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Tracking Don Draper’s Downward Spiral

1. In “The Doorway,” Don Draper is reading The Inferno.

In "The Doorway," Don Draper is reading The Inferno .

The Inferno follows Dante’s descent into Hell, as he travels down through the incrementally horrible circles. It’s not quite that literal with Don, but Season 6 of Mad Men does show his journey to a very dark place — and it gets progressively worse with each episode.

Image by AMC
Image by AMC
Image by AMC

It’s really embarrassing. But it’s also one of the first cracks in the veneer. The audience is used to seeing Don as someone who’s suave, charming, and, above all, able to hold his alcohol. This Don — sweaty and sick — will recur throughout the season as he loses grip on his life.

3. In “Collaborators,” Don flashes back to an early moment of trauma while in bed with Sylvia.

In "Collaborators," Don flashes back to an early moment of trauma while in bed with Sylvia.

He remembers seeing his mother having sex in the whorehouse where he grew up. His face when he returns to the present with Sylvia is contorted and, again, sweaty.

Image by AMC

4. He then gives Sylvia money, as though she’s a prostitute.

He then gives Sylvia money, as though she's a prostitute.

He’s not really paying her for sex — the money is for her son Mitchell — but it reads that way. And it’s a low point for Don, at least suggesting that he’s now paying for something he used to get for free.

Image by AMC

5. At the end of the episode, Don can’t even enter his own apartment.

At the end of the episode, Don can't even enter his own apartment.

He stands in front of the door for a moment before slumping against the wall.

Image by AMC

6. Don starts to look visibly sadder: in “To Have and to Hold,” he stays in bed while Megan goes off to work.

Don starts to look visibly sadder: in "To Have and to Hold," he stays in bed while Megan goes off to work.

Her role on “To Have and to Hold” has become more prominent. And yes, that title feels especially appropriate given that her increasing independence means that Don is losing his hold over her.

Image by AMC

7. Later in the episode, he jealously watches Megan do a love scene, then seeks solace with Sylvia.

Later in the episode, he jealously watches Megan do a love scene, then seeks solace with Sylvia.

This is not the face of a casanova: It’s someone who’s looking for comfort because he’s barely holding it together.

Image by AMC

8. In “The Flood,” Don drinks heavily after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

In "The Flood," Don drinks heavily after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

He drinks more in Season 6 than in any past seasons. Behold, the less-than-flattering morning after.

Image by AMC
Image by AMC
Image by AMC

And he’s chided by Megan for it. Throughout the episode, he looks like a sad drunk: disheveled hair, blotchy skin, and — once again — that persistent sheen of sweat.

10. Don is visibly scared when Ted flies them both in “Man with a Plan.”

Don is visibly scared when Ted flies them both in "Man with a Plan."

And who could blame him! But it’s a significant image, as the audience sees Don looking flushed and queasy. And, perhaps more to the point, vulnerable. As a passenger on the plane, Don has relinquished all control to Ted; note how he uselessly grabs on to the strap.

Image by AMC

11. His need for control plays out in his kinky sex games with Sylvia, but she gains the upper hand.

His need for control plays out in his kinky sex games with Sylvia, but she gains the upper hand.

After an episode in which he degrades and manipulates her, Sylvia proves she’s still the stronger one when she’s able to walk away. That she does this after Don has been playing a hypermasculine, aggressive role makes him look all the more pathetic.

Image by AMC

12. At the end of the episode, he’s still in shock, mourning his relationship as Megan mourns Robert F. Kennedy.

At the end of the episode, he's still in shock, mourning his relationship as Megan mourns Robert F. Kennedy.

The space between them is key: As Season 6 progresses, Don also becomes increasingly isolated from everyone around him.

Image by AMC

13. Don cannot handle his breakup with Sylvia, and he lurks outside her apartment in “The Crash.”

Don cannot handle his breakup with Sylvia, and he lurks outside her apartment in "The Crash."

He’s chain-smoking.

Image by AMC

14. And the discarded cigarettes suggest he’s been lurking for a while.

And the discarded cigarettes suggest he's been lurking for a while.

They’re also a message to Sylvia, who will soon reiterate that she’s not interested.

Image by AMC

15. Don begs Sylvia to come back, and when she refuses, he throws the phone against the wall.

Don begs Sylvia to come back, and when she refuses, he throws the phone against the wall.

He’s completely losing his cool. What’s ironic is that even though he’s clearly experiencing emotion, his telling Sylvia “I’m feeling a lot of emotions too” reads false.

Image by AMC
Image by AMC
Image by URL

17. Along with everyone else in the office, Don gets a shot of amphetamines in the ass.

Along with everyone else in the office, Don gets a shot of amphetamines in the ass.

But instead of giving him a much needed burst of creative energy, it sends him completely over the edge. He’s unfocused, confused, and — you guessed it — sweaty.

