In our final glimpse of Don Draper, in the Mad Men series finale, we see him in a white shirt, clean shaven, with the haircut that InStyle described as “ maybe the most defining feature of [Draper actor Jon] Hamm’s character, short on the sides, slightly longer on top.”

Around him in the shot are his fellow participants at an early-‘seventies, Esalen-like New Age retreat, their shirts counter-culture prints, their hair fashionably long.  His erstwhile ad agency colleagues—Roger, Peggy, Pete, Rizzo and the rest—seen in the rest of the finale’s last hour are likewise dressed and coiffed for the ‘seventies.

Not Don.  The world has changed.  His life has changed. He has stolen the name and identity of a fallen military colleague’s.  He has been married and divorced twice and serially betrayed both wives.  He has neglected his work and his business partners.

But he looks as he has always looked over the eleven or so years covered by Mad Men’s seven seasons:  his hair no longer or grayer than when we first met him, his gaze no less direct, his face still unlined—a mid-20th-century Dorian Gray, the title character in Oscar Wilde’s novel, whose youth and beauty never fade, while his portrait changes over time to reflect the moral corruption and decay of the life he has lived.

In addition to the fact that their appearance never changes, Don Draper and Dorian Gray also both have secret identities.  Gray’s identity is split between his unchanging physical self and the portrait that reveals his corruption.*  Draper is haunted by the fear that his family and colleagues will discover that his name and identity are not his own.  Born Dick Whitman, he stole the name Don Draper from an officer who was killed in action in the Korean War.

Perhaps most damning, both Gray and Draper use their unchanging outward perfection to enable their success, to gain, and then betray, the confidence of intimates and associates.  “Once Dorian discovers his godlike powers,” New Yorker critic Alex Ross has written, “he carries out various heinous acts, including murder.”   And a young colleague, dismissed after he tries unsuccessfully to duplicate one of Draper’s more outrageous approaches, tells Don that the only reason the gambit worked for Don was his handsomeness.

The two parallel stories, Dorian Gray’s and Don Draper’s, diverge at the end.  Seeking to reclaim his virtue and conscience, Dorian slashes the picture that reveals him as the degenerate he has become.  Police and servants hear screams of agony.  But when they gain access to the room where the painting was stored, they find, not the ageless, beautiful youth who had entered the room just moments before, but a corpse, “withered and wrinkled and loathsome of visage.”

Happily, Don Draper escapes, or at least postpones, a comparable final reckoning.  After walking away from his ad agency and giving his expensive car away, he seems to flirt with the idea of renouncing, as Dorian did, his malignant and dishonestly acquired identity. Hair askew, wearing a checked shirt, he appears to contemplate suicide.

But he is Don Draper, not Dorian Gray.  He keeps his identity—not just the name but the appearance and the ad man’s persona.  In the final scene of the series, we see him in a crowd of mantra-chanting meditators, clad in his trademark haircut and white shirt, eyes closed.

Slowly a smile lights his face. Could it be a smile of peace with the world and with himself?  Hardly. He has come up with the idea for another ad campaign.  A segue to the iconic Coca Cola “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” ad, combined with our recollection of a phone call with Peggy back at the ad agency—They’d take you back in a minute.  You could have the Coke account—tells us that Don hasn’t changed.   He’s still an ad man.

Dorian Gray dies a horrible death. Don Draper will never grow old.



  1. Betsy
    May 23rd, 2015 | 7:34 am

    Thanks, Louis. I did not watch Mad Men. I might now! Great analysis.

  2. Steve Behrens
    January 24th, 2016 | 3:03 pm

    Don was no slouch as a dealmaker, as well as wicked good on the creative side!

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