing the character as he inhabits it?
“People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I’ve learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked…The man who lies to the world, is the world’s slave from then on…There are no white lies, there is only the blackest of destruction, and a white lie is the blackest of all.”
Here’s a theory: Don works in theory but falls apart in reality. Everyone’s Don is attacked by their Dick. Everyone drops a Zippo and messes everything up.
“We might be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us,” Jimmy Gator in Magnolia.
Don’s self-interest and forward thinking hurts everyone including himself, and, the thing is, he doesn’t believe it.
Betty is so sad in S1E13 (The Wheel) she breaks down when pleading with weird little Glen Bishop (Marten Holden Weiner) to talk with her because she doesn’t have anyone else to talk to.
“Please tell me I’ll be okay. Adults don’t know anything Glen.”
The final episode gives one of Don’s most memorable pitches, which may answer the Rand conundrum.
“Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent.”
The question is always: Does Don believe his pitches? This one seems to be one where he cannot resist its truths.
The episode and season ends with Don on the train heading home. He has had a change of heart. He daydreams about making it home in time to go to Betty’s family’s home for Thanksgiving and we are all so much happier that he’s doing the right thing. It is so charming.
Thing is, he’s dreaming.
He actually gets home, there’s no one there and he sits on the stairs the most depressed person that ever lived.
Absolute self-interest and lack of nostalgia is an abstract concept. In Mad Men, in life, people matter. Support matters. Your past matters. We can run fast, and construct a million identities in compensation, but the past will find us, and we will need those around us to get through it.
The final scene tells us every single thing we need to know about Don Draper, Dick Whitman, Mad Men, Ayn Rand and identity.
It is so perfectly shot and paced in its sadness and loneliness. Don, as creator Matthew Weiner said, is incomplete, empty and sad.
The season ends with Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.”
As if I needed another reason to love this show.