Image by AMC

18. The longer his trip goes on, the worse he looks.

The longer his trip goes on, the worse he looks.

He hasn’t been sleeping well throughout Season 6, but now he’s literally unable to rest. And he’s losing time.

Image by AMC

19. In desperation, he returns to Sylvia’s apartment.

In desperation, he returns to Sylvia's apartment.

Once again, the audience sees Don standing at a door without entering. Here he just puts his head against the door: It almost looks like he’s sleeping, but he’s standing up.

Image by AMC

20. Meanwhile, he continues to flash back to his traumatic childhood.

Meanwhile, he continues to flash back to his traumatic childhood.

The audience learns that the first time Don was with a woman, it was an act of rape by a prostitute. He’s sick and he doesn’t seem all that aware of what’s happening — all the control is taken away from him. This is Don before he was able to use sex to his advantage, when it was something done to him without his consent.

Image by AMC

21. Back in the present, Don is more frantic than ever at work.

Back in the present, Don is more frantic than ever at work.

He appears desperate, which is not a typical Don Draper trait. And he looks like shit.

Image by AMC

22. Once Don finally makes it to his apartment, he’s stunned to find he’s been the victim of a home invasion.

Once Don finally makes it to his apartment, he's stunned to find he's been the victim of a home invasion.

He wasn’t around to protect his wife, his kids, his home.

Image by AMC

23. And now, at his lowest, he collapses, landing on his face.

And now, at his lowest, he collapses, landing on his face.

For the first time in the episode, he’s able to get some rest, but it doesn’t exactly look comfortable. Also note how similar this shot looks to when he had his head pressed up against Sylvia’s door.

Image by AMC

24. Eventually, he makes it to bed, looking worse than ever.

Eventually, he makes it to bed, looking worse than ever.

That empty stare. Those hollow eyes. This is the new Don Draper, and it isn’t pretty.

Image by AMC

25. In “The Better Half,” Don has sex with Betty.

In "The Better Half," Don has sex with Betty.

Perhaps he’s trying to relive his past glory. Either way, he wakes up alone.

Image by AMC

26. Eating alone, he sees Betty and Henry together.

Eating alone, he sees Betty and Henry together.

The look on his face underscores the futility of the previous night’s encounter: It wasn’t a successful conquest so much as a shadow of the way things used to be. And it leaves Don once again isolated, forced to watch his family — with a new husband and father — from a distance.

Image by AMC

27. Don’s separation from Megan continues in “A Tale of Two Cities,” when he goes to L.A.

Don's separation from Megan continues in "A Tale of Two Cities," when he goes to L.A.

Megan calls Don because she doesn’t feel safe, but there’s nothing he can do from across the country.

Image by AMC

29. Later in the episode, Don attends a Hollywood party where he gets high and hallucinates.

Later in the episode, Don attends a Hollywood party where he gets high and hallucinates.

Check out the vacant stare and the bags under his eyes — it’s like an amphetamine shot to the ass all over again.

Image by AMC
Image by AMC
Image by AMC

31. Turns out he’s really drowning, and Roger has to revive him.

Turns out he's really drowning, and Roger has to revive him.

As party fouls go, nearly dying in the host’s pool might top the list. So much for Don making a good impression.

Image by AMC

32. In “Favors,” Don manages to sleep with Sylvia again, but Sally catches them in the act.

In "Favors," Don manages to sleep with Sylvia again, but Sally catches them in the act.

Don with his pants around his ankles is one of the lowest points imaginable. The whole thing is shameful and embarrassing.

Image by AMC
Image by AMC
Image by AMC

He’s panicked, which is something the audience hasn’t really seen from Don Draper before. Compare this Don with the one who stood up to Pete after Pete discovered the truth of Don’s identity. And for a man who’s always well dressed, there’s something especially unnerving about seeing him frantically tucking in his shirt.

34. In the lobby, Don can barely speak to the doorman.

In the lobby, Don can barely speak to the doorman.

He asks Don if he’s OK, because sweaty, vacant Don is clearly anything but.

Image by AMC

35. Later Don returns home hammered.

Later Don returns home hammered.

Again, Don has been drinking too much all season, but it’s never been a more obvious escape. He looks toward Sally for forgiveness, but she avoids his stare. Don is a mess, as evidenced by Sally’s friend offering to cut his meat for him, because he appears incapable of doing it himself.

Image by AMC

36. Things only get worse when Arnold Rosen shows up at the door.

Things only get worse when Arnold Rosen shows up at the door.

There is fear in Don’s eyes: Does Sylvia’s husband know about the affair? Did Sally tell him? Actually Arnold is there to thank Don for helping Mitchell avoid the draft, but the terror is real. Don doesn’t have a handle on things, and he realizes the jig could be up at any moment.

Image by AMC

37. Outside Sally’s door, Don pleads with his daughter to listen.

Outside Sally's door, Don pleads with his daughter to listen.

