Warning: Spoilers ahead
We finally learned the fate of Don Draper on Sunday’s series finale of “Mad Men.”
For many, it was a surprise to see Don receive such a tame farewell as he sat in meditation on the Pacific Coast.
But looking back on the pilot episode of the series, there’s a moment that not only explains how Don sees life, but explains how things would turn out for him on the show.
It’s a scene between Don and potential client Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff) towards the end of the episode. Don invites Rachel out for drinks to apologise for the way he treated her at their meeting that afternoon.
Then the conversation turns more personal when Rachel admits the main reason she’s not married is because she’s never been in love.
Draper: “She won’t get married because she’s never been in love? I think I wrote that to sell nylons.”
Menken: “For a lot of people love isn’t just a slogan…”
Draper: “What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons. You’re born alone and you die alone and the world just throws a bunch of rules on top of you to forget those facts. But I never forget. I live like there’s no tomorrow because there isn’t one.”
Menken: “I don’t think I realised it until this moment but it must be hard being a man, too… Mr. Draper, I don’t know what it is you really believe in but I do know what it feels like to be out of place, to be disconnected, to see the whole world laid out in front of you the way other people live it. There’s something about you that tells me you know it too.”
Following Rachel’s remarks, Don’s confidence is completely shattered and he turns back into Dick Whitman (his real name from his childhood).
Look at Don’s reaction once Rachel is done talking.
This back and forth showed two things to the audience that they would have to remember for the rest of the show:
1. That Don wants everyone to believe that he doesn’t care about anyone and will live his life only how he sees fit.
2. When he meets someone who has had a similar “disconnected” existence as him, he can’t help but pull closer to them.
This is evident with Rachel, who he begins to sleep with in season one of the show, and even tells her he grew up with a prostitute for a mother and a drunk for a father. Like most of the women in Don’s life, Rachel figures him out and leaves him. But Don always had a soft spot for Rachel. Her ghost even appears as a vision to Don following her death in the last season.
Sunday’s final episode finds Don in the same predicament he was in that evening with Rachel back on the pilot.
Completely disconnected from anyone who ever loved him and sitting with a blank stare at a hippie commune, he meets Leonard.
The two are sitting in a group discussion when Leonard takes the hot seat and tells the group, “I’ve never been interesting to anybody. I work in an office. People walk right by me…I go home and I watch my wife and my kids, they don’t look up when I sit down… It’s like no one’s cared where I’ve gone.”
Leonard, like Don and Rachel, is out of place and sees the world laid out in front of him the way other people live it. He drives that home by telling the group a dream he had.
“I had a dream I was on the shelf in the refrigerator. Someone closes the door and the light goes off, and I know everybody’s out there eating. And they open the door and you see everyone smiling and they are 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.”
Hearing this leads to Don’s transformation back to Dick Whitman once again. And Don can’t help but to react once more.
In this case, with Leonard weeping, Don stands up, walks to Leonard and embraces him. Neither are alone anymore.
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