This post has a ton of Mad Men spoilers if you haven’t seen the Season 3 finale yet.
Mostly, I want to transcribe my favorite conversation in the episode, if not the entire season. It comes near the beginning, when Don makes the pitch to buy the company back.
Bert Cooper: Young men love risk because they can’t imagine the consequences.
Don Draper: And you old men love building golden tombs and sealing the rest of us in with you. You’re done, you know that right?
Bert: So I should just throw away my fortune? I don’t have the rest of my life to earn it back.
Don: I understand. I’ll let you go back to sleep.
Bert: Why do you care?
Don: Because I’m sick of being batted around like a ping pong ball. Who the hell is in charge? A bunch of accountants trying to make a dollar into a dollar ten? I want to work. I want to build something of my own. How do you not understand that? You did it yourself 40 years ago!
Bert: That’s true. But I’m not sure you have a stomach for the realities.
Don: Try me.
Awesome. I think this dialogue has been happening inside my own head now for the last 5 or 6 years. And probably any other entrepreneur who has to decide between safe stability and risky possibility. What’s really going on here though?
There is a tension between youth and risk versus age and stability. It’s easier to take risks when you’re younger for two reasons. One: you don’t know the consequences as intimately. Two: you have more time to recover from mistakes and therefore it’s a little less risky.
But there’s another level to it. Being young and taking risks is also equated with being awake, being alive, and possibly even doing the right thing. Doing things because you have a passion for it (I want to WORK) rather than because you can turn a dollar into a dollar ten while asleep. But is that true?
The third level: fear. Don has lost almost everything, and needs something to cling on to in the midst of his divorce, his past creeping up on him, and his potential obsolescence in the face of joining the “sausage factory”. It’s as much of a last thing to cling to rather than a choice of pure motivation and passion. And, it almost comes back to bite him as he realizes that people like Peggy, Peter, and even Roger Sterling know that Don doesn’t actually value his relationships to them, he uses them to his own end and takes them for granted. He is smart enough to realize this before his social capital is completely depleted.
Roger Sterling: And now you’re sniffing around because I have a golden pork chop dangling from my neck. I want to see what you look like with your tail between your legs. I’m not going to throw it all away just because he doesn’t want to work with McCann.
Don: Do you want to work there?
Roger: You don’t value what I do any more than they do.
Don: I was wrong. I learned that with Hilton. I can sell ideas but I’m not an account man.
Roger: You’re not good at relationships because you don’t value them.
Don: I value my relationship with you.
Roger: You do now.
Don: I do.
He admits that he’s wrong to several people in this episode. He thought he was the shit because of people like Hilton. When Hilton abandons him, he realizes that he’s not as great as he thought he was. He has to go back to the people who he’s been using, and he is able to persuade all of them (except Betty, who, it could be argued, he doesn’t really try to win back and therefore probably doesn’t want back).
Winning Pete Campbell back:
Don: Pete, I don’t blame you for bailing out, the way you’ve been treated.
Roger: We want your talent.
Pete: Really, what are my talents?
Roger: You’ll do what it takes.
Pete: No, I want to hear it from him.
Don: It’s not hard for me to say, Pete. You saw this coming, we didn’t. In fact, you’ve been ahead on a lot of things: aeronautics, teenagers, the negro market. We need you to keep us looking forward. I do, anyway.
Winning Peggy back:
Peggy: Do you want anything?
Don: Yes I do. You were right. I’ve taken you for granted. And I’ve been hard on you. But only because I think I see you as an extension of myself. And you’re not.
Peggy: Well thank you for stopping by.
Don: Sit down. Do you know why I don’t want to go to McCann?
Peggy: Because you don’t want to work for anyone else.
Don: No. Because there are people out there who buy things, people like you or me. Then something happened, something terrible. And the way that they saw themselves is gone. And nobody understands that. But you do. And that’s very valuable.
Peggy: Is it?
Don: With you or without you, I’m moving on. And I don’t know if I can do it alone. Will you help me?
This is the third time that Don has said that he needs someone this episode (Roger, Pete, Peggy). It’s pretty clear that he doesn’t want to be alone.
The lesson here
We can take risks, but we can not abandon people.
It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish passion from fear.
If you rally people to your vision, and do it with their best interests in mind along with your own, then risk and fear are not powerful and the illusion of bravery and drive can take you forward.
In many ways, not being alone is the true reward.
In order to not be alone, you have to commit.
Roger: So you want to be in advertising after all.