The Fall of Duck Phillips

I think I must be the only person in the world who kinda liked Duck. Despite being an obvious foil, I thought his relationship with Don was always more complicated than the typical asshole/white knight thing you see on TV. Indeed, Don was often very much an asshole. I even liked his relationship with Peggy. He was the only dude on the show who seemed to desire her in some whole sense—he thought she was beautiful, while at the same time recognizing that she was gifted. Those qualities never seemed in conflict in Duck's eyes.


It was pathetic (if somewhat amusing) watching him at the ad awards last week, and then pathetic again watching him attempt to relieve himself in what he thought was Don Draper's office. I thought it was good that he won the fight between him and Don, as I actually find Don most interesting when he's being humbled. But even the fight made Duck look pathetic. He's bragging about how many men he killed in World War II, but that was yesterday's war. "Still think you're better than me?" he says to Don. Well yeah. Don still has a job. Don still has, in the best sense, Peggy. And Duck is still a drunk.

The best thing about watching Mad Men, for me, is watching men who fail to understand that the game is changing them, that they can not eternally skate on the privilege of what's swinging between their legs. A lot of those dudes are just starting to get that they'll have to compete with a Peggy, that their sons will have to compete with more Peggies. Somewhere in a village it really matters that Duck kicked Don's ass. But in the America that's coming, it's a weapon of the past. In the male ego, physical power is about the ability to protect yourself and dominate others. What's happening on the show is an exhibition of all the other ways the former and the latter can be achieved—and by people who are not men.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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