But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.
Don Draper, Mad Men —
Don Draper, Mad Men —
No I don’t mind, thanks for asking Anon :) Interesting question. I’d say, when it comes to love I think Don wants to believe but in some ways can’t. Don is emotionally stunted, and especially when it comes to romantic love he has a lot of messed up ideas about How Things Are Supposed To Be. Cynicism is kind of a sliding scale, it’s not like you suddenly go from being faithful to being 100% done with hope of any kind. A lot of cynics are cynics because cynicism is their way of coping with the doubt that comes from trying to believe something you can’t tangibly grasp and prove, like love and hope and faith and all that sort of stuff. The universe never has a clear answer so you always have to take a chance on something and that opens you up to pain and people by nature try to avoid or lessen pain and cynicism is one way of doing that. Only it doesn’t make the desire to believe in something that makes you feel actively good, like love, go away.
So the presence of cynicism doesn’t mean that Don doesn’t believe in love — or I should say, that he doesn’t want to believe in love. But it does mean that he has some difficulty in doing so. He’s aware of the role modern society, via his little but not insignificant niche in it (advertising), has played in creating false expectations in order to manipulate behavior, and that automatically will make it hard to believe in the purity or whatnot of those feelings involved. It’s like seeing the man behind the wizard of Oz’s curtain.
At the very least Don wanted to be in love with Betty. He obviously had a lot of feelings and meaning wrapped up in the idea of being with her. Does that mean he loves her as a human being rather than an idea? That might be a question for the philosophers (those smarter than myself, lol). What does love mean anyway? There’s definitely an element of illusion to his perception of her, if you recall the Valentine’s Day episode (S2?) where she comes gliding down the balcony all golden and gussied up, it’s an extremely romanticized visual. He put her on a pedestal, and always in the back of his fearful mind she was the rich socialite for whom a poor orphan son of a whore (his self perception, not mine) would never be good enough. Also what really drives it home is the letter he wrote Betty after she left him, where he said “I think about you and how I behaved and my regret. I know it’s my fault that you are not here right now. I think about tomorrow where you’ll be and the day after that as well. I understand why you feel it’s better to go on without me and I know that you won’t be alone for very long, but without you I’ll be alone forever.” Like the carousel scene, it’s one of Don’s more outstanding emotional compositions, it’s really fundamentally romantic. But is it honest, or is it Don being the persuasive ad man that he is? Because is Don alone forever? After Betty he had this apparently stable relationship with Faye, she was no fling, and of course he married Megan, and while he couldn’t stay faithful to her, he is certainly not alone. While we see he has a lingering connection with Betty, I don’t think he’s pining after her on the daily like the letter reasonably suggests.
But does that mean it was insincere at the time Don wrote it? Feelings are funny, sometimes deep passions prove ephemeral even for more honest people than Don. Also, that ad man side of Don isn’t just incidental and it isn’t learned simply for the task of a paycheck. Don is good at what he does because he is that persuasive ad man deep in his bones, he lives it, he is it, it comes from the basic rudderlessness that defines Don’s life. He makes meaning and narratives out of what’s around him because he doesn’t know what to believe in, only that he needs to believe in something. So there are some pitches, like the carousel, like the letter, that could easily be more sincere than others, because that’s honestly the most that emotionally stunted Don is capable of. And if that’s the best he can do, doesn’t it count for something?
Also, if what Don felt for Betty isn’t real love, then what is? I’m not saying that things like Don intimidating Betty and cheating on Betty and lying to Betty should be considered acts of love, because I don’t think they are. But I come back to that question, what is love? What does “real” love look like? Is there any human being who loves another human being without bringing what we may term personal baggage to the relationship? Is there any human being who is without personal baggage, even very small baggage? We all have a life we live all on our own, inside our own psyches, that is impervious to anyone else, and because that innate solitude is a part of human existence, there’ll always be something self-serving in our relationships, because our relationships are filtered through our own inevitably individual definitions of meaning. And since those who define “real love” often do so by invoking notions of altruism, does that mean that nobody “really” loves? I think this is a very interesting question but I don’t really have an answer. I don’t know if the realest that love ever gets is a really strong but ultimately defeatable attachment, a preference for XYZ of some degree or other. I just don’t know so when it comes down to it I actually don’t have a clear-cut answer about if Don loved Betty.
