Don Draper needs a job. He needs a lot of things, actually: a wife he views as an equal, some true friends, a recreational hobby (tennis, maybe? furniture restoration?), and certainly an AA group. But these needs are as old as Mad Men; we’ve known about the women and the booze as long as we’ve known Don Draper. What’s new this season is that the legendary ad man — the dickish creative genius, the “Why I’m quitting tobacco” guy — is now mostly without a job, sitting sadly on his couch, ghostwriting for lesser men. The last of his purpose has drained out of him. It is not a good look.
Since Don has historically been terrible at solving his own problems, Vulture went in search of professional career advice for our sad friend. Denise Spatafora, a business strategist who has worked with the creative heads of Ogilvy & Mather, Chiat Day, Leo Burnett, and other advertising agencies, gamely agreed to treat the fictional character as she would any other client — which meant dissecting the inner depths of his soul (like, really) in order to find a more functional career path. Good news: She has hope for Don, provided that he follows these four pieces of advice.
1. Live every day like you just ate a Hershey bar.
Though it wasn’t appropriate in a business setting, Spatafora loved last season’s climactic Hershey bar speech, in which Don revealed his whorehouse childhood past and told a conference room full of executives that advertising is worthless. “Puking it out like that is not being accountable,” she says, “but what I’m seeing from him is that he’s no longer willing to lie.” Spatafora would want Don to embrace his Hershey Moment, and to spend more time thinking about the fear and lying that motivated it. “If we’re gonna blow this whole thing up anyway, let’s not have it be blown up in a way that you leak it out and it happens to you. I’d rather it not happen to him. I’d rather him take it, and take charge, and create something from there. Maybe say, Fuck advertising, I’m done with this shit.”
2. Definitely do not go back to Sterling Cooper & Partners.
There is a certain amount of relationship repair that can be done, says Spatafora, if Don is willing to have honest conversations and take responsibility for his mess. (That’s a big fat if, obviously.) But Spatafora can’t see any upside to fighting for his old job. “You can apologize for leaking out in the middle of the meeting, but there’s nothing to restore in him going back. Because if he goes back, he goes back into the lie trap. He has to swallow everything he thinks, everything he feels, everything that he is free to be.”
3. Start a new company, with a new definition of advertising.
Don has built his entire professional (and personal) success by adhering to — and creating, in part — the squeaky-clean 1960s version of the American Dream. Spatafora thinks that he’s in a position to reinvent himself by doing that again, but with a more honest vision. “If you look at the late ‘60s and Watergate and all the craziness, there was lots of upheaval, lots of fear. Everyone’s not walking around driving Cadillacs and being able to buy as many Hershey bars as they want. So maybe, if he went about revolutionizing advertising in a way that actually spoke to where people were now, instead of just trying to candy-coat the whole bullshit.” She thinks he can avoid a flameout as long as he finds a new firm or venue for his talents. “I would be really intrigued to see what he would create if he could have the courage to own his entire life without shame.”
4. Get off the damn couch.
The above advice all relies on Don’s willingness to actually deal with his demons — a willingness that was entirely absent from the season-seven premiere, and really the whole show. “Here’s the thing: He deserves everything he gets,” says Spatafora of Don’s wasted afternoons and broken marriages. “But if he starts telling the truth — if he could actually own his shit, and realize the impact of all his lies and what it’s done [to] his children and everybody around him, that would be very cool.” Does Spatafora, who spent the better part of this week inside Don’s head, actually think he’ll find that ability? “I had a client who was like this, and I do. I feel like it’s coming. I really do.”