Mad Men: Why Don Draper Doesn't Look So Mad Anymore

Seeking out an external fix for a problem rarely works.

Posted Mar 26, 2012

The premier of Mad Men's 5th season has finally come and gone.

So here's what we know: Don Draper has married Megan, his former secretary. Joan Holloway Harris and the Campbells have become parents. The guys at SCDP poke fun at a rival agency's insensitive behavior during a Civil Rights demonstration. They feel smug—for now. Megan throws Don a surprise 40th, and steals the show with a slinky French song and dance. And Don and his new wife are in such an enamored state, they spend more than a bit of time in the bedroom. Don actually seems happy. Or is he?   

In marrying Megan a fragile Don has grabbed onto someone he perceives as solid, a desperate measure taken to bolster his faulty esteem. In psychological terms, Megan represents a "transformational object," an outside fix and hoped for "180," a chance to rocket from guy in free fall to glittering adman. And the Megan cure will probably work—for a while. But external measures can only get us so far. We can expect to see Don back to his old tricks—and fairly soon.

There are hints of the unhappiness to come: Don has turned 40. And he is more than a bit depressed about this milestone. "It's over!" he barks at Megan. His feelings about aging are not a surprise; those who feel vulnerable and empty at the core don't easily accept the march of time.  Since Don hasn't figured out that he acts on his desperate feelings, and has not attempted to understand the causes of his psychic pain, we can only wonder what outside force will serve as his next grasp at salvation.

Stephanie Newman PhD is the author of Mad Men on the Couch: Analyzing the Minds and Women of the hit TV show which can be purchased from Barnes & Noble, Indie Bound, and Amazon.