"Mad Men" Nixon vs. Kennedy (TV Episode 2007) Poster

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The truth about Don Draper
MaxBorg8928 August 2010
Over the course of one season, Mad Men has proved to be particularly good at mixing bits of American history with the characters' private tragedies. This aspect comes to head in the penultimate episode, Nixon vs. Kennedy, which trumps The Hobo Code as the essential chapter of the season for the importance of the major revelation it contains.

As the title suggests, the big event of the episode is Election Night, which the men at Sterling Cooper are watching in the office while throwing a party. Don, now a senior partner, also has to worry about finding a new head of the accounts department, and chooses his old acquaintance Herman "Duck" Phillips (former Desperate Housewives regular Mark Moses) for the job, which Pete Campbell is after as well. Using information he has gathered thanks to a letter he stole from the office, he confronts Don and threatens to blackmail him with a piece of information that is shown to the viewer through flashbacks: a battle in the Korean war which killed one Donald Draper, whose identity was then taken over by one of his soldiers, Dick Whitman.

The Korea flashback is one of the episode's strongest points, using the show's trademark visual flair to frame a couple of scenes that are brutally intense, deliberately clashing with the superficial cool of the '60s. On a narrative level, praise is due for the long awaited final reveal concerning the Dick/Don mystery, the answer proving to be as riveting and thoughtful as all the clues seemed to indicate.

Back in the present, the Nixon/Kennedy "war" is a great way to ground the plot in historic reality, providing ample ground for another conflict, that between Don and Pete, acted out with gusto by Hamm and Kartheiser. Also noteworthy is the addition of Moses to the cast, a cool and charismatic contrast to his creepy Desperate Housewives character. In short, a great foreshadowing of the season finale.
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jotix10013 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Don Draper has decided to give the vacant post of head account services to "Duck" Phillips, a man with a lot of experience and class. Pete Campbell is intent in getting the job. Since Don's mind is made up, Pete has to use his knowledge about Don Draper's past, something he learned when he stole the package that came to the office. The package contained photographs of Don Draper's previous life.

In flashbacks we are taken to the Korean War conflict in which a private, Richard Whitman is seen arriving at the front. As the position Pvt. Whitman is attacked, his superior, Lt. Donald Draper, is caught with Whitman in a place where they can't move. After the fire stops, Whitman accidentally drops his Zippo lighter, provoking an explosion where Lt. Draper dies. Richard takes the opportunity to get the dead man's identification and exchanges his own. At a hospital, later on, a purple heart is given to Lt. Donald Draper, who is asked to accompany the fallen soldier home. At the station, the lieutenant sees the coffin as it's being unloaded and watches the family that has come to meet the wrong man's remains while Adam Whitman spots his own brother inside the car.

The election night is celebrated at the office with a party in which all hell breaks loose. The junior executives try to make out with all the willing secretaries. Peggy is horrified and decides to go home. When she returns the following morning to a messy place, she reports to security what she feels is a break and has a few men fired because of her actions.

Don Draper visits Rachel Menken at her office. Suddenly, he is scared because of the ramifications his secret will have. He stands to lose everything. Don suggests Rachel leaves with him to California. She lets him know she has no intentions of going away and suggests he is not thinking about the dire consequences he faces.

At the office Pete Campbell comes to tell Don Draper how he wants to be named for the position he intends to give to Phillips. When Don refuses, Pete goes to mention what he has learned about his secret past. Don decides to call his bluff and goes to see Bertram Cooper. Pete follows Don inside. Don announces he has decided to bring "Duck" Phillips to the firm. Pete, furiously, reveals what he knows about Don, but Bert couldn't care less. After all, Bertram reflects, America is made of self-invented men and they have gone to make the country great.

Alan Taylor directed the episode which was written by Lisa Albert, Andre and Maria Jaquemetton. This is an amazing chapter in the series that brings to a head the confrontation between the sneaky