Stephanie Newman Ph.D.

Apologies To Freud

Is the Evil in Don Draper's Head—Or Beneath His Bed?

Don lies and cheats, but is he a Sociopath?

Posted Apr 09, 2012

So let’s cut to the chase: is Don Draper a murderer?

Last night’s episode (“Mystery Date”) upped Mad Men’s morality ante.  One by one, characters flirted with or absorbed fallout from antisocial behaviors—from the elder Mrs. Frances’s offering of a potent addictive Seconal tablet to Sally, to the reappearance of Dr. Greg, the rapist, to the reference to the real-life 1966 killings of young nurses, the forays into Sociopathy became more and more glaring.  And then there was Don’s turn with an attractive former flame:  what began as an extra-marital sex romp soon crossed over into the realm of a surreal-but-still-brutal strangulation. 

Or maybe it was just a dream.

Either Don has gone to the dark side—meaning he can add murder to his previously “small time” list of army desertion, assuming a false identity, sleeping with multiple women, and driving while intoxicated—in which case we can now solidly characterize him as a Sociopath, or he imagined the bedroom incident, and we cannot slap him with a pointed, incriminating label.

Sociopaths are individuals who do the unthinkable, for example: kill, rape, and dismember victims, and flout laws in serial fashion--only to feel no remorse for their destructive acts.  Judging by the look Megan shoots in her husband’s direction, Don’s actions will have consequences.  But is he really a murderer? In the past he appeared pained and guilty when hit with the realization that his self serving behaviors have hurt others (Like the time when Don told his younger half brother he would have no relationship with him; his eyes clouded over with sadness and guilt.  Likewise, he showed feeling when he telling Anna that his divorce from Betty was his fault, admitting, “I had it coming”).  If history serves as guide, Don has a conscience.  He feels and cares for others—especially his children.

If the strangulation was part of a dream sequence, it was likely caused by Don’s guilt.  He cheated on Megan, and enjoyed it.  Or he didn’t act, but felt intensely attracted to another woman, a fact that weighed heavily on his conscience (Is this the same Don Draper who romanced his daughter’s teacher, slept with the wife of an actor hired by a client, and cheated on Faye, even when she was compromising her work ethics to get him a pitch meeting?).

Exactly what happened in the Drapers’ bedroom is unclear.  What we do know is that Don needs to be in control and to feel powerful.  But how far is he willing to go to ensure that things proceed according to plan? In last week’s episode (“Tea Leaves”), the Rolling Stones make the claim that: “Time is On My Side.”   Whether this can still be said for Don—and for his future at the agency and with Megan—remains to be seen.    

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

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