Don king ruled Mad Men but four queens gave it soul

So Mad Men is now over and we can say goodbye to Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, a suave, womanising salesman who neatly encapsulates those two titans of the American soul: the military and advertising.

He was an intriguing character, a nymph-noble colossus who strode around the advertising agency shooting out creative ideas almost in his sleep while replenishing the key component of the advertising illusion that sex sells and always will.

Other male characters too like Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) were hugely entertaining: devious and dissatisfied, despite having everything stacked in their favour in terms of work, money and prospects.

But it’s the strong female characters and, in particular – Joan, Peggy, Betty and Megan – that give Mad Men its richness and texture.

With Joan and Peggy, played by Christina Hendricks and Elizabeth Moss respectively, it’s mainly the workplace frustrations and strategic manouverings that send them into multiple dead-ends. Missed promotions, sexism and inequality are just some of the anxieties swirling round their heads. Are they not getting the breaks because of one thing or the other? It could be the third thing. In an old-fashioned man’s world, deficiencies of the ‘other’ are everywhere.

And then there’s the two women that Don did finally commit to: his first wife Betty Draper, played by January Jones, and Megan Draper, played with grace and charisma by Jessica Pare.

Betty is neurotic and slightly detached, yearning for something elusive while Megan’s acting career is an an illuminating snapshot of the whole show: smile, play pretend, audition and repeat until you don’t know who you are.

All these female characters bring a subtlety and style to Mad Men – and it’s to writer Matthew Weiner’s credit that he keeps all their stories ticking along while the central volcano that is Don Draper continues to erupt.

Ultimately, Mad Men is about America – a country that has sold itself beautifully around the world in terms of products, aspirations and lifestyle – but is ambivalent about its own utopian message.

Don Draper may be at the heart of this paradox – but it’s the women behind the hard sell that truly run the show.

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