Warning: This will contain SPOILERS
Despite what many critics say, Mad Men is not some glorification of the 1960s. The show is about identity; the reason Matthew Weiner set the show in the era seems to be because America itself was redefining itself, much like the central characters of the show: Pete as a top executive, Peggy as working woman who isn’t a secretary, and Don Draper as Don Draper.
Throughout the first 4 seasons it’s been Don’s dirty little secret that he is not Don Draper, but really Dick Whitman, bastard son of a prostitute who grew up in a poor, abusive, rural setting. One can only imagine why he seized the opportunity in Korea to switch lives with his commanding officer. Much of the conflict that has moved the plot for Don is his dealing with the past whether it be as simple as Pete trying to tattle on him or as complex as the ghost of his father calling him an embarrassment. For years Don tried to run from his past but it kept haunting him. He kept trying to be Don Draper and stop being Dick Whitman but he never could quite bury the latter.
Then in Season 3, the carefully crafted life of Don Draper began to fall apart. He had to jump ship and start a new agency, his wife found out his real name (and his various marital indiscretions) and cut him loose. Season 4 saw the death of the one person he could confide in as his true self (according to Don) and struggles with alcohol. To put it frankly, Don hit rock bottom in one of the best episodes of television ever created in “The Suitcase” (and how Kyle Chandler won the Emmy over Jon Hamm’s performance in that episode makes me think Emmy’s don’t mean anything).
And from the ashes a new Don emerged (with the help of Dr. Faye). He realized that his past is not forgotten, that he is who he is no matter what name he carries. He told his kids that Dick is a nickname that some people call him. He found a woman who made him happy, not just the woman he was supposed to marry and he even told her the entire Dick Whitman saga (which she teases him about).
Season 5 Don is clearly one comfortable with who he is to the outside world, something we have never seen before. Now we are seeing Don shape himself, not as some statute or piece to present to the outside world but according to who he fundamentally is at his core. Last week we saw him deal with his history of adultery not through getting caught in the act, but through a very vivid dream (and in a very Patrick Bateman-like way). This week we saw him reluctantly re-enter a sphere Old Don wanted so badly: suburban life. It was clear he was just being himself, quiet, polite, helpful. He let everyone else do the talking and almost sat back and observed bemusedly.
Then came the whorehouse. This was another temptation of New Don, and he passed with flying colors. Again in a situation where Old Don would have been right at home (or even Dick Whitman, more literally), the New Don just sat there and wryly took it all in and even offered the madame some decorating advice. Don has clearly found happiness in Megan and his situation at work and can finally be at peace, as the conversation with Pete in the cab told us.* It will be interesting to see through the rest of the series just who a comfortable, inward-looking, Don Draper really is.
*Many critics have slammed Don for his hypocrisy in disapproving of Pete’s adulterous actions at the whorehouse but I don’t think it was disdain for adultery as much as it was disdain for going to a whorehouse. Say what you will about his past sexual deviance, I think don’t think Don, as the son of a hooker, ever paid for sex and has every right to not like the idea of prostitution considering it resulted in his stepmother abusing him.
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