Don Draper is a complex man. Beneath that suave, man-about-town exterior is a simmering darkness that has, on occasion, been known to boil over, emotionally scalding those around him. Mad Men, the critically acclaimed drama known for its brutally honest portrayal of the 1960s, isn't ashamed of its protagonist's unsavory qualities. Rather, it puts them on full display, philandering, old-fashioned guzzling warts and all.
But the show would be pretty boring if Don was just a flat monster who twirled his mustache and tied his mistresses to train tracks. Again, the man is complicated. He had an unhappy, almost Dickensian childhood. He's even been known to show morality and compassion when nobody else does, like when he defended Freddy Rumsen. But despite these glimpses of Don's humanity, that evaporate faster than Lucky Strike smoke, his true, twisted colors find a way to come out. On a good day, he's a humorless misanthrope. On a bad day, he's one of the vilest people in an agency that includes Pete Campbell. Here is Mad Men: 10 Times Don Draper Was The Show's Biggest Villain.
Maybe, like racism and sexual harassment, littering was okay back in the '60s. The phrase, "it was a different time," often gets bandied about to justify bad behavior. Why not apply it to hurling your empty can into the woods whilst on a family picnic? Even if littering was as acceptable as smoking back then, it really speaks to both Don and Betty's nauseating sense of entitlement.
Who, pray tell, do they think is going to clean their mess up? The worst part is that they inspect their kids' hands before allowing them to get in the car. Heaven forbid the kids get PB&J all over Daddy's Coupe DeVille. But making a mess of the park they just spent the afternoon enjoying? Well, according to Don, that's just peachy keen dandy.
In terms of viewers, nobody’s really complaining. The show’s called Mad Men, not Family Men. That being said, Don isn’t called to task for this nearly as much as he should be. People all but brandish torches in their rage against Betty the bad mom, but at least she’s there. Remember Sally’s birthday party? When Don’s one job was to pick up the cake? Instead he gets hammered beforehand, returns sans cake but with a dog.
After he and Betty divorce, it only goes downhill from there. He’s barely in the kids’ lives, missing visits because he’s too busy sleeping it off. But perhaps his crowning achievement for Worst Father of the Year is when Sally walks in on Don while he’s in the middle of something with a married neighbor, Sylvia Rosen. That’s going to cost many therapy dollars for Sally to even begin to heal. Then again, Don’s used to throwing money at the problem.
Don is a man who likes to be in charge, and most of his women like it that way. That’s great. But Don kicks things up a notch—or ten—during his tryst with Sylvia Rosen, of traumatizing Sally fame. With Sylvia, Don goes into some dark, kinky territory. Again, this is all fine if he were to ask Sylvia about it. Instead, he holes her up in a hotel room and, among other things, orders her to stay there all day, doing nothing but wait for him. He takes her book away and upon returning, informs Sylvia that she only exists there “for his pleasure.”
Eventually, Sylvia shuts this down when Don hints at wanting her to stay there all weekend. But the viewer never gets a real sense of how Sylvia’s actually feeling. Neither does Don. The saddest part is, he likely doesn’t care.
There’s a lot Betty doesn’t know about Don. Maybe some things she chooses to ignore, maybe she’s completely in the dark. But a bomb gets dropped on Betty’s pseudo-idyllic life when the husband of Don’s mistress du jour makes a telling remark to Betty. She confronts Don about it, who denies everything. So, Betty goes on a wine-fueled search for proof.
Infuriatingly, Betty can’t find any. Don continues to gaslight his wife, claiming it’s all in her head. But this just drives a wedge further between them. Eventually, after Betty has all but pulled her hair out, he ‘fesses up. Don may not have been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, but he wreaks of chocolate chips.
Another atrocity that some might file under “it was a different time" logic. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Guess what? Don’s also a crappy person. This instance definitely points more to the latter.
Don first becomes aware of Salvatore’s sexual orientation during a business trip. In one of Don’s rare moments of decency, it seems like he really doesn’t care or have any plans to blow up Salvatore’s life. He acts like nothing ever happened. But later on, when Salvatore rejects a client’s advances and the client goes ballistic, Don understands exactly what happened. Beforehand, Salvatore’s private life didn’t affect Don whatsoever, but Don is nothing if not selfish. Now that a client has been lost, he all of a sudden has a problem with Salvatore being gay. It’s hard for a person to be open-minded when they only think about themselves.
Slow your roll, Don. Really, is there a brunette in Manhattan whom Don Draper hasn’t bedded? The man has so many notches on his bedpost, it's whittled down to almost nothing. So it’s beyond hypocritical when he calls Betty such a horrible name for legitimately falling in love with one guy.
Look, Betty’s not perfect. She has a vicious mean streak and she snaps at her kids when they complain that the smoke from her cigarette is hurting their eyes. But she went about leaving her marriage with as much grace as possible. Neither she nor Don were happy together, so she took steps to divorce him in order to marry Henry Francis. After all the shenanigans he’s pulled, Don should have held his tongue.
Just because Don didn’t engage in overt harassment like his colleagues doesn’t mean he didn’t mistreat Peggy. From day one, Peggy was desperate for Don’s approval. Don knew it and spent the entire 1960s exploiting it. He’d snap at Peggy when she had the audacity to ask for accounts she deserved.
The few times Peggy has the guts to stand up to Don, he demeans as her as cruelly as he can, like when she was upset about being taken off the perfume account and he threw money at her. And don’t get us started on the time he made her work all night on her birthday. It’s not like Don ever really deals with the consequences of his actions, but generally speaking, it’s best to avoid treating your star employee like a punching bag.
It ain’t easy being Dick Whitman. Nobody blames him for wanting a better life. But most people looking for a fresh start don’t resort to switching dog tags with their dead comrade in the middle of the Korean War. Of course Dick/Don didn’t stop to think about the fact that the real Don Draper might have, say, a family? There’s a bit of a snafu when Dick/Don finds out that the man whose identity he stole has a wife. But that’s nothing compared to the lengths Don goes to in order to keep others from finding out the truth. It turns out that the dead are much easier to con than the living.
It’s appropriate that Don makes a living peddling a phony version of the American dream, because his entire life is a sham.
Spineless Don firing the one partner with a real backbone is ironic and gut-wrenching. Yes, Lane embezzled a teeny bit of money from the company…the company that he single-handedly saved. Lane worked harder than anyone and went broke trying to keep up with the lifestyle his job demanded.
At the other end of the spectrum, Don spends his work day acting like a drunk preschooler, with frequent naps in his office. And that's if he bothers to come back from lunch at all. Yet somehow, Son keeps getting richer. How can someone with no morals take the moral high ground over someone as (mostly) virtuous as Lane? This leads to Lane tragically committing suicide in his office. His death is on Don’s hands.
At the end of the series, Don takes off to California to go meditate and cry about how terrible his life is. Is it possible during his sobfest that maybe a couple of tears were for the not one, but two men that were driven to suicide by Don’s actions?
Don really did his little brother dirty. After coming back from Korea, Don was on the train passing by his town. Little Adam recognized him and called out for him and Don straight-up ignored him…for years. Cut to the ‘60s and Adam tracks Don down. Poor Adam spent his entire childhood without his idolized big brother and he finally finds him only for Don to tell him to take a hike. Don gives Adam a bit of money for his troubles because in Don’s world, everyone can be bought. But all he did was drive away the one person who loved him unconditionally. Not that Don cares.