One of the most fascinating dynamics of AMC’s hit 1960s period piece, Mad Men, is the relationship between Don Draper and his daughter, Sally. This father and daughter duo seem to be two sides of the same coin, cut from the same cloth, as each spends a significant amount of time trying to hide who they really are from the people in their lives, particularly one another. In this last episode of Mad Men, Don Draper and Sally spend some significant quality time together that actually propels the development of the characters forward by leaps and bounds, more so than any episode in recent memory, although, despite his efforts, Don will still probably not win a father of the year award.
Anyone who has tuned in regularly to Mad Men over the last seven years knows that the central plotline for slick, suave Madison Avenue ad shark, Don Draper, is his constant struggle with identity. Draper has spent most of his life attempting to create a false persona, one to cover up who he truly is, because he views his true self as weak; a failure as a man. This insecurity has led Draper on a constant quest for validation by others, whether it is the women he sleeps with, his co-workers, or the work he creates for his clients. Preserving this identity has also cost him big in the relationship department, particularly with his children. The Mad Men leading man has poured a considerable amount of effort into keeping people at a distance, even his kids, lessening the chance that his true personality, Dick Whitman, might shine through a crack in the carefully crafted mask he wears every day.
Viewers of Mad Men have witnessed Sally develop a similar personality to her alcoholic, womanizing father, as she has blossomed into young adulthood on-screen. Now a student at a boarding school, Sally has taken naturally to lying in order to get what she wants, ignites her inner rebel when she lights up a cigarette and sneaks off into the city any chance she gets.
In the latest episode, Sally and friends are on their way to a funeral, but instead, decide to do some shopping in the Big Apple. When she loses her purse, she takes off to Daddy Don’s office to try to fix her mess. Instead, she discovers that her dad is nowhere to be found in the offices of Sterling Cooper and Partners, prompting her to pay a visit to Don’s bachelor pad.
When Don comes home to his surprise visitor, Sally asks where he has been, and true to typical Draper form, he fibs, telling her he was at the office. Sally spins a few yarns of her own about why she is in the city, and Don decides to drive Sally back to school himself. During the road trip, the two have a heated exchange where some two-ton truth bombs are dropped on Papa Draper’s head. Sally confesses that seeing her dad having sex with the neighbor left a deep emotional scar that traumatized her. Don Draper takes a minute to review the revelation that his actions actually have real consequences for other people and decides that he and Sally need to have a chat, so they pull into a diner where he starts to act like a real father for the first time since Mad Men premiered seven years ago.
As the two enjoy a meal, Don decides to do something that is totally foreign to his nature, which is telling the truth. He spills the beans to Sally about the events that transpired leading up to his forced leave of absence, why he was lying about not working, and that it was not the right time to share his personal story, though he seemed to admit that the truth does need to come out. Sally responds favorably to dear old dad’s honesty, opening up about herself and asking questions to engage conversation. Don decides the best way to end the night would be a good old-fashioned “dine and ditch” with his little princess. After leaving the diner, Don drops Sally off at school, and she tells her dad that she loves him, a statement that leaves the audience, as well as Daddy Draper, completely shocked and speechless.
Will this encounter with his daughter finally shake Draper awake to the power and liberty that lies in telling the truth? As the old saying goes, “the truth shall set you free,” so perhaps he will begin to connect the dots between the misery and pain his lying has caused him, and set himself free by telling everyone who he really is. Hopefully, he will spend some of the extra free time he has mulling over his experience with Sally and let it penetrate his thick skull. Perhaps, as jacked up as Don Draper is, there is still a chance for him to be “father of the year” to his kids, and to escape the cycle of self-destruction he has been perpetually stuck in since the very first episode of Mad Men.
Opinion by Michael Cantrell