The Resurrection Of Dick Whitman?

Don Draper Season 6

From time to time I have talked about Mad Men in this space. This is going to be the most pixels that I’ve dedicated to the show thus far. If you haven’t watched right up to last night’s season finale, skip this post. (Likewise, if you find Mad Men dull or slow or otherwise uninteresting, you may not like it in here, or you might, just saying.)

Season six of Mad Men ended with Don Draper taking the first, tentative steps towards admitting who he has always been, Dick Whitman, the orphaned son of a whore. Selling the illusion of Don Draper, successful all-American businessman, war veteran, and father is likely what has made Don also so skilled as an ad man. Having grown up on the fringes of American society and having endured a terrible childhood, Don knows the desire to have the best that American consumer culture can offer better than anyone who has always had it. That Don melts down in a pitch meeting with Hershey’s after telling a bullshit story about his father buying him candy bars is perfect, pitch meetings are where Don has made the most of his bullshit life story:

Back home is, as we know now, a place where Don was not loved at all. There is no nostalgia for him in his nostalgia pitch to Kodak, it’s fantasy. The carousel might as well be a spaceship for Don.

Now Zach Hoag tweeted at the end of the finale that “The truth will make you free” although it’s far from clear how much that is true for Don. He is now unemployed, and he seems to be on the glide path to a second divorce. We haven’t even touched on how the fact that Dick Whitman is technically a deserter might affect Don’s future. There is a temptation to see this as a sort of Raskolnikov moment where Don will confess all, even up to his desertion and be redeemed, but that is not how creator Matthew Weiner has played Don so far and I do not expect this to change. This is not the first time that Don appears to have been reborn (most notably there was the scene where he wades into the water in California with the overtones of some kind of baptism occurring).

I think it’s an open question whether Don, at the end of a very torturous season six is actually going to let Dick Whitman be reborn. Has he gotten too good, too comfortable with the easy lie of Donald H. Draper, successful ad man from nowhere. In the closing scene Don is depicted showing his three children the dilapidated whorehouse where he grew up and taking the first tentative steps towards revealing who he really is. There’s still ample room to spin those alluring Don Draper narratives and never really let his family closer to his past. Remember that one of Don’s central opinions of life is that people simply do not change. The other is that we are born alone and we die alone, can Dick Whitman ever not be alone? Will he tell them what he was doing there? How he got there? The end credits play over the song “Both Sides Now” – a song about illusion and about not really knowing about life other than its illusions. Will Dick Whitman be known as something beyond his illusions? Will any of us?