Mad Men, "Nixon vs. Kennedy": leave your life [Key Series Moments]

“Nixon vs. Kennedy” breaks out into two main stories: the first involves the presidential election of 1960 and more specifically the wild and crème de menthe-soaked office party at Sterling Cooper that takes place to celebrate the event, and the second showcases Pete’s dramatic confrontation with Don over the discovery of the latter’s true identity.

sterling cooper

The Korean War, which posed communist North Korea against a democratic South Korea, was emblematic of an era in which the United States and Soviet Union engaged in an ideological struggle that took many forms. For a young Dick Whitman, however, going off to war allowed him to escape the hell of poverty and an unloving family that he was orphaned into (and, as a matter of fact, Don/Dick only seems peripherally interested in politics at all: like religion and sex, “…why talk about it?” he tells Betty earlier in Season One).

War is its own hell, of course, and one that can only be truly appreciated when experienced firsthand. We get but a glimpse as a flashback takes us to the Korean War, where a young Private named Dick Whitman is assigned to a Lieutenant Donald Draper. Somehow, Private Whitman is the only member of a workforce that is supposed to dig fighting positions around a field hospital. An “accident” occurs as Don/Dick (as we come to know him) will later tell a few select people, leaving the real Draper dead and Whitman injured.

This allows a crime of opportunity to take place: Whitman switches out the dog tags – this is an era before electronic records and the Internet, of course – and suddenly Dick Whitman has escaped his old life under the guise of becoming Don Draper (who just happens to be wrapping up his tour of duty).

In a scene not that far removed from Tom Sawyer, though without the comedic effect, the “new” Don Draper has been tasked with bringing the corpse of “Dick Whitman” home to his family. It’s a funeral for his own life, though it would be ruined if Don/Dick got off the train to be seen by the “sorry people” who raised him. Therefore he declines to get off the train, though he manages to get seen by a young Adam Whitman. Adam tries to tell his parents that his brother is alive, but isn’t believed. Viewing this with the knowledge that Adam later hangs himself after Don/Dick rejects him in “5G” hangs over this moment like, well, a noose.

And to cap the sequence exquisitely, a pretty woman takes pity on the sad looking Don/Dick on the train and offers to buy him a drink. The construction of the Don Draper uniform and persona has begun.  

As we wait for the arrival of Season Five, currently scheduled to premiere in early 2012, stay tuned to TV Geek Army all summer long to get your Mad Men fix. Here we take a look at a key series moment from Season One, Episode Twelve: “Kennedy vs. Nixon.”

By Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader"

About the author

Eric is the publisher and revered leader of TV Geek Army… at least in his own mind. TV Geek Army is a place for serious TV reviews and news for serious fans of great television. Contact: eric-[at] 

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