WARNING: Contains future spoilers (probably)
Don Draper doesn’t have much time left as a partner at SC&P. Why do I think this? Well first of all, his name’s no longer on the door.
Let’s start with the opening credit sequence. For the last seven years, it’s depicted a man at his peak plummeting helplessly. In previous seasons, we’ve seen Draper lose his domesticity, his secrets, his wife, his mojo, his protégé, his family, his mind, his partners. This season, we’ve watched him let slip the trust of his children and his second chance at a committed relationship. With only two episodes left, I think we’re going to watch him lose his job, too.
The show’s creator Matthew Weiner and his stable of writers are clever enough that I don’t dare guess exactly how this will come about, but just as signs of Peggy’s departure and Lane’s “departure” were peppered throughout season five, Draper’s departure has had more than a little foreshadowing. Here’s how:
The Passion of Ted Chaough
This season, Chaough has had at least three scenes in which he spoke admiringly about Don Draper to someone else; calling him articulate, elegant, and brilliant. But Chaough’s also had more than a few constipated altercations with him. A running theme these last two seasons has been that Draper stopped giving a damn professionally. Rousing drumbeats ahead of Jaguar and Dow aside, the perception and matching reality is that Don’s attentions are elsewhere – anywhere – besides advertising, and Ted has been at the forefront (with Pete Campbell close behind) in calling attention to this fact.
And speaking of Pete Campbell…
Who Goes to Bat for Don?
When you’re great, you can get away with being “a cold fish,” as Burt Peterson called Draper moments before being fired a second time. When you slip from greatness, there’s a throng waiting to mangle you. Roger Sterling, I suspect, will always back Draper. But Sterling himself, has been lost in the wilderness for more than two years. It’s unclear who, beside Sterling will stand behind Draper. Joan Harris might, but she’s had her issues with Draper making company decisions without the consent of the other partners. And even if she didn’t take issue with this, the fact that he does it showcases her omnipotence among the partners and suggests that her voice wouldn’t carry enough weight.
What’s most intriguing is that Chaough, Campbell and Peggy Olson are likely the three with the highest regard for Draper and it may be this very triumvirate that walk Draper out of the proverbial door. It’s no accident that these three had a tender scene of drunken revelry in episode 11. The “drive, brains and beauty,” Ted said about the three of them, “was the company [he] always wanted to work for.”
And no one disagreed. And where was Draper?
Chaough and Campbell especially have an admiring-yet-unrequited respect for Draper that has left both men hunched with bitterness toward him. Unlike Chaough, whose frustration stems from a professional blockage, Campbell’s gluttonous entitlement stems from a precociousness that digs closer to the bone. I don’t believe it to be an accident that in the weeks leading up to the Season 6 finale, Ted’s piloting has usurped Don’s charisma as the most macho trait in the office. Added to all this is Ted’s partner, Jim Cutler, who may or may not be using fresh-faced account man Bob Benson as a sleeper agent to eradicate all of Draper’s hard work. The intention was to remove all of Draper’s creatives, but I imagine Cutler would be just as content removing the head instead of the limbs.
Don D’s Inferno
Ahead of this season, Weiner said that the show would watch Draper sink into the lowest depths of himself; that “this man is in his worst state — the way 1968 is — because it is overrunning his life … He’s going into hell. This is the descent. Maybe he’ll come out on the other side, or maybe he’ll just take up residence there.” Indeed, we’re introduced to Draper at the start of this season ignoring Megan and reading Dante’s “Inferno.”
Viewers have noticed how ragged and drawn Draper has looked throughout most of this season. We’ve seen his redemptive second marriage devolve into a pair of transient acquaintances passing through the shared spaces of their Central Park apartment. We’ve seen Draper carry on two adultering relationships this season (Sylvia Rosen and Betty Francis both severed their trysts definitively, leaving Don stunned by this unaccustomed neutering). We’ve seen his children express feelings of disconnectedness from their father (Bobby feared his step-father Henry would be assassinated following the Martin Luther King Jr. shooting, without a word of his own father’s safety. In another instance, Sally expressed mournfully that she really doesn’t know enough about her own father to befuddle a burglar). And we’ve seen myriad professional blunders from Draper; whether it was double-booking competing juice companies, losing Heinz Beans on a bad gamble for Heinz Ketchup, fooling himself about SCDP’s shot at Chevy, being ill-prepared for Carnation Instant Breakfasts, tanking a pitch to Jaguar on purpose, and let us not forget the Royal Hawaiian hotel pitch that devolved into a discussion about the morbidity of Heaven. Here is a man falling lower into the depths of his own misery without any notion of how to climb out. But he hasn’t hit rock bottom because all the things he’s told himself are important still appear to exist as long as he can go to work, demand a coffee from his secretary and close his office door behind him.
But if Betty finds out what her daughter saw her ex-husband doing with yet another one of his mistresses and decides to interject herself into the problem by contacting Megan, it would compel Don to level his undivided attention on that situation while the Judases and Brutuses at SC&P conspire against him. And if that happens, there is more than a small probability that “Mad Men”’s protagonist will begin the show’s final season from within the heap of smoldering ash.
| by Adam Shafer