She tells him that he can’t talk to her anymore. Don has effectively lost any authority as a parent. Sally has seen him with his pants around his ankles, literally. And he continues to lie to her, insulting her intelligence as a young woman and destroying any trust she had in him.

Image by AMC

38. He ends up returning to his room, resigned.

He ends up returning to his room, resigned.

He ultimately can’t get Sally to listen, so he gives up. The shot of the hallway at the end of the episode underlines the new distance between father and daughter — as well as Don’s ever-growing isolation.

Image by AMC

39. By “The Quality of Mercy,” Don is a shell of his former self, reduced to sleeping in the fetal position in a child’s bed.

By "The Quality of Mercy," Don is a shell of his former self, reduced to sleeping in the fetal position in a child's bed.

Now that he’s lost control over his life and everyone in it, Don is infantilized.

Image by AMC

40. Megan urges Don to slow down and take better care of himself.

Megan urges Don to slow down and take better care of himself.

For a while, he was at least able to put up a front of having it together. This Don isn’t even trying.

Image by AMC

41. She goes on to tell him that he looks terrible, because he does.

She goes on to tell him that he looks terrible, because he does.

Seriously, has Don Draper ever been less appealing? One could argue that he’s truly sick (or at least really hungover), but this new look is really just the culmination of a season-long downward spiral. To put it in extreme terms, his soul has been rotting from within, and now it’s finally starting to show on the outside.

Image by AMC

42. When Betty calls Don to talk about Sally, he can’t even put up a fight.

When Betty calls Don to talk about Sally, he can't even put up a fight.

Betty tells Don that Sally is no longer interested in staying with him. He’s mostly too drunk (or sad) to care, which Betty picks up on. Remember the volatility of their conversations in the past?

Image by AMC

43. And when Megan comes home, Don continues his self-imposed isolation.

And when Megan comes home, Don continues his self-imposed isolation.

She reminds him that he can watch TV in the bedroom — with his wife at his side. But Don either doesn’t hear or doesn’t care. He’s a zombie.

Image by AMC

44. At the end of the episode, Peggy confronts Don for his detestable behavior.

At the end of the episode, Peggy confronts Don for his detestable behavior.

Again, he’s incapable of responding. She calls him a “monster” to his face, and he sits there in silence. He has no friends or allies, and no real desire to fight back.

Image by AMC

45. Instead, he returns to the fetal position he began the episode in.

Instead, he returns to the fetal position he began the episode in.

This is the last shot of the episode. At this point, it’s hard to imagine Don sinking any lower. He’s reached his nadir. But if that’s the case, what’s next?

Image by AMC

46. In the season finale, “In Care Of,” Don continues to drink heavily.

In the season finale, "In Care Of," Don continues to drink heavily.

He gets so drunk, in fact, that he punches a minister. Which is frowned upon in most circles.

Image by AMC

47. And he winds up spending the night in jail.

And he winds up spending the night in jail.

“I shouldn’t be in here,” he says. The sense that Don is trapped has never been more apparent than it is now, with him literally behind bars.

Image by AMC

48. The next day he tells Megan what happened, which means finally acknowledging that he has a problem.

The next day he tells Megan what happened, which means finally acknowledging that he has a problem.

So what’s the next step? Rehab? AA? No, Don wants to move to Los Angeles and start fresh.

Image by AMC

50. At the office, Ted actually makes Don drink to stave off the symptoms of withdrawal.

At the office, Ted actually makes Don drink to stave off the symptoms of withdrawal.

If the audience had any doubts about how serious his alcoholism has become, this scene drives it home. Don is visibly suffering from an addiction, to the extent that his colleagues have noticed.

Image by AMC

52. And finally, as he hits rock bottom, Don breaks down and starts to tell the truth.

And finally, as he hits rock bottom, Don breaks down and starts to tell the truth.

He’s not purposely sabotaging the meeting with Hershey’s, but that’s essentially what happens. On the one hand, this is likely the beginning of Don Draper’s redemptive arc: He’s reinventing himself, perhaps as Dick Whitman. On the other hand, Don has never been worse at his job.

Image by AMC

53. Don tells Megan that they can’t move to L.A., and she leaves, maybe for good.

Don tells Megan that they can't move to L.A., and she leaves, maybe for good.

His feeble “I love you” feels like too little too late.

54. At the end of the episode, Don’s partners force him to take an indefinite leave of absence.

At the end of the episode, Don's partners force him to take an indefinite leave of absence.

This is what they did to Freddy Rumsen way back when — it’s the closest they can really come to firing Don. And given his behavior all season, can you really blame them?

Image by AMC

55. Don has now lost everything.

Don has now lost everything.

“Going down?” Lou Avery asks. But Don is already at the bottom. His marriage is over, his kids are gone (Sally even uses the alias “Beth Francis”), and he’s out of a job. The only place he can go from here is up — but it’s going to be a daunting climb.

Image by AMC
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