I do think he was very attached to her and a big part of him wanted things to work out with her to the most sincere extent that he was capable of. But obviously he is very messed up and his self sabotaging habits got in the way. Betty was right, he really did throw everything away, even if the reasons he did so invoke very valid criticisms of modern American society’s treatment of human worth and human relationships.
As for the Kodak carousel scene, I cried probably for the same reasons some cry at a Kodak card — I’m sure the use of that brand name was not a simple accident. It was designed to pull your heart strings. The appeal to nostalgia automatically made those at the meeting think of things they regret losing, essentially innocence they’ll never recover, and not due to any clear villain but due simply to life, which is one of those “adult” lessons that push one further and further away from that ever-attractive nexus of happiness one associates with early life. Some say the womb is the happiest we’ll ever be, warm and impossibly nurtured, and every minute we spend after exiting it is a search for that happiness, impossible and inevitable; perhaps a curse. That Kodak carousel scene is about mourning for happiness lost. And really, Mad Men is a show that, if it’s about any one thing, it’s about happiness: what people do to get happiness, what they consider to constitute happiness, how they (mis)behave when happiness goes away. Happiness has an inescapable effect on human nature in its presence and absence and that really explains everything people do in Mad Men. So that carousel scene from the first season is very fundamental in setting up what I see as Weiner’s guiding principle of human behavior: we’re all trying to get back to that place where we know, where we are certain, in this universe of vague probability and oppressive uncertainty, that we were loved.
I have to go to work now Anon but if I’m not sufficiently clear about something or didn’t answer well just drop me another note and I’ll respond after I get home!
Because it is not like they have the same mission statement happening with its characters. They are on the same network and are labeled the shows with the anti-hero protagonist for the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of Television. Walter White and Don Draper are different beasts that would require a doctoral thesis to break down just how different they are, even if both characters represent something inherently American. But where these two shows are really different is from a creative standpoint.
Matthew Weiner comes from the school of David Chase. He definitely is the omnipresent show-runner that while even if there is some level of apprenticeship with his other writers, he seems set on having his mark on each episode. Vince Gilligan comes more from the team-work, network television background that he had on The X-Files, that had a great writers staff. Vince Gilligan rejects this feeling that this ‘Golden Age’ of TV is because TV creators are transforming more into auteurs. If anything Gilligan is the last guy who takes credit for the episode, even when the episode is credited to him as a writer or director.
Influences as far as both shows go from other media is also worlds apart. Matthew Weiner looks at auteurs like Sirk, Antonioni, Ophuls, Cocteau, Wilder, among other directors who had their marks in the 1950s and 1960s. The show itself is pretty novelistic, a whole season was constructed around Dante’s Inferno for goodness sakes, with Cheever, Updike, Yates, and Roth among others. The NY Public Library was entirely right to release a Mad Men reading list of just the books featured on the show that clearly inform who the characters are. It is definitely a show that works like a Great American novel.
If Mad Men gets its cinema from the ’50s and ’60s then Breaking Bad gets its cinematic informed aesthetic and tone from cinema around the late ’70s and definitely through the ’80s and ’90s. It is pretty clear that Vince Gilligan is influenced by the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, William Friedkin, Don Siegel, Sam Peckinpah, Quentin Tarantino, and going the furthest back in time, the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns. I think the people who sometimes have problem with the fandom of Breaking Bad taken by the ‘badassery’ of the show in terms of its filmmaking and Walter White would probably have/do have the same issues with Leone, early Scorsese, and early Tarantino. But back to the Coen Brothers, Gilligan, like the Coens, also shares a moralizing compass that for whatever reason viewers and critics either find immediately or cannot see it at all and blame the creators. The Coen Brothers, movie to movie, are probably the worst filmmakers for people to make instant judgments on their intentions and sincerity because it is often not what you expect despite being pretty straight-forward filmmakers in terms of story and plot. I would not go that far with Vince Gilligan and his writers necessarily, because the Coens are masters, but they seem to have a long-game that viewers and critics should pick up on by now in terms of their plotting and characters that. When the who and the what are introduced often they do not always end up as you saw it on first glance. Also like the Coen Brothers, Vince Gilligan and his writers are definitely not ones to dismiss the great pleasures of the pulp novel be it Elmore Leonard, Jim Thompson, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Cormac McCarthy, and others. The sense of dread, the serialization, and going into the minds of characters on either side of the law if perhaps the mind of a morally gray character, is what makes the series.
