Analysis of Madmen

Summary Summary: Don Draper, a successful ad executive, faces challenges with his cigarette account and the crackdown on health claims by the Trade Commission. He seeks solace and advice from Midge Daniels, an artist he is involved with. Midge offers sarcastic remarks and suggestions but also provides support and reassurance. Meanwhile, Peggy Olson starts her first day as a secretary at Sterling Cooper and receives guidance from Joan, the office manager, on how to navigate the office and handle Don. Peggy also goes to the doctor to get a prescription for contraceptive pills, where she is made to feel comfortable and responsible. Don and his colleague, Roger, have conversations about their upcoming meeting with the tobacco executives and discuss the lack of diversity in the company. They meet Rachel Mencken, who challenges Don's strategies during a boardroom meeting, leading to tension and arguments. However, Don's pitch of a new angle for cigarette advertising - emphasizing the dangers of everyday life - impresses the executives. In a separate storyline, Don and Rachel engage in a deep conversation about love, loneliness, and the meaning of life after their heated argument. They find a mutual connection and acknowledge the possibility of a future meeting. Overall, the movie explores Don's professional and personal life, his relationships with various characters, and the challenges he faces in the advertising industry. It delves into themes of love, identity, and societal expectations during the 1960s.

Screenplay Story Analysis

Story Critique The overall story has a strong focus on character development and explores themes of loyalty, identity, and societal expectations. The dialogue is engaging and the scenes between Don and Midge, as well as Don and Rachel, provide depth to the characters. However, there are several repetitive scenes that could be condensed or removed to improve pacing. The tension and conflict between characters is well-executed and adds to the overall drama of the story. The setting of 1960s Manhattan adds an interesting backdrop and enhances the authenticity of the narrative. The screenplay successfully introduces and establishes the main characters and their relationships, leaving the audience intrigued for what comes next.
Suggestions: To improve the screenplay, consider condensing or removing repetitive scenes to enhance the pacing. Explore opportunities for more visual storytelling and use the setting of 1960s Manhattan to its full potential. Introduce additional subplots or conflicts to further engage the audience. Develop secondary characters to add depth and complexity to the story. Consider exploring new themes or adding additional layers to the existing themes to add depth to the overall narrative.

Note: This is the overall critique. For scene by scene critique click here

Characters in the screenplay, and their arcs:

Don Draper

Don Draper is a handsome and conservative man in his early 30s. He is observant and curious about people. A successful ad man facing challenges in his career and personal life. He is charismatic and confident but also shows vulnerability. He values integrity and is respected in the advertising industry.

Peggy Olson

Peggy Olson is a young, naive, and eager new secretary who is just starting her career at Sterling Cooper. She is open-minded and willing to learn. Peggy is nervous and eager to please on her first day as a secretary at Sterling Cooper. She is responsible and conscientious, seeking contraception for practical reasons. She is determined and ambitious, introducing Greta Guttmann to Don and Sal.


Don is a charismatic and confident ad executive who is driven by success and is willing to take risks. He is focused, determined, and always prepared for meetings. Don shows wit and sarcasm in his interactions with others, particularly with Roger, which showcases his sense of humor. He values professionalism and plays a strong leadership role in his team. Don is a talented advertising executive who comes up with innovative ideas, displaying his creativity and charisma. However, he can also get frustrated easily, which sometimes hinders his ability to collaborate effectively with others. Deep down, Don is a complex and brooding individual who holds cynical views on love and life. He believes in living in the present moment, avoiding attachments and commitments, which leads to feelings of disconnection and loneliness.


Roger is a seasoned and confident partner at Sterling Cooper. He is easygoing and jovial, known for his smooth-talking and experienced executive skills. He is concerned about the upcoming meeting but maintains professionalism and tries to defuse tension. Roger also has a keen sense of humor, often joking with Don and bringing up the lack of diversity in the company.


Rachel is an intelligent and independent woman who feels out of place in society due to her ambitions and desires. She challenges Don's strategies and engages in deep conversations with him. Rachel understands and empathizes with Don's feelings of being out of place. She is also an understanding and empathetic individual who feels disconnected, just like Don. Rachel challenges Don's perspective on love and seeks a deeper connection.


Pete is a young and ambitious account executive who is eager to prove himself and make a name for himself in the advertising world. He looks up to Don for guidance on how to succeed in the industry.

Rachel Mencken

Rachel Mencken is a strong and intelligent businesswoman who challenges Don's strategies and is not easily swayed by his charm.

