Monday, April 02, 2012

Why is Don Draper Depressed?

“Mad Men” makes news with a passing dig at Mitt Romney’s dad (calling the elder "a clown") but, for serious fans, the growing question is what’s happening to the show’s core character, the creative but mercurial, lusty but haunted, sexually greedy but sensitive Don Draper?

We could be in “Answered Prayers” territory here, Truman Capote’s never-finished novel of that era based on the wisdom of St. Teresa of Ávila: "Answered prayers cause more tears than those that remain unanswered."

Like Capote, the “Mad Men” character is a person damaged in youth but with the will and talent to reinvent himself in the mid-century Manhattan jungle. And like Capote after “In Cold Blood,” he becomes a sought-after lion of the time.

Yet, in the two-year hiatus of the show, most of the life has drained from Draper. Turning 40 with a new wife whose body obsesses him, he loses interest in work and its mano-a-mano gratifications, goes into a funk after she throws him a surprise party highlighted by her own sexy dance and, in the latest episode, turns almost catatonic when his first wife has a cancer scare.

Life may be imitating art here, as Jon Hamm who plays Draper is now one of the producers and directs the latest installment. In all the jockeying over the show’s future, have the real-life creators of “Mad Men” become as screwed-up as the denizens of Sterling Cooper?

Capote kept calling “Answered Prayers” his posthumous novel and telling friends, "Either I'm going to kill it, or it's going to kill me." When he published excerpts, his rich and powerful friends stopped embracing him and exchanging air kisses in their chosen restaurants. It was unfinished when he died, a broken man.

Make all the jokes you want about Mitt Romney’s dad, Mad Men, but stay rooted in the JFK-LBJ-Nixon era, and give Don Draper mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

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