Skip to content

Don Draper Logic

Mad Men kicked off its third season on AMC last night, and it’s either jumped the proverbial shark or is heading into exciting and uncharted waters, depending on your slant. It’s no Sopranos-grade production and its creator Matthew Weiner is no David Chase, despite the former having worked for the latter on said superior program. Still, I thought it good enough to have the first season shipped to my dad, and he made it through all thirteen episodes in the time it generally takes my mom to figure out how to turn on the VCR. (Again, this is a relative comparison, and the Crimean War was decided in shorter order.) I knew the old man would dig the the early 60s time frame for the show, and find it accurately portrayed and executed. The production’s greatest hooks are largely superficial – everybody smokes like a chimney and is on their third office rye by noon – but it still works. Plus it’s a kick to trip back in time to when white women were allowed to have curves.

There is one intriguing theme running beneath the surface of Mad Men making it worthy of comparison to The Sopranos. Almost everybody on the show has some dark or darkly imagined secret that they’re trying to conceal, and in several cases their cover is compromised when another becomes privileged to this information. Don Draper, the principal character and a dapper, buttoned-down sort who plays things close to the chest has perhaps the most encompassing yet conventional secret of all: he isn’t who he claims to be and has stolen the identity of his dead Korean War lieutenant. One of the shows best moments comes when Pete Campbell, an unctuously ambitious subordinate, tries to blackmail and then ruin Draper by blowing his cover and ratting him out to Bertram Cooper, the head of the ad agency. “Mr. Campbell,” Cooper responds upon hearing the news, “who cares.” Potentially the best written four words in recent television history.

I was considering this “keeping up appearances” theme while thinking about a Steve Buscemi quote from Trees Lounge, a favorite film of mine which he also wrote and directed. Buscemi is doing coke at his uncle’s wake, waxing philosophic with some cousins. “Everybody’s fucked up,” he observes “and nobody wants you to know that they are, but everybody knows it anyway.” Had Buscemi taken this premise and added well-tailored suits, ample booze and four hundred cartons of Lucky Strikes, he may have tripped upon Mad Men. It isn’t the mystery or intrigue that makes Don Draper a watchable character, nor even his insight to the shameful secrets and truths everybody else is harboring. It’s his measured approach to an even more enlightened reality apparently attained by his boss, Bertram Cooper: nobody really gives a shit anyway.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. dick wrote:

    I don’t remember if they called it lucky stripe in Mad Men or not…It was really lucky strike…..which brings to mind an interesting fact which is similar to the theme of mad men. In 1942 their ad agency decided on the theme “Lucky Strike has gone to war”…and as part of their campaign they changed the color of their dark green package to a white package insisting that an element in the green package was essential to the war effort… Believe it or not this really happened ….

    Good piece..

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 12:04 am | Permalink
  2. admin wrote:

    Good catch – I changed it. Maybe they needed all the green they could muster to paint the tanks ..

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 12:10 am | Permalink
  3. Paul Tognotti wrote:

    Yes, good piece, Rick. I’ve only seen a few episodes of the show, and it didn’t stick with me, but your entry here makes me want to give it another chance.

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 1:11 am | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *