« We can't come up with a better name than Berberian Sound Studio? | Home | Some thoughts about Much Ado About Nothing, which I haven't seen »

June 5, 2013


Don Draper hallucinates, again

Don floating in a pool on Mad Men

I've mostly been liking this season of "Mad Men", and I've appreciated the many surprises and odd happenings that have popped up a show that was getting dangerously predictable. In particular, I liked the surprise merger, the disorienting break-in of Don and Megan's apartment by the kids' "grandmother", and every exchange between Joan and Peggy (especially this week's), whose relationship has always been one of the show's best and most complicated.

But one aspect that's getting irritating and sometimes comical is the overuse of hallucinations. Don Draper seems to hallucinate with such startling frequency that it's got to mean one of two things: his grasp on reality and overall psychological health are rapidly disintegrating toward total psychosis, or the show's writing is too reliant on a schlocky, soapy crutch. Do normal people hallucinate as much as as Don does? Of course not--just like amnesia is a much more common problem on daytime television than in real life--but it sure is a convenient plot device!

In the last couple of seasons, here are the times Don has hallucinated (that I can remember) and the alleged cause of his hallucination:

If we're supposed to conclude from all this that Don Draper is living on the razor's edge of sanity, and starts seeing things that aren't there whenever he runs a temperature or uses even the most pedestrian of recreational drugs, then OK, our protagonist is highly mentally unstable. If we're supposed to see hallucinations as a metaphor for the destabilizing, chaotic changes the American culture was going through in the late 60's, I can live with it, but it's clumsy and obvious. But if the writers keep using hallucinations because it's an easy way to visualize Don's emotional state and the people and things that he's haunted by, then they've really got to come up with something new.

My favorite thing in this week's episode are Don's sunglasses and Harry's rented Mustang.

Don, Roger, and Harry in the Mustang on Mad Men

categories: Culture, TV
posted by amy at 2:42 PM | #

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Some of the Crash stuff was possibly hallucinations, but I thought the Ken Cosgrove dance was real? I suppose you could argue it either way; the whole episode felt hallucinatory.

And I could make an argument that a lot of the items on your list were dreams. Especially Don killing the woman. He has a fever and gets a fever dream. Didn't it even end with him waking up and looking under the bed for the body? It's a thin distinction, I know, but Don seems a lot less crazy if they're dreams, and it's a little more plausible. The way they're filmed doesn't make it easy to decide either way, though.

Posted by: Matt at June 7, 2013 10:52 PM

You know, I didn't think Kenny tap-dancing was Don's hallucination either, at first, but a lot of the recaps of that episode that I've read seem to think it was. It started off seeming like it was really happening, but then when he starts dancing down the hallway it started feeling trippier. So I don't know.

And yeah, you're right, I guess the woman strangling thing was more of a fever dream, not a hallucination. I still feel like the show is suggesting that Don is psychologically barely holding it together, while his outward behavior hasn't changed all that much. Guess we'll see where they go with that.

Posted by: Amy at June 8, 2013 1:57 PM