Mad Men s1e8: The Hobo Code

This episode informs a bunch of Don’s character through a flashback to his childhood. The Hobo Code is one of my favourite episodes in the series.

Before we get to the really meaty stuff, Pete and Peggy have an early morning bang in the office, and Pete proceeds to get all weird and deep. He’s talking about his wife and how she’s basically another stranger to him, implying that Peggy is a little more than that. See also, Things Men Say to Mistresses 101.

Contrary to this roundabout compliment, he’s a massively miserable prick at the bar that afternoon while celebrating Peggy’s successful copy in the Belle Jolie meeting. Mark your Man! She’s dancing and having fun, and when she invites him to join in he flatly tells her “I don’t like you like this”. Lighten the fuck up, Pete! It’s a nod at how closed off he really is, that being confronted with something real like Peggy genuinely enjoying herself, he’s got no goddamned idea what to do.

Though she’s upset by his supercilious remark, Peggy is finding her footing with the men at Sterling Cooper as well as her writing. She’s digging to find her true self, along with Salvatore albeit in a different way in a near-sexual encounter with Elliott at a hotel bar. Ah, Sal. Ya should’ve gone to see his view of Central Park!

So, Don is the guy with the escape plan. He’s likely mapped out every single possible way out within minutes of being in any one place, and when Bert Cooper gives him a $2500 check with a very close to home speech attached to it, he panics.


“The hell did you just call me?”

image courtesy of Mad Men Wikia

Bert: “When you hit 40, you realize you’ve met or seen every kind of person there is, and I know what kind you are.. because I believe we are alike.”
Don: “.. I assume that’s flattering.”
Bert: “By that I mean that you are a productive and reasonable man, and in the end completely self-interested. It’s strength. We are different– unsentimental about all the people who depend on our hard work.”

Don doesn’t let much on about himself, so he’s fairly spooked by this bit of accuracy. He runs off to see Midge and is greeted by some ginger in an actual Fez. Whilst stoned in her beatnik paradise of weed and Miles Davis, Don remembers meeting a Hobo one day while growing up. Since it’s the Great Depression and all, he comes to stay on the Whitman family farm for a meal in exchange for some work. Though frightened at first, Dick is drawn to him.

Bert Cooper and this Hobo think themselves a cut above the rest of the world because they each follow a self-centred credo. They both share that wisdom with Don, hoping to show him how their way of thinking distinguishes them. As a kid, Dick absorbs everything the Hobo says with rapt fascination and understanding beyond his years. This is a kid who’s been looking for an escape route for as long as he can remember.

Dick: I’m supposed to tell you to say your prayers.

Hobo: Praying won’t help you from this place, kid. Best keep your mind on your mother, she’ll probably look after you.

Dick: She ain’t my momma.

Hobo: We all wish we were from someplace else, believe me.

Dick: Ain’t you heard? I’m a whore child.

Hobo: No. I hadn’t heard anything about that.

Dick: You don’t talk like a bum.

Hobo: I’m not. I’m a gentleman of the rails.. for me, every day is brand new. Every day’s a brand new place, people, what have you.

Dick: So you got no home, that’s sad..

Hobo: What’s at home? I had a family once: a wife, a job, a mortgage. I couldn’t sleep at night tied to all those things. Then death came to find me.

Dick: Did you see him?

Hobo: Only every night. So one morning, I freed myself with the clothes on my back. Goodbye! Now I sleep like a stone: sometimes under the stars, the rain, the roof of a barn. But I sleep like a stone. Tomorrow I’ll be leaving this place, that’s for certain. If death was coming anyplace, it’s here, kid, creeping around every corner.

The next morning post-work, Archie stiffs the Hobo the nickel that was offered and tells him to leave. As he’s walking down the street, Dick sees that their house is marked with a sickle – “a dishonest man lives here”. Not inaccurate.

When Don comes to his senses and goes to bounce, the beatniks really rail into him about ‘inventing the lie’ and all that other crap. Don offers some devastating nihilistic realness.

“Well, I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie. There is no system. The universe is indifferent.”

The episode closes the following morning with a flurry of typewriters and the minutiae of people chatting, closing in on his emblazoned office door; Donald Draper, a different type of dishonest man.

I mean, good lord. This episode packs so much into a couple of scenes, and Don carries these ideas with him throughout the show’s run. Through those flashbacks and his interaction with Cooper, you really learn what makes Don tick. He’s constructed this bulletproof disguise for the outside world, but Dick Whitman is still rattling around in there somewhere.

But eventually,  if you centre your life around yourself and escapism, pretty soon everything starts to look like a door.

4 thoughts on “Mad Men s1e8: The Hobo Code

  1. Pingback: Mad Men s4e7: The Suitcase | the MARS DEN

  2. Pingback: Mad Men s4e13: Tomorrowland | the MARS DEN

  3. Pingback: Mad Men s5e6: Far Away Places | the MARS DEN

  4. Pingback: Mad Men s5e12: Commissions and Fees | the MARS DEN

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