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Don Draper’s Last Diddle
The Finale of Mad Men

1,722 wordsJon Hamm as Don Draper - Mad Men _ Season 7B, Key Art - Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC [1]

Having followed Mad Men from the start, with initial enthusiasm[1] gradually tempered by the increasingly exposed triumphalist agenda,[2] I found the series finale, pumped (or pimped) by the network as “the end of an era,” to be somewhat forced, mainly by the perceived need to top network stablemate Breaking Bad ’s finale, as well as Weiner’s earlier series, The Sopranos.[3]

Written and directed by creator (or “show runner” as the kids say) Matthew Weiner, we can assume the final result accurately reflects his intentions. Most of the cast get their conventional happy endings;[4] and then there’s Don.

The idea of Don dropping out, heading circuitously to Esalen, and achieving some kind of enlightenment (or Satori, as Jack Kerouac would say) seemed unlikely,

don-draper-finale-shot-mad-men [2]

but the immediate cut to the iconic Coke ad

coca-cola-mad-men [3]

tells us that Don simply found a great idea, and headed back to New York to rejoin the rat race as the renewed Alpha Male. As one blogger writes [4]:

He broke all his vows. He scandalized his child. He took another man’s name. He didn’t want to end up like that guy [at the encounter group], and there’s only one way he could redeem himself . . . by making something great, and by God, he did. He made the “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” ad. He is the ultimate con man!

Ultimate, because he finally fooled even us. What we thought was Don quitting his new but conformist job and taking a trek across America to finally “find himself” turned out to be just another attempt to find an angle for a new ad. [5]

And that, of course, has been the theme all along: the Aryan Man as a fake, a con, no better than, and rightly supplanted by, the Judaic Man.

To correctly understand the final sequence, we need to remind ourselves that Weiner seems to belong to an earlier, or perhaps just richer and more conservative, stratum of the Judaic Cultural Left;[6] he hates hippies.[7]

But these aren’t hippies, they are “human potential” pods, and that’s an eminently approved Judaic cultural weapon.

Thus, Esalen teaches Don the new cultural value of the “real me.” Weiner I suppose thinks Don doesn’t get it — Don still never reveals his “secret”; but perhaps he doesn’t so much pervert the idea as recognize its inherent phoniness.

In “There and Then: Personal and Memorial Reflections on Alan Watts (1915-1973) — here [5] — I wrote:

More generally, Watts was certainly aware of, and opposed to, the way the need, as he perceived it, to “relax” was being perverted into “let it all hang out.” As Columbus and Rice note, though he was one of the founders of Esalen and the “human potential movement” himself, he was by no means supporter of “Beat” culture. In My Own Way has a stunning rejoinder to all that hot tub chatter:

In such situations people will invariably say to me, “Oh come on, Alan, we haven’t yet seen the real you.” To which I can only reply, “Well, look, I am right here, all of me, and if you can’t see you must question your own sensitivity” (p. 209)

He goes on to point out that the “metaphysical assumptions” of such hot-tub chatter, superficially “friendly” but really aimed to tear down and re-build, are “ill-digested Darwin and Freud, with a touch of Jesus” and are, moreover, “demonstrably false.”

As the references to Freud and Jesus show, Watts was, like many if not most intellectuals of his era, somewhat “jew-wise.” His opposition to the Businessman and Priest is implicitly Aryan and Traditionalist, and so is his opposition to their fake alternative, the Slob.[8]

Another layer is revealed, however, when we focus on how that last shot of Don moves from satori to a smug smirk:

mad-men-ban-2 [6]

I could not but recall the enigmatic ending of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (a fitting alternate title for Mad Men):

noodlessmile [7]

As we’ve noted before, Weiner uses Mad Men to reverse or parody various Aryan themes,[9] as the series dramatized the slow displacement of the Aryan Male; and we can see Mad Men as subverting Leone’s film as well. De Niro’s smile, as he dreams away in a 1932 New York opium den after his attempt to save his best friend’s life ends in his death and his own flight into pseudonymous hiding, has been interpreted as hinting that all the events chronologically after that — but before it, in cinematic time — are a dream.[10]

Speaking of reversals, Leone supposedly made the film as a riposte to Hollywood’s version of Italian gangsters, starring Godfather II’s De Niro but creating a far more sophisticated merger of past and present than the rather simple back-and-forth of Coppola’s film. Like the Judaic producers who recut the movie to make it easier for audiences to understand, Weiner has made Mad Men in strict chronological order.

The major reversal is that in Leone’s film it is James Woods’ Max who supposedly dies, burned beyond recognition, while in Weiner’s series it is the original Don Draper that Our Don accidentally incinerates and takes the identity of. Typically, Weiner projects the Judaic crypsis onto the hapless Dick Whitman (dick + white man).

