Don Draper is the fulcrum around which the world of Mad Men (2007-2015) pivots. Don’s mastery of deception, in both his personal and professional lives, weaves through the entire series. In the seventh and final season, all of Don’s artifices and the accouterments of success, begin to fall away. The closing shots of the final episodes feature Don, mostly alone, but always at the center of the shot. Leading up to the finale, we see Don sitting alone in the diner. We see him standing by himself in the sunken living room after Megan’s mother emptied it out, driving by myself on a deserted two-lane road, and, referencing back to the iconic parting shot from Season Five, we see Don standing in the center of the partners of Sterling Cooper, facing an uncertain future with McCann Erickson. In the penultimate episode sitting alone at a bus stop stripped of the fancy trappings and elegant accessories of a Madison Avenue ad man culminating with the last shot of him in the finale, legs crossed, meditating on a cliff, with a slightest of slight-handed smiles.
Don, despite a brief foray into a leisure suit with Megan in California, often remains the crisp-suited dandy. Yet, around him, men (and women) are dressing more casually, wearing dress shirts without jackets, casual slacks and sleeves rolled. While both Draper and the actor who plays him, Jon Hamm, have obviously aged, the lack of change in either is what is striking. Don Draper is a literal fiction, both on page and on screen. Dick Whitman assumed the Draper identity and created a carefully curated (if heavily flawed) persona. Times have changed. The decade has changed. Don has moved forward, but he hasn’t evolved. He is more like a sculpture exposed to the elements than a landscape eroded by time.
In the episode titled “Lost Horizon,” Don spots an airplane out the window, leaves McCann, and hits the road, letting the stylish costuming of his ad man persona fall away as he gets farther away from New York. When we see him in Utah in the finale he is actually wearing jeans. Matthew Weiner explains in the digital extras on iTunes; “It is really about Don being peeled away, as a lot of this season has been.” Don is being stripped away and someone — someone not quite Dick Whitman but someone other than Don Draper we already knew—is being revealed.