1) Jon Hamm Has a Way With the Ladies
One would be hard-pressed to describe Don Draper as a feminist. Despite giving Peggy the early push necessary to get her career started, Don’s had some pretty nasty back-and-forth’s with women these past eight years. The above sequence, which served as the opening for “Mad Men’s” final (half-)season, could have played terribly if an actor with less charisma, honesty and understanding had been behind Don Draper since Day 1. Instead, it reads as a devout appreciation from a man who’s moved beyond objectification, but keeps a voyeuristic approach in mind to apply for business. It was a funny little reveal rather than nasty, piggish harassment, and at least part of that is a credit to Mr. Hamm. As far as the Emmys go, “Women want him. Men want to be him. Vote Hamm.” could have been a winning slogan.
2) Jon Hamm Switches Gears With Subtle Power
Change doesn’t come easy for Don Draper, but it can come rapidly. Epiphanies are a seasonal occurrence (if not more often), and Hamm handles each one with a reaction specific to the event. Take, for instance, the above scene from Episode 9, “New Business.” Other actors may have played Don’s “gift” to Megan as an exhausted attempt to get out of further discussion. Hamm, instead, honors the moment and time he spent with Megan, treating Don’s actions honestly. It’s one of the subtle beauties of “Mad Men”: By playing things straight, it allows the audience to react tenderly to what’s on screen or with the glib pessimism some found within the very same moments. It’s what resulted in a split interpretation of the finale, and what makes Hamm’s performance all the more crucial.
3) Jon Hamm Could’ve Been on “The Wire”
Drunk acting is one of the most difficult challenges out there, and there are only two shows that consistently recreated what it’s like to watch inebriated tough guys try to act even tougher: “The Wire” and “Mad Men.” Being the central figure and heaviest drinker, Jon Hamm had to shoulder as big a burden as Dominic West did on David Simon’s HBO cops and robbers crime saga. To even compare the two puts Hamm at a pillar of excellence unattainable to 95 percent of actors out there. To say more would be sacrilege… but damn, Hamm. You’re up there.
4) Jon Hamm Makes Even the Weirdest Scenes Authentic
Robert Morse appeared as an apparition twice in Season 7. The first came to end Season 7a, when Morse performed a choreographed song and dance number — in his socks, of course — to Don’s bewilderment. The second came when Don was making his late night cross-country drive in search of, well, he didn’t really know. Formally, he was looking for Diana, but informally, he was on the same quest he’d been on since the pilot, and boy oh boy did that trip take some odd turns. Be it ghosts, drugs or homicidal hallucinations, Hamm handled each challenge with a command unique to the character. Don, always in control, approached oddities with his authoritarian assuredness, never doubting what was put in front of him. Instead, he saw it as an opportunity, burden, or even an idea to be conquered. Hamm’s firm grasp of and proper conveyance of this mentality provided just the right dose of structure to the show, just when it needed it most.
5) Jon Hamm is funny, sure, but he makes Don Draper funny.
We all know by now that Jon Hamm is much more than just a dramatic actor, but it’s actually astounding how many times he made us laugh while playing one of the most tortured souls on TV. Don Draper was a serious man among, well, less serious men. He woke up with a frown and went to bed weeping. Yet somehow, along the way, Hamm consistently and ever so subtly had just the right reaction to leave us howling. That didn’t disappear in the final season ( even if AMC wasn’t about to release those clips on YouTube).
6) Jon Hamm Dug Deep for “Mad Men,” and Never Stopped
Over the course of eight years, Don Draper went on one wild ride. He didn’t transform the way Walter White did, both inside and out. Don’s journey was an internal one, making Hamm’s accomplishment all the more impressive. There was no head shaving or hats (well, signature hats). There was no fancy accent or extreme violence. There was just a man searching for meaning. Hamm understood that broad picture and applied it to every intimate moment of “Mad Men,” but he also never forgot to identify what made the smaller scenes matter. Even when it felt like Don was going down a path he’d been before — be it with a woman, work or his kids — Hamm helped convey a new mindset, belief or purpose in a mystifying individual we may never fully understand. Hamm did, though. Or, at least, he made us feel like he understood. And that’s just as tricky.
7) And Yet, Jon Hamm Has Never Won an Emmy
Well, Jon Hamm had never won an Emmy. Rejoice and be glad.