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Mad Men: What IS Don Draper? A Hedonist? A Nihilist? A Pragmatist?

Mad Men: What IS Don Draper? A Hedonist? A Nihilist? A Pragmatist?

All anybody really needs to know about what makes Don Draper tick took place early Sunday night in the second episode of this season.

After Don spotted the woman he is having an affair with — his neighbor’s wife — sashaying around the apartment in a come-hither robe, we get to listen in on their casual after-sex banter as they ponder a couples dinner that will occur later in the week.   

She says: “You don’t mind sitting across the table from your wife and my husband?”

He nonchalantly counters: “I don’t think about it.”

A few minutes later when she tries to place some import on their sexual romp, he shrugs it off and assures her: “This didn’t happen.”

Not long after, on solid ground n the office, he sums up his philosophy about client management: “Sometimes you gotta dance with the one that brung you.”

Take those three snippets of The World According to Draper at face value and connect the dots.

Is Don Draper the ultimate pragmatist? Or is he merely a hedonistic thug, who will do anything he pleases and do anyone he wants, whenever he wants, to satisfy his urges.


Is the man a nihilist, who doesn’t fret about putting order into the world or making sense out of these random acts at home and in the workplace that swirl around him all the time?

These philosophical questions cut to the core of Mad Men’s appeal. Sure, there are lots of characters on the show but, get serious: Don Draper represents the sun and the others are simply little stars circling around him in very installment. 

What makes Draper so compelling is that he is a new breed of dramatic television star himself. He is not likable at all. He seldom smiles and almost never laughs. 

He is not a good friend. He is a lousy husband. He has no loyally to anybody. He radiates no joy or zest for life, his or anybody else’s. 

He gets no genuine pleasure out of anything he does. He is completely without guilt and yet if you gave him a shot of truth serum and asked whether he considered himself scrupulous, he would assert vigorously that he is the most ethical person he knows of.

Chalk a lot of this strangely compelling character’s winning complexity to Jon Hamm’s remarkable simpatico with Don. 

When Jon Hamm (inevitably) goes on Inside the Actors Studio and James Lipton (inevitably) asks him: How much of Don Draper is there in you? Hamm will barely pause long enough to take a breath before he fires back:  A lot, Jim. 

Watching it at home, we will nod collectively and believe that in those few words, Hamm has revealed the secret to what makes Don Draper tick. And you know what? He won’t even have to explain what he means. It’s right in front of our noses every Sunday night.

We can see what he means in every episode.


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