Don Draper is a Dick (Whitman), and Leonard’s speech proves it. Matthew Weiner calls the role of Leonard, the man whose emotional monologue in the second-to-last scene in which Leonard describes feeling like he’s invisible on the shelf of a refrigerator, as “probably the most important role in the series.” This is really an important statement by Weiner. After all, his character of Don Draper drove the series forward. Who is this guy Leonard? In casting Leonard, Weiner told us he needed “someone who was not famous and could cry…. I hoped that the audience would feel either that he was embracing a part of himself, or maybe them. And that they were heard. I don’t want to put it into words more than that.” Let’s examine that speech to prove my thesis of Don being a Dick (Whitman). Here’s the speech:
I don’t know if there’s anything that complicated about me. And so I should be happier, I guess… But I’ve never been interesting to anybody. I, um– I work in an office. People walk right by me. I know they don’t see me. And I go home and I watch my wife and my kids. They don’t look up when I sit down.
The leader asks him: How does it feel to say that?
Leonard replies: I don’t know. It’s like no one cares that I’m gone. They should love me. I mean, maybe they do, but I don’t even know what it is. You spend your whole life thinking you’re not getting it, people aren’t giving it to you. Then you realize they’re trying and you don’t even know what it is. I had a dream I was on a shelf in the refrigerator. Someone closes the door and the light goes off, and I know everybody’s out there eating. And then they open the door and you see them smiling. And they’re happy to see you, but maybe they don’t look right at you, and maybe they don’t pick you. And then the door closes again. The light goes off.
It is important to first ask: Who is Don Draper?
Well, Don Draper doesn’t exist. Don Draper is Dick Whitman. So now put that filter on the entire series. In other words, every time you see Don Draper, think of Dick Whitman and ask yourself: who is it you are watching? Don knows he is Dick, as the audience subsequently finds out early in the series. Dick knows Don doesn’t exist. In every scene, who are we really watching? Weiner makes it easy to forget it’s really Dick, but throughout the series, Dick is always there, lurking beneath Don.
This is not Schizophrenia. It may be something like a Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Then again, it may be simply that Don is a Dick (Whitman). Looking at the series and seeing Dick instead of Don shifts your point of view entirely. In other words, if we stop just seeing Don, but look at Don as a Dick (Whitman), we can make important observations on his character. Starting with Don Draper (aka Dick Whitman) is a liar.
Throughout the series, Dick is pretending to be Don Draper. Thus, from the opening episode, Dick lies to others, and to himself (whatever “self” we’re talking about).
He is a cheater. The first episode establishes that Don Draper (aka Dick Whitman) cheats on his wife. Oddly, once the real Don’s wife found the ruse, Dick supported her until she died. Watching her death scene knowing that Don is a Dick (Whiteman) changes that scene entirely. Some say it shows he cared for her. Who is “he?” He (Dick as Don) painted her home for her and camped out for a while. Love? Hardly. Re-watch the episode and look at Dick, not Don.
He drinks to excess. But, who is drinking? Is it Don or Dick directing Don to act the role of Creative Director drunk?
We can also argue that Don is actually a murderer. When his brother shows up and asks to be let into his life, Don (Dick) says no. Don’t forget: his brother SEES Dick pretending to be Don. It was Dick he was talking to. Dick/Don says no to his brother, and the brother hangs himself. Who is responsible for that event? Clearly, it was Dick. Sherlock Holmes once noted, “If you drive someone to suicide, you commit murder.” Don, without question, did it as a Dick (Whitman).
And finally, he is cruel and, perhaps, evil, hurting people continually and many times on purpose (i.e., driving away and leaving Megan at the Howard Johnson’s). A careful watching of his actions will show you that when any of this happens, he feels absolutely nothing, which means Dick doesn’t. I understand that some people will point to the final episodes of him learning to feel. After all, when Leonard finishes his speech, they hug. But who is hugging whom? Let’s review the speech now to see if we can figure this out.
I don’t know if there’s anything that complicated about me.
That’s the opening line, and respectfully, what we are looking at is really a complex character. This narrative by Leonard could very well be “the Dick Whitman story.” You’ll notice Don’s attention is immediately drawn to Leonard as he narrates. It is as if Dick suddenly realizes that Leonard is narrating what is going on with Dick within Don. So saying there is nothing that complicated about himself is really true – from Dick’s point of view. Everything is simple for Dick, because like Don, he doesn’t exist. He’s in Don.
And so I should be happier, I guess…
Dick is never happy. Don rarely smiles. Feeling “happiness” isn’t a should thing; it simply is an is OR is not thing. Don simply can’t feel because Dick can’t. Many point to the scene where Don takes his children to show them where he grew up as significant of feelings. Is it? His kids see him as Don, not Dick, but that is where Dick grew up. In that moment, is Dick feeling anything? His children feel confused! Why is he showing this to his children?
But I’ve never been interesting to anybody. I, um– I work in an office. People walk right by me. I know they don’t see me. And I go home and I watch my wife and my kids. They don’t look up when I sit down.
This IS Dick Whitman. Dick works in the office and no one sees him (he is in Don). They see Don. And, people do walk right by Dick and don’t see him, because they see Don. And Don goes home and watches his wife and kids, and they don’t look up when he sits down. Do you recall the scenes when Don came home? Sometimes the kids would greet him with “Daddy Daddy!” But it was Don, not Dick they were greeting. And then they went back to watching TV or playing.