Character Arc Critique Suggestions
Don Draper Don Draper starts off as a successful and confident ad executive who is facing challenges in his career and personal life. Throughout the movie, he becomes increasingly frustrated with these challenges, seeking reassurance from the people around him. As the story progresses, he starts to show vulnerability, questioning his own abilities and seeking validation. Towards the middle of the movie, Don encounters a turning point where he realizes the consequences of his actions. This leads him to value integrity even more and he warns others about the implications of their choices. By the end of the movie, Don transforms into a more skeptical and cautious individual, especially when it comes to research findings in the advertising industry. He becomes more aware of the impact his decisions have on his career and personal life, ultimately striving for growth and self-improvement. The character arc for Don Draper is well-structured and allows for growth and development. However, there could be more explicit moments of self-reflection and introspection to emphasize his transformation. It would also be beneficial to explore his personal life more deeply to understand the impact of his choices on those around him.
To improve the character arc, consider incorporating scenes where Don Draper engages in self-reflection and introspection. This will allow the audience to see the internal struggle he faces as he grapples with his challenges. Additionally, explore Don's personal relationships and how his actions affect those closest to him. This will add depth to his character and add further complexity to his journey of growth and self-discovery.
Peggy Olson Peggy Olson starts as a young, naive secretary, eager to please and willing to learn. As she gains experience and confidence at Sterling Cooper, she becomes more determined and ambitious, actively seeking opportunities to prove herself. Throughout the screenplay, Peggy faces challenges, both professionally and personally, that shape her character and drive her arc. By the end of the movie, Peggy transforms into a confident and successful creative professional, having come a long way from her initial naivety and eagerness. The character arc of Peggy Olson is well-developed and realistic. It effectively portrays her growth from a young and naive secretary to a confident and successful professional. However, there could be more emphasis on her internal struggles and emotional journey, especially in relation to the challenges she faces. This would add depth and complexity to her character arc.
To improve Peggy Olson's character arc, consider delving deeper into her internal struggles and emotional journey. Show the impact of the challenges she faces on her self-confidence and motivation. Explore her relationships with other characters, both professional and personal, to reveal how they shape her growth. Additionally, consider incorporating moments of self-reflection and introspection to highlight Peggy's personal development throughout the screenplay.
Don Throughout the movie, Don's character arc revolves around his journey towards emotional growth and opening himself up to love and authentic connections. At the beginning of the story, Don is confident and driven by success, but he also struggles with emotional detachment and cynical views on life. As the narrative unfolds, Don experiences several challenging situations that push him to reflect on his choices and beliefs. These include encountering a romantic interest who challenges his perspective, witnessing the impact of his actions on others, and facing personal setbacks. Through these experiences, Don gradually starts questioning his cynical outlook and begins to realize the importance of genuine connections. He learns to let go of his emotional guard and embrace vulnerability. By the end of the movie, Don undergoes a transformation, having grown as a person and understanding the importance of love and authentic relationships. The character arc for Don is generally well-developed and portrays his journey towards emotional growth effectively. However, it could benefit from some further exploration of the specific events and interactions that lead him to question his beliefs and change his perspective. While the description mentions Don's frustration and tendency to get easily frustrated, it would be helpful to provide more examples from the screenplay to illustrate this aspect. Additionally, it would be interesting to explore how Don's charismatic and creative nature plays a role in his emotional transformation. By highlighting the conflicts and challenges that arise from his personal struggles, the character arc could become even more engaging and impactful.
To enhance Don's character arc, consider incorporating specific scenes or dialogues that showcase his frustration and confrontational nature when his strategy is questioned. This will help the audience understand his journey better. Additionally, explore how Don's creativity and charisma are affected by his emotional struggles. Show moments where his talent and skills collide with his emotional barriers, creating internal conflicts. Furthermore, ensure that the events and interactions leading to Don's transformation are well-developed and have a strong emotional impact on the character. By strengthening these aspects, the character arc will become even more compelling and resonate with the audience.
Roger Roger starts off as an easygoing and jovial character who is concerned about the upcoming meeting. As the story progresses, he becomes more focused on maintaining professionalism and diffusing tension in the meeting. Throughout the movie, Roger's confidence and experience as a partner at Sterling Cooper shine through, and he consistently supports and backs up Don. By the end of the film, Roger's smooth-talking skills and ability to handle the situation with professionalism gain him respect and recognition. The character arc for Roger is decent, but it could benefit from a bit more development. While he starts off concerned about the meeting and tries to diffuse tension, there is not much growth or change in his character throughout the movie. His role mainly consists of supporting and backing up Don. It would be interesting to see Roger facing some personal challenges or growth as well.
To improve the character arc for Roger, consider giving him a personal stake or conflict related to the meeting. This could add depth and complexity to his character and allow for more development throughout the movie. Additionally, exploring his role as a seasoned and confident executive could be further enhanced by showing him facing some challenges or making tough decisions. This will create a more nuanced and engaging character arc for Roger.
