Donald Draper is a man among men. Underneath his suave exterior is a truly complex character who never fails to surprise. What makes Don such an alluring and mysterious figure, as well as one of the most compelling leads in television today, is his volatile unpredictability. Many admire him for his handsome looks, fine taste in alcohol, and sharp wardrobe. Yet it is the moments that complicate his persona that make him more than another Don Juan. His acts of disruption, ever reflecting the tumult of 1960s America, have kept “Mad Men” compelling for seven smoke-infested seasons.
“What you call love was invented by guys like me...to sell nylons.”—Don
The show’s pilot introduces Don as a rising hot shot in one of Madison Avenue’s finest ad agencies. Like any other ad man, he has a knack for conceiving catchy phrases to associate good feelings with commercial products. One would like to think that these concepts come from a good place, but it is apparent that Don does not truly believe in his own ideas. He speaks of the very societal conventions he is paid to promote with disdain. Don’s integrity is compromised by his own incessant cynicism. All the while, he confidently blends into and inhabits the very society he mocks. Don’s cynicism provides many reasons to hate him, and yet it becomes the very reason why he is so fascinating; contention is just more interesting to watch.
“Nostalgia—it's delicate, but potent...It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn't a spaceship, it's a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards... it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It's not called the wheel, it's called the carousel. It let's us travel the way a child travels - around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.”—Don
In one of the greatest moments in “Mad Men,” Don delivers a pitch about a [Kodak wheel-shaped projector. He coins it “the Carousel” and delivers a heartfelt speech about nostalgia over pictures of his wife and children. The pitch room is Don’s zone, and he inhabits it with confidence. In light of the introduction to Cynical Don, one wonders as to whether or not he actually believes his own touching words. Don’s genius is not just in his poetic finesse in selling a product but also his ability to sell himself as a loving, family man—in fact, his entire adult life has basically been a lie. Appropriately, the entire room buys into him as they have already done with the product. His coworker leaves in tears because of the “genuine,” raw emotion emanating in the air. The irony underlying this scene is the contrast between the sentimentality of the photos and the possibility that Don is completely faking it. This disconnect is addressed many seasons later during the infamous “Hershey’s Pitch,” where, in a moment of weakness, he confesses to the clients that his entire pitch was a chocolatey, sugar-coated lie and instead reveals his true sob story. Unfortunately for Don, he should have remembered that the advertisement industry thrives on happiness, not sadness.
“You embezzled funds and you forged my signature…I’m going to need your resignation.”—Don
Firm, staunch, and blunt, Angry Don does not have time for bull. Nobody screws with Angry Don.
Drunk + Flirty + Platonic + Chivalrous Don
“Congratulations for getting divorced.”—Don
“I like being bad and going home and being good.”—Don
Don knows how to have fun, too. However, this side of him only appears after a couple of drinks. Alcohol, it seems, is the only remedy for his cynicism…but what a remedy it can be! In this bonding moment between Don and one out of two of his only platonic female friends, he confides in and consoles Joan after her divorce. In this state, Don’s charm and wit are on full throttle. Talking sweetly over Doris Day’s “The Christmas Waltz” in the background, Don redefines sexy.
“I worry about a lot of things, but I don’t worry about you.”—Don
“What do you have to worry about?”—Peggy
“That I never did anything, and I don’t have anyone.”—Don
Sensitive Don is a drink away from becoming a Wrecked Don. He does not often become vulnerable for the sake of somebody else. As Peggy (his other platonic female friend) has emotionally consoled him before, Don opens himself up and offers to have a serendipitous dance with Peggy to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way." The dance recognizes her astounding progress in the workplace as a woman and allows them to show each other a mutual respect long in the making. It is a beautiful moment between two colleagues-turned-friends that builds on their 7-season history together. They have truly done it their way.