Could Don Draper finally be growing up?
Most fathers are not a mystery to their children; most adults are not quite so hobbled by tortured pasts. But most people are not Don Draper, who, in the course of “Mad Men’s” six seasons, has tried to shield his kids from the most basic truths about himself. Where he’s from, how he grew up, what kind of life he had: Those were all things that he lied about, to co-workers, clients and those closest to him. But as viewers saw in the show’s Season 6 finale (which I wrote about here), Don is in the process of shedding that false skin.
The final image of Season 6 was Draper showing his three children the house of ill repute in which he grew up. We don’t know yet if his bold gamble will pay off, or if his daughter Sally, who grew especially disenchanted with her father this season, will continue on her path of rebellion and barely-suppressed fury at her father.
Don also revealed the truth about his origins during a meeting with an important potential client, and everyone in the room was appropriately stunned. According to “Mad Men” creator and executive producer Matthew Weiner, however, Don’s behavior in the Hershey meeting is not what got him fired (or placed on leave). That meeting, shocking though it was, was “a very minor infraction in all this,” Weiner said. As he explained, the entire penultimate season of the show (and all the questionable behavior it contained) was meant to lead Don to the point where he felt he could — and had to — start to be at least partially truthful about himself to the people around him.
In the interview below, Weiner discusses the events that led Don to this moment, as well as his future (or lack thereof) at SC&P, the paths that Joan and Peggy took this season, the conspiracy theories surrounding the show and Megan Draper’s infamous “Sharon Tate” T-shirt, among other things.
This interview has been edited and slightly condensed.
Don went in to that Hershey meeting thinking they weren’t really serious about taking on an agency, so in a way, there wasn’t much at stake for him. But could you talk a little bit more about his motivations for coming clean about his past in that setting, especially given how his colleagues were likely to react?
I think that he is not thinking about his colleagues and I think that he is in a crisis. As you can tell, he’s planning on going to California; he has quit drinking. Ted has just told him that he wants to go to California, and I think a lot of what Ted said is resonating in his mind. But our whole goal for the season was to put Don in a position where he knew whether he was going to change or not. At least looking in the mirror and admitting who he was, in some ways, was going to make him feel better, and alleviate that anxiety that he has been feeling all year — [the anxiety] that led to him destroying his relationship with his daughter, that led to him destroying his business and his role in his business.
It’s not that the Hershey meeting has no stakes. It’s that the Hershey meeting actually has a very personal connection to him. You see him get up there and just lie his head off. And we know that everything he is saying isn’t true. We were sort of building to one line the whole season, where the client says, “Weren’t you a lucky little boy?” [In that moment, Don was] looking over at Ted and realizing that he was a liar and that he had to confess. That’s what I think that was: a confession.