Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Don & Dawn

Is it weird if Mad Men reminds me of Sealab? It’s just in one specific way. I refer to the tale of two Debbies.

I don’t think it occurred to me until the season finale of Archer, on which Jon Hamm voiced what was essentially the Sealab character Captain Murphy. That, along with Kristen Schall and Eugene Mirman joining their Bob’s Burgers co-star H. Jon Benjamin, made the episode one of the weirder instances of one TV show absorbing another since that Seinfeld reunion season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Now, I don’t think anyone on Mad Men has ever referred to Don’s secretary as Black Dawn, but that certainly would be on her coworkers’ minds, given what she represents to them. The partners said as much in this season’s third episode, and it’s a disambiguation that might well be made in SCDP office chatter we don’t see onscreen. At least how I’d pronounce them with my muddle-voweled California accent, Don and Dawn have the same name. Even though all the characters on the show are New Yorkers who might use different vowels, I don’t hear much of a difference between them talking about Don and them talking about Dawn.

Beyond being homophones, there’s a bit to this business with Don and Dawn. The Mad Men universe literally had two Don Drapers, to say nothing of the multiple Dons that he’s presented over the course of the show — Don in the office, Don with Betty, Don with Megan, Don with every other woman he’s stumbled into. You’d have to imagine that during his many brooding sessions Don has realized the strangeness of having a double in the office at all, no less one who acts as an extension of himself by virtue of being his secretary.

Also, don and dawn are both verbs. To don something is to put something on, and I’m sure Mad Men fans have already noted and noted again how that sense matches his last name and his habit of deceiving people. Dawn, however, means to get brighter, in the sense of a sunrise. (Dawn’s last name is Chambers, however, and it’s ironic then that a lot of her co-workers would see her skin color and think of her as darkening the room.) There’s also an extended sense of to dawn that gets even further toward being an opposite of the obscuring, cloaking associations of don: to begin to be perceived, in the sense of “the truth dawned on me.”

I’m probably overthinking this, but it would be rather on-the-nose if Dawn Chambers ended up playing some role in unmasking Don Draper. I mean, to have Black Dawn spill the beans that the other Don isn’t a Don at all but some guy named Dick Whitman? Too much.

“dick whitman’s office. this is dawn speaking. no, the other one.”
I hope Mad Men wouldn’t take this route, but then again, the show did introduce a black character named Dawn to represent the beginning of the age of racial integration. And that, when you think about it, should also seem just a little too perfect.


  1. Anonymous10:52 AM

    I never thought of Don's name in that sense before. I thought about it like the Spanish "don," the guy in charge.

    1. And I'm sure there's other ways to analyze his name too. Like Don = Donald = Donald Duck, who doesn't wear pants and Don doesn't either because he's banging every woman within reach.

  2. Anonymous2:09 PM

    Have you noticed all the bid names on the show? There are a lot, and I wonder if the writers did it on purpose.

    1. YES! I was just talking about this a few weeks ago. There's Harry Crane, Duck Phillips, Trudy Campbell nee Vogel, and he calls Betty "Birdie." (And then in the "Bye Bye Birdie" season, he divorces Birdie, which is neat.) I wonder if it has something to do with flight and the recurring theme of falling. Think about it: There's a lot of importance to falling on the show, and I mean literal, physical falling. It happens quite a lot. And, of course, it happens every episode on the opening credits.