The leader asks Leonard: How does it feel to say that? Leonard replies: I don’t know.
Dick Whitman can’t feel anything, so how CAN Leonard? People often project themselves into the situation they find themselves in, including the people in those situations. We often believe other people MUST be like us…THINK like us…and for the first time in the series, Dick is seeing someone who is reflecting what he really is. It’s an intense scene.
It’s like no one cares that I’m gone. They should love me. I mean, maybe they do, but I don’t even know what it is.
This is a key. Dick Whitman died in Korea. Dick killed Dick when he changed dog tags and assumed Don’s identity. (I’ve often wondered why he needed to become Don in the first place). And with the “love” word, which is the deepest of all emotion and feelings, we realize the truth of the matter when he says they “should” love him. Should is not a word used with love. And then note in particular the switch to the pronoun, “it.” When Leonard says, “I don’t even know what it is,” how can he know it when he sees it or feels it? He can’t, because he really can’t feel. Can anyone argue that Dick as Don loved anyone in this series? Can anyone argue that Don FELT anything in this series?
An essay from D.C. McAllister called Even Advertising Can Say Something Real points out that that Don was disconnected. However, when McAllistrer points out after Don hugged Leonard at the end, “How much more personal can it get? To call Don superfluous or impersonal at this point is to give yourself completely over to cynicism.” Not really. Was he hugging Leonard – or himself? The word behind everything Don does or says is “affectation.” Measured. Always. Shirts pressed. Tie. Calculating. Only when his disguise is threatened does he break a sweat.
McAllister goes on to say that Don forgives himself and discovers what it means to love. Huh? Where is the evidence of that? Did Don go home to Betty when he found out she had cancer? Why did he call Peggy? McAllister sees Don connecting with others, not being above them. But Don was never “above” them, nor was he ever connected; he wasn’t there at all – ever, because it’s not about Don. It’s about Dick. Don died, and Dick, as Don, is continually removed from the reality of any experience; by hiding within Don, Dick gets “to watch” reality. Mad Men is like one big reality show inside a reality show – not reality itself. McAllister further notes that Peter Augustine Lawler at National Review called the smile on Don’s face as he meditated on the California bluff, a “smirk.” It was as smirk, as you’ll see. But, who is smirking at whom?
You spend your whole life thinking you’re not getting it, people aren’t giving it to you. Then you realize they’re trying and you don’t even know what it is.
Again, this is important, because the word “love” has been demoted to the pronoun, “it.” And this is further proof how truly barren Dick really is. He doesn’t have the concept of love, which perhaps has never been defined better than by Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms when Catherine says to Lt. Henry, “There isn’t any me any more.” Love means loss of identity, a giving up of the “I” in favor of the “you.” With Dick, there is no me, but there is also no you. Dick is continually using Don as the filter through which Dick leads his life – without feeling because he can’t: he is inside Don.
I had a dream I was on a shelf in the refrigerator. Someone closes the door and the light goes off, and I know everybody’s out there eating. And then they open the door and you see them smiling. And they’re happy to see you, but maybe they don’t look right at you, and maybe they don’t pick you. And then the door closes again. The light goes off.
Isn’t this the entire series? Dick is on the shelf in the refrigerator (Don). He knows everyone is “out there eating.” The door opens and he can see everyone. They are happy to see him, but they don’t look right at him because he is not who he says he is: he is Dick, not Don. “And maybe they don’t pick you.” They can’t pick him because they can’t really see him. And the door closes. “The light goes off.” The series ends.
From the opening, which shows the silhouette of Don falling off the building, it has been clear this is an existential journey. Existentialism deals with the question of absurdity around us and how, after careful examination, suicide should be the only alternative. However, Existentialism also dictates that once you find meaning, that “rolling the rock up the hill” is really the job of life, you can’t kill yourself. Dick killed himself in Korea when he became Don. In reality, he committed existential suicide, and in the end, is a coward. And cowards hurt everyone around them, including themselves.
That’s why at the end, it is a smirk. He (Dick) did it again. Escaped. Don can emerge as “creative genius.” Alone, with his humming, inner peace B.S., he smirks because he has avoided all reality once again and is safe, back in the refrigerator. In the dark. Empty. In perfect harmony – the harmony of non-existence.
I realize that some people will take this interpretation of Don being a pathetic excuse for a human being as “just another opinion.” It is, nevertheless, one based on the evidence. Morality invlolves principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. I think we’re safe in arguing that the atmosphere Mad Men brought us to was an era where traditional morality was challenged. No one is arguing with the mastery with which Weiner painted it. But with that world of Judeo-Christian values being disrupted, can anyone deny what we witnessed was a tribute to immorality, with Don Draper (aka Dick Whitman) as its chief devil? Where WAS the character with goodness? Michael Ginsberg, the young Jewish copywriter, might be the only one — and he goes crazy in the end.
Scott Haltzman noted in his analysis that “Diagnosing fictional people is always impossible, but always entertaining,” but Dostoevsky wrote in THE IDIOT, that “In their novels and stories, writers most often try to choose and present vividly and artistically social types which are extremely seldom encountered in real life, and which are, nevertheless, more real than real life itself.”
Don Draper as a Dick (Whitman) is someone like that –someone without feelings, following a script in life rather than living life itself – a liar, coward, empty shell of a man and just the kind of guy you’d rather watch on a screen than meet in real life. Or, have you run into this type of guy before?
Thanks for reading!