"My God, so square you've got corners." Megan Draper to Don Draper
Long time Mad Men viewers have been caught short in Season 5 at the abrupt emasculation of Don Draper. Having watched Don bed a succession of women during the show's first four seasons, swing his metaphorical dick at anyone with the temerity to challenge him in the office and basically, as he told Rachel Mencken in the show's very early days, live his life like there was no tomorrow, this older, more reflective, and frankly, less fun version of Don is taking some getting used to. Or, as Peggy put it in the season premiere, "I don't recognize this man. He's kind and patient … it concerns me."
As "The Sixties," as we now think of that decade, have bled into the previously staid offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Don now seems reactionary. When he strikes up a conversation with a Rolling Stones groupie backstage at one of their concerts, instead of seduction, which would have been the default for Don in years past, he comes across as a scold, admonishing the young woman about giving herself freely to a musician and questioning what she knows about psychiatrists. Her posture is telling. Instead of recoiling from Don's authority, she impishly pulls his tie off and gives a lecture of her own, questioning why Don's generation, who didn't "have any fun" wants to deny hers of their enjoyment. Don's response? "We're worried about you." She can't be bothered, blowing Don off at the purported sighting of Mick and the boys.
While Don's boorishness and poor treatment of women may have spoken to an Eisenhower-era view of the sexes and his casual infidelity as of a piece of the broader subjugation of women as housewife and harlot, at his heart, Don is a "little c" conservative. His values are animated by his Midwestern upbringing, where it was impolite to talk about yourself and you never discussed money. In Don's world, men don't have bawdy conversations in elevators with women present (and they certainly don't leave their hats on while doing it), smearing a man's "name" as the younger copywriters and account executives did at Freddy Rumsen's expense, is poor form and even when your wife has discovered you are a philanderer who has faked his past, *you* don't ask for the divorce, she does.
Don's provincialism and simplistic view of gender roles went unchallenged through his adulthood, where everyone's place in society was well defined and rarely challenged. At the show's inception, he's involved with Midge, a beatnik in Greenwich Village whose friends get a firm lashing from Don when they criticize his job. Of course, in those days, when the cops showed up to Midge's building to investigate a report of domestic violence, Don is the only one who can leave the apartment unmolested because of his suit and tie. And even when flashes of changing culture invaded his neat little universe, as when he discovered Sal was a homosexual, Don, who knew something about hiding secrets, was non-plussed until it affected business. After Sal rejected a pass made by Lee Garner, Jr. putting the Lucky Strike account in jeopardy, Don's distaste and bigotry bubbled quickly to the surface, as he referred to gays as "you people" and suggesting Sal should have acquiesced to Lee's sexual come on before cruelly firing him.
Perhaps Don's personality change is just a natural evolution that many people experience as they reach middle age or maybe this is Don's attempt to, as someone speculated, become the Dick Whitman he always wanted to be, and shed the Draper persona. If nothing else, Matt Weiner and crew should be given credit for allowing Don's character to remain consistent. A man who could not utter the word "infidelity" or "cheating" but instead referred to his indiscretions as not being "respectful" toward his wife is not the kind of man who will easily understand a youth culture that will glorify free love and recreational drug use. To a man who grew up poor, serving fancy people at a roadhouse who would not allow him to use the toilet, the rebellion of teens in the 1960s will unquestionably challenge his worldview. And for a man whose own children are quickly growing up in a country that will careen toward social revolution, Don seems ill equipped to evolve with the times. The world Don now inhabits is not one where a man's word is his bond and a handshake seals the deal. Now, kids openly get high, snub their elders and protests for civil and equal rights and against war, will define life for years to come. Since we should not expect Don to "tune in, turn on and drop out," the next few years are likely to cause him to become more conservative, in his attitudes, conduct and behavior, than less. The evolution, as with all things Mad Men should be fascinating.