You can guess by the way both series are constructed that one will probably end on an ambiguous note versus the other having a constructed, definitive ending. I would not want to have it any other way. Mad Men would just not be the same if it followed Breaking Bad’s structure and mission statement and neither would Breaking Bad under Mad Men’s mission statement and structure.
Well IMO …
Don cheats because he doesn’t know what he wants, and Don doesn’t know what he wants because Society/Culture/America/etc tells him that Men Should want XYZ and all the messages have messed him up and made him a rather shitty lover/life partner/thing. Don wants to be happy with what he has but he isn’t used to contentedness and doesn’t know what to do with it and he’s one of those guys that loves something when he doesn’t have it. Once he has it, it’s not the same any more. Like Rachel Menken said in S1, Don just wants to run away, that’s what the idea of California always represented in contrast to his New York-planted life.
Don has issues with women going back to his childhood mother issues, he had little affection and we see that, growing up in a whorehouse or such, there were instances where affection was mixed with sexual inappropriateness. Part of Don loves to be in love with perfect women. Betty was the perfect woman of the 50’s, Megan could be seen as a perfect woman adapted for the 60’s. Don put Betty on a pedestal, and I think he honestly thought he was doing better (ie being more realistic) with Megan, and he might have tried, but it was still a struggle for him because he is an old dog and so are his spots. Part of Don also lusts for the, well, “whores”. Don suffers big time from the Madonna/Whore complex, as of course do other men. Don has professed to love Betty, Rachel, Suzanne, Faye, and Megan. He has also had almost purely sexual relationships with Midge, Bobbie, Lorelai the flight attendant, Doris the diner waitress, Sylvia, and lots of other women I don’t think we even had names for because that’s all they meant to Don anyway. There’s clear and distinct, if not homogenous, two different groups here, it seems to me.
So yeah Don cheats because he’s messed up inside and doesn’t know how to be happy and quite possibly is irrevocably engineered to act self destructively due to the warped social conditioning that the show, IMO, convincingly proves is a timeless American legacy. I dunno if that answers your question satisfactorily but I hope? Like, that’s what I think the show has demonstrated. Yeah his marriage to Betty was a bit of “playing house” but it doesn’t mean the problems began and ended with Betty. Don’s cheating is a way for us to examine some messed up ideals of American masculinity by looking at their effects.
(If you haven’t finished yet, come back when you can answer!) Where does Season 6 of Mad Men rank on your list of Mad Men seasons? Favorite? Least favorite? Somewhere in between?
“I’m thinking about how different you are before and after. I love the way you look at me when you’re like this. But then I watch it decay. I can only hold your attention so long.” — Betty Francis
“I keep trying to make things the way things used to be, but I don’t know how.” — Megan Draper
“That poor girl. She doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to get to you.” — Betty Francis
“weaponed woman” by Gwendolyn Brooks
└ Joan Holloway, Mad Men
Well, life has been a baffled vehicle
And baffling. But she fights, and
Has fought, according to her lights and
The lenience of her whirling-place.
She fights with semi-folded arms,
Her strong bag, and the stiff
Frost of her face (that challenges “When” and “If.”)
And altogether she does Rather Well.
Joan Holloway to Don Draper, Mad Men 6.06 “For Immediate Release” —
This quote just floated by on my dash right now:
Having a low opinion of yourself is not modesty. It’s self-destruction.
and it got me to thinking about Megan Draper in MM.3.05 “The Flood”. You know, she was totally downplaying her own importance when it came to the award she was nominated for from SCDP, disclaiming that she was, oh, only part of a team. But she was also there building up the self esteem of the neighbor who was going to DC because he was asked to give a speech (or smth?) and she told Peggy that she should be proud of herself for her own nomination.
What a totally recognizable thing that women do, eh? Just to be seen as gracious and appropriately modest, lest anyone think we’re bitches, selfish, etc etc.
So much of the way women are socialized involves cutting yourself down to size.
George Taylor, Planet of the Apes, via Mad Men 6.05 “The Flood” —