It is Max, the Jewish gangster from the Bronx, who engineered the hoax, reversing and exploiting De Niro’s plan — never try to trick the Trickster! — and transforms himself into the echt-WASP Commerce Secretary Bailey, to whose Long Island mansion De Niro (I can’t call him, as Leone does, “Noodles”; why do Italian directors give Americans such odd names?) is summoned to hear Bailey summarize the story arc of Mad Men:

“I took away your whole life from you. I’ve been living in your place. I took everything. I took your money. I took your girl. All I left for you was years of grief over having killed me. Now, why don’t you shoot?”

And unlike De Niro, Don does shoot . . . a TV commercial.

The commercial pounds home the irony of “the real thing.” One thinks, of course, of Henry James’ tale, in which downscaled aristocrats discover they are unsuitable as artist models; they just don’t look real when posing as aristos, unlike the lower class models. The Judaic theme can be played either way: the WASP aristos are just fake anyway, or, the Judaic can do a better job in the role.

Ultimately, the grin is as American as apple pie. Whether Leone or Weiner knows it, the locus classicus is Poe’s “Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences.” Like Melville, Poe had already found the essence of the American in the con man:

Poe states that “man was made to diddle” — that is, hoax, take advantage of, con. “This is his aim — his object — his end. And for this reason when a man’s diddled we say he’sdone.’” Poe defines diddling: “Minuteness, interest, perseverance, ingenuity, audacity, nonchalance, originality, impertinence, and grin.”

And what does Poe mean by “grin?”

Grin: — Your true diddler winds up all with a grin. But this nobody sees but himself. He grins when his daily work is done — when his allotted labors are accomplished — at night in his own closet, and altogether for his own private entertainment. He goes home. He locks his door. He divests himself of his clothes. He puts out his candle. He gets into bed. He places his head upon the pillow. All this done, and your diddler grins.[11]

And once more, the joke’s on us.

Notes

1. “Mad Männerbund?”

2. “Mad Men Jumps the Gefilte Fish” in three parts, starting here [8].

3. By contrast, I found the Breaking Bad finale far more involving, despite having only caught up with the series in a post-finale marathon. See “Breaking Badge: Touch of Evil through the Lens of Breaking Bad,” here [9].

4. As one blogger writes [10]: “In fact, it was a happy ending for everyone. Everyone that is, except for poor Betty. Because Betty is dead.” Betty, the Nordic Ice Princess, continues to be Weiner’s punching bag to the end. At least she appeared; Sal Romano, the closeted homosexual who was fired for refusing to sleep with a client (for which Joan was rewarded with a partnership; see my “Mad Men Jumps the Gefilte Fish Part One: Missed Collegiality” here [8]) disappeared entirely. Internet legend has it that the actor angered Weiner by questioning his son’s acting ability (i.e., ethnic networking).

5. As Roger says to Don’s outraged boss, “He does this all the time.” Coca-Cola was the account that boss dangled before Don to sweeten the idea of selling out SCP to McCann. There’s an ironic call-back in this episode when Joan samples “coke” for the first time.

6. See Steve Sailer’s analysis of Weiner and his resentments quoted in my “‘This is a shirtsleeve operation’: Judaic Crypsis in the Final Season of Mad Men,” here [11].

7. See Betty’s encounter with the East Village squatters, Roger’s at the commune his daughter runs away to, and Weiner’s own creepy kid enlisting to go to Nam. The numerous hints that led some viewers to speculate there would be a Manson encounter got a call back when the Esalen receptionist tells him no one will pick him up hitchhiking and “you can thank Manson for that.”

8. In the article cited in note 5 above, I identify Peggy as a new convert to the future slob culture of the post-Caddyshack world where snobs like Don are uncool. As Cuddihy [12] and MacDonald [13] have documented, the Jew, when “emancipated” by Napoleon, was faced with a cruel fate: how to “make it [14]” outside the self-imposed ghetto, when by common consent he was dirty, stinky, ugly, and uncouth. The answer, from Freud and others, such as the Frankfurt School, was to create a “counter-culture” in which such features as bathing, neatness, and politeness were denigrated as “un-natuaral,” “repressive,” etc., and their opposites lauded as “natural,” “authentic,” and “free.” As a result, people fly from the up-tight to the un-couth, and the Jew wins every time.

9. For example, the parody of Odin’s hanging and one-eyedness in the fate of Lane Pryce; see “Mad Men Jumps the Gefilte Fish Part Three: The Country of the Blind, Continued,” here [15].

10. See my remarks in “Essential Films . . . and Others,” here [16].

11. J. Marshall Trieber, “A Study of Poesque Humor,” from Poe Studies, December 1971, vol. IV, no. 2, 4:32-34, online here [17].