October 21, 2008

Don Draper's Full Tarot Reading, Card By Card

On this week's episode of Mad Men, existentially-nauseated adman Don Draper received a rigorous Tarot reading from a well-meaning friend. The entire ten-card spread was briefly shown, but only two of them were discussed in the scene; however, since the show held pretty closely to the true meanings of those cards, then logically, the other cards on the table offer salient points as to what's in store for Don. Let's take a look, shall we?

The reading is a basic Celtic cross spread. I've provided an annotated screencap so that you can tell which positions I'm referring to. Where possible, I've linked to the cards on my Tarot site, Arcanalogue.


1. The first card, or "significator," is the one that represents the person the reading is about. In this case, it's The Sun, inverted. The Sun would generally paint a radiant, robustly positive picture of Don's overall situation, and let's face it -- as a wealthy, charismatic advertising executive with a beautiful family, Don wakes up every day with more going for him than most people. But it's inverted, so what appears to be a healthy and enviable situation is seriously corrupted. You could say that the Sun card represents the perfect face that people see when they look at Don's life, blinding them to how exhausted and unstable he actually is.

2. You can see that The Sun is crossed by the Eight of Cups, which represents the conflict at hand. The linked description perfectly sums up what Don's facing:
"...An important turning point. A certain ill-fated relationship or foolish fantasy has been indulged as far as you dare let it, and the time has come to face facts, and gather the strength to walk away. The fact that your attachment is emotional, not simply practical, will make it far harder to admit defeat -- but once you do, you'll find that every grudging step moves you closer to the new world just past those hillsides which once seemed so far away."

3. This card, Judgement, was one of those the show actually expounded on; Don thought it meant the end of the world, but the reader corrected him, saying it implied "resurrection." While I do think that was a helpful thing to tell him, I'd like to add a few points. First of all, this position tells us what a person's conscious, everyday approach to life is, so the card means that Don's struggle over his identity and true nature are at the forefront of his mind almost all the time. It indicates that one cycle of his life is drawing to a close, and that he's taking stock of which parts of it he'll be taking with him into the next cycle. If you've been watching the show since the first season, then you've definitely seen this coming as well.

4. Opposite that card is the one indicating his unconscious thoughts and desires. The Princess (or Page) of Pentacles makes it a little clearer why Don was so fascinated by those men working on hot-rods in the same episode; he may be a genius at advertising, but he finds it hollow and unfulfilling. He yearns to do something more substantial with his life:
"By approaching a traditional path or pattern with an adventurous and playful spirit, you can wind up creating work that is both substantial and inspiring. Our hands beg for something concrete to do, an outlet for our natural curiosity and restlessness and self-indulgence."
The Princess also holds an insight into the kind of woman who would satisfy this restlessness; perhaps it explains why he can't bring himself to truly leave Betty and his children behind.

5. This position shows us the past, or what is coming to an end. The appearance of an inverted Three of Cups lets us know that Don's days of wild abandon and gross excess are numbered. This is pretty perfectly illustrated by his reaction to the cadre of exotically wealthy playmates he camped out with in the last episode. Everything in the world was laid out before him, but he found that the largesse doesn't scratch the itch like it used to.

6. Uh-oh. As for what's on the horizon, it looks like the Sterling Cooper merger that Don's still unaware of might not work out in his favor. The Five of Swords indicates that Don isn't in a position to protect his best interests in the challenges ahead, and it could spell disaster:
"You may even find yourself flat-out tricked or lied to. But aside from any conflicts with external entities, it also indicates an inborn crisis in your own confidence and your ability to meet challenges fairly."
7. This is the other card addressed in the show, The World. I take issue with the interpretation she offers -- when she tells Don, "The only thing keeping you from being happy is the belief that you are alone," it's pretty obvious that she's using the card as an excuse to tell him something she already thinks. That made me like this character a lot more because it illustrates how well she knows Don, and that she's very skilled at influencing him. What she knows, but it smart enough not to say, is that he is on the verge of discovering his true calling, and that for a brief time he will have access to everything he needs to begin a new phase in his life. Letting him figure it out for himself is a master stroke.

8. Don has an entire world waiting for him back in New York, and the Nine of Wands gives us a glimpse of how they will respond to him upon his return. Basically, it says that he is the core source of strength to a great many people, in both his personal and professional life. That's been a fairly tolerable situation for him up until now, but I suspect that if he returns to NYC all tanned and "resurrected" that it's really going to shake the tent-poles and leave a lot of people scrambling and feeling betrayed.

9. The Wheel of Fortune represents Don's hopes and/or fears for the future; in this case, his leap into the great unknown has forced him to give up the illusion of control that he's perfected over the years, and that's scary as hell. While by the end of the episode he seems very inspired and willing to accept his uncertain destiny, the idea that sometime soon he might be an entirely different person (his true self, whomever that is) has to be pretty intimidating.

10. Whatever's gonna happen, it's gonna happen fast! As in, the next episode is probably going to spark a minor revolution. The Eight of Wands puts development into fast forward -- lots of "Aha!" moments and lightning strikes. While I'm no psychic, I'm assuming Don will return to NYC next episode, that all hell will break loose, and that the season will end right in the middle of this shitstorm. And something tells me when Season 3 starts, both the audience and the other characters on the show going to have a hard time recognizing Mr. Draper in his entirely new incarnation.

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