At The A.V. Club, I examine how Mad Men uses images of cowboys and astronauts as symbols of freedom — and just as often, as avenues of imagined escape:
These superficially discordant visions of cowboy and astronaut are fundamentally similar: exploring a frontier, expanding the mapped world, and returning home to tell the tale. Astronauts orbit and return to Earth. Cowboys ride the range and bring the livestock home. These connotations of repetition and return undermine the frontier’s twin promises of opportunity and escape.
That contrast is at the heart of Mad Men, which asks whether people are capable of change—and whether they want to be. Amid the show’s flamboyant parade of changing styles and social mores and its characters’ shifting families and career trajectories, it’s easy to ignore how often they lapse into repeating old patterns and recreating the relationships they learned in childhood, no one more than Don Draper.