Don Draper: Persona Non Grata

Don Draper's silhouette has always defined Mad Men, and in the first episode of the season, "Time Zones," he's quite literally in the shadows. 

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Don Draper's silhouette has always defined Mad Men, and in the first episode of the season, "Time Zones," he's quite literally in the shadows.

The big reveal of the premiere is that Don has been playing the Cyrano for ol' Freddie Rumsen, working on campaigns for freelancer Freddie to go in and pitch. The pitches are, naturally, brilliant and high-minded. At the end of Freddie's long opening monologue, he delivers: "Accutron: It's not a time piece. It's a conversation piece," a slogan which recalls Don's old, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” They wow Peggy, who defends them to dopey Lou Avery, the man who we saw at the end of season six arriving a little too early for his meeting at the firm. In these clashes with Lou, Peggy thinks she's sticking up for Freddie, the man who was the first to notice her creative talent. Instead, she's fighting for ideas belonging to Don, the man who both nurtured her career and, at times, stalled it.

(Aside: Poor Peggy. Season six ended on what seemed to be a triumphant note for her professional life even if Ted left her personal life in shambles. She swiveled in Don's chair, symbolically taking his place in the office. And yet! Now she's battling the condescending Lou Avery. Someone let this woman catch a break, please.)

Don and Freddie's partnership is an interesting turn on the Cyrano story. Freddie, like Christian, doesn't have the same way with words that Cyrano de Draper does. Still, in Edmond Rostand's play, Cyrano's flaw is that he is unattractive, thanks to his large nose. Part of Don's appeal has always been his physical beauty. Don, by all means, should still be the face of Sterling Cooper & Partners, but that perfect image was tainted at the end of season six when he revealed the truth about his childhood to the people from Hershey's.

The Cyrano storyline proves just how committed—addicted, one might say—Don is to deception. The last moments of season six, when he took his children to the whorehouse where he grew up, seemed to imply that Don was accepting the scars of his past. Not so. Not only is he perpetuating a grand lie with Freddie, but Megan, who is out becoming a TV star in Los Angeles, seems to believe he still has a job, asking whether she can drop him at the office. Don nearly allows himself to open up to the airplane passenger played by Neve Campbell. He says of Megan: "She doesn't know that much, but she knows." Still, he pulls himself away from Campbell's mysterious woman, explaining that he has to go back to work.

I haven't quite wrapped my head around the last moment of the episode, in which Don sits on his balcony shivering, after being unable to close the door. It's one of of those metaphorical Mad Men moments that will surely elicit a variety of theories, some totally crazy, some possibly valid. It's a self-lacerating move in which Don confines himself to darkness, after being powerless in the face of the broken door. Vanilla Fudge's version of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" plays. What is keeping Don "hanging on?" Is it Sterling & Cooper? Or his own lies?

Join us next week, when perhaps we'll have an opportunity to analyze the significance of Pete Campbell's grotesquely hilarious California look.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.