Rachel Rachel begins as a strong-willed and confident woman who challenges Don's strategies for attracting customers and asserting her own preferences. However, as she spends more time with Don, she starts to develop a deeper understanding of him and his plight of feeling out of place. As the story progresses, Rachel's own feelings of being disconnected from society become more apparent, leading her to question her own ambitions and desires. Through conversations with Don, Rachel starts to challenge her perspective on love and relationships, seeking a deeper connection that goes beyond her initial ambitions. By the end of the movie, Rachel undergoes a transformation, realizing that true fulfillment comes from embracing her authentic self and cultivating meaningful connections with others. The character arc for Rachel is well-developed, allowing her to evolve and grow throughout the movie. However, it would be beneficial to explore her personal struggles and conflicts in more depth. While her feelings of being out of place and disconnected are touched upon, delving deeper into her past experiences and exploring how they shape her perspective would enhance her character development.
To improve Rachel's character arc, consider incorporating flashback scenes or dialogue that provide insights into her past experiences and how they influence her ambitions and desires. Additionally, further exploring her emotional journey as she challenges her own perspective on love and relationships would add depth to her character development. By highlighting her internal conflicts and personal growth more explicitly, Rachel's transformation will feel more impactful and satisfying for the audience.
Pete Pete starts off as an ambitious and eager account executive who comes up with the 'Death Wish' concept. He is determined to impress Don and the others in order to advance his career. However, as the story progresses, Pete begins to question his own ambition and realizes that there is more to life than just success in the advertising world. He starts to reevaluate his priorities and seeks a better work-life balance. Pete learns to appreciate the importance of personal relationships and finds fulfillment outside of his career. The character arc of Pete is well-developed and relatable. It captures the journey of a young professional striving for success and eventually finding a deeper meaning in life. However, it could benefit from more specific instances or moments that illustrate Pete's transformation and growth.
To improve the character arc, consider adding scenes where Pete faces challenges or setbacks that force him to reevaluate his priorities. Show moments of conflict between his ambition and personal relationships. Additionally, highlight specific interactions or conversations with Don that contribute to Pete's growth and understanding of success beyond the advertising world.
Rachel Mencken Initially, Rachel is introduced as an assertive and independent department store owner who challenges Don's advertising strategies. With her intelligence and determination, she questions Don's strategy and raises doubts about his effectiveness as an ad man. As the story progresses, Rachel's character arc evolves from being a challenging client to becoming more open and receptive to Don's ideas. She begins to realize that there could be a middle ground where their differing perspectives can coexist. This change is facilitated by moments of vulnerability and mutual respect between Rachel and Don. By the end of the movie, Rachel not only appreciates Don's talents as an ad man but also begins to see a potential romantic connection between them, leading to a more positive and collaborative professional relationship. The character arc for Rachel Mencken is promising, as she starts off as a formidable and independent businesswoman. However, it feels like her transformation from a challenging client to a more open-minded collaborator could be further developed. The progression of her acceptance and appreciation of Don's ideas could be strengthened by showing more instances of Rachel experimenting with alternative strategies and recognizing their value. This would make her character arc more organic and believable.
To improve the character arc for Rachel Mencken, consider incorporating moments where Rachel takes risks and tries out unconventional advertising approaches based on her own intuition. By demonstrating her own creative thinking and acknowledging the positive outcomes of her experiments, Rachel can gradually become more willing to consider Don's ideas. This will make her eventual acceptance of his strategies a more natural and satisfying development in the narrative.
Theme Theme Details Themee Explanation
Smoking and its perceptionDiscussions about smoking 'Old Gold' cigarettes, negative perception of smoking, and its impact on relationshipsThis theme explores the topic of smoking and its perception in society during the 1960s. It delves into the loyalty towards a particular brand, the negative stigma associated with smoking, and how it affects personal relationships.
Challenges in the advertising industryDon's challenges with his cigarette account and the realization of the end of health claims for cigarettesThis theme focuses on the difficulties faced by Don in his advertising career, specifically in relation to his cigarette account. It highlights the challenges arising from the crackdown on health claims and the potential decline of his career.
Relationship dynamics and supportInteractions between Don and Midge, sarcastic banter, Don's frustration, and Midge's supportThis theme explores the dynamics of relationships, particularly between Don and Midge. It showcases their banter, sarcastic remarks, and Don's frustrations, along with Midge offering support and reassurance.
Navigating the workplacePeggy's first day as a secretary, advice from Joan on office dynamics and impressing male colleagues
Cynicism and living in the presentDon's philosophy of living in the moment, his cynical views on love, loneliness, and feeling out of placeThis theme revolves around Don's perspective on life and love. It touches upon his cynical views, his philosophy of living in the present, and his feelings of loneliness and disconnection from others.
Marketing strategies and creativityBrainstorming strategies to advertise cigarettes, using 'Death Wish', and proposing 'Lucky Strike - It's Toasted'This theme explores the creativity and strategic thinking involved in marketing, particularly in the context of advertising cigarettes. It focuses on the brainstorming process, the suggestion of a new approach using 'Death Wish', and Don's proposal of the slogan 'Lucky Strike - It's Toasted'.
Tensions in professional and personal relationshipsArguments with Rachel Mencken and storming out of meetingsThis theme revolves around the tensions that arise in professional and personal relationships. It highlights the arguments between Don and Rachel Mencken during meetings and the subsequent storming out.

Screenwriting Resources on Themes


Site Description
Studio Binder Movie Themes: Examples of Common Themes for Screenwriters
Coverfly Improving your Screenplay's theme
John August Writing from Theme

YouTube Videos

Title Description
Story, Plot, Genre, Theme - Screenwriting Basics Screenwriting basics - beginner video
What is theme Discussion on ways to layer theme into a screenplay.
Thematic Mistakes You're Making in Your Script Common Theme mistakes and Philosophical Conflicts