As we head into the final half of the final season of “Mad Men,” little ol’ me has found myself nostalgic, and since I’m not allowed to watch the premiere yet I’ve been re-watching a mix of classic scenes from seasons old. From the infamous “I don’t have a contract” to the moon (semi-literally). And in my journey jumping around I noticed a change in Don Draper (aside from the obvious): he talked less.
It may seem odd, as Draper spends a good chunk of the pilot creatively blocked, and has always maintained his status as something of an enigma by managing his power through steely stares and reticent answers.
But early Don Draper (or at least, early in the episode order) actually talks more; a lot more. His grasp over those around him isn’t quite as legendary as it appears to be in later episodes, he seems almost chomping at the bit to demonstrate his value over others (mostly Pete, and who can blame him in those early days) and he’s not afraid to use his astuteness to put others in their place. Clearly Jon Hamm has grown into the role more, grown more comfortable in his frame as Don Draper, ladies man, man’s man, man about town. Draper, and by extension Hamm, have been through everything that early-Draper feared and come out the other side still a champion—or at least alive.
Perhaps the oddest thing about the transformation is that as Draper grows older and more stoic he resembles one character in particular: Bert Cooper.
Despite their obvious differences in both demeanor and zen, later-Draper and (arguably more) early-Cooper both hold their personalities in; only parceling them out as they see fit.
Often this is used a way to establish power (George Clooney used this direction during “Good Night, and Good Luck,” for instance). But given “Mad Men”‘s penchant for exploring nostalgia and the growing counter-culture of the 1960s, it’s an interesting evolution that’s taken Draper—a man from nothing, who constantly fights to remain relevant in a world where he’s increasingly less-so—to Cooper—who at first read is just a partner at an ad agency collecting what’s due to him. That reading of Cooper is largely how newbies to SCDP (or whatever the acronym is these days) could read Draper’s presence at the agency.
“Mad Men” creator plays endgame and future developments about as close to the vest as a show-runner can, so whether or not this is a useful reflection we’ll just have to wait ~7 weeks to find out. But given what we know about where advertising ends up, something tells me that there’s something Draper could learn from the genius that is Bert Cooper.