Note: This is an opinion article regarding themes from the Mad Men finale by our newest TV contributor Chet King. It includes spoilers for the finale and ongoing themes throughout the series.
Don Draper should have died last night. For me, Mad Men was based on Don’s search for his soul in the life he took from a dead man, but the foreshadowing of his imminent demise was always hard to ignore. The opening sequence shows a man falling from a window, his preoccupation with the patio in his penthouse apartment, and his tendency to stare out of windows all pointed to the icy cold hand of eternity. But death did not bestow it’s gentle release on Don at the end because he traded another soul in exchange: Dick Whitman’s.
Dick Whitman had some bad habits. Blurting out his creepy childhood to Coca-Cola execs in an introductory meeting, walking out of meetings to drive across the nation, and banging every gloomy brunette that would spread their legs for him. Dick was an emotional supercell with a wake of destruction in his path. This is what made Don human. More than the bourbon, Lucky Strikes, and sharp lines, this internal chaos made Don a real man.
Real men hurt. Real men doubt themselves. Real men soul search. Real men have emotional baggage and Dick Whitman had a convoy of broken homes and hearts to help him bear his. He was raised in a brothel and went to war to improve his odds. He was partially responsible for his commanding officer’s death and, to escape the war, he stole the dead man’s identity. That’s some deep shit to process.
But for all of Dick’s turmoil, the millionaire genius Don Draper was there to push through and rollover everything. Don Draper had no time to heal, he had more money to make. Don Draper was an emotionless idea machine. He was a succubus draining Dick Whitman for inspiration.
I rooted for Dick. Not because I enjoyed his destruction, but because he felt remorse, regret, shame, and all the feelings I feel as a man, a husband, and a father. I am a Dick. (insert giggles) I struggle with my emotions, with my past, and my mistakes just like Dick. I have to fight my id to be a better person just like Dick. I don’t have to worry about my millions in the bank or winning an account…I’m no Don Draper. Don Draper was a rich asshole that talked down to women and fired incredible employees because of their sexuality. Fuck Don Draper.
The show deliberately pointed out this dichotomy in the final scenes last night. As the poor, downtrodden father ranted about how he felt no value in his own family, I smiled and nodded. My heart sang when Dick got up and hugged the man while they shared a good cry. Dick was finally doing some healing in Big Sur and I was so glad they didn’t have him jump out of a window! I smiled like a dumb schmuck while he meditated on a cliff because Dick was winning the battle and they were killing Don Draper. Finally!
Then they pushed Dick out of the penthouse window. They pushed me out the window. The falling silhouette wasn’t Don….it was Dick. It was modern masculinity. There was no room for emotions on Madison Avenue in 1970 and healing was a sign of weakness. Don took Dick’s victory and sold it to Coca Cola.
I needed another Old Fashioned to cope with my loss. Thanks for the ride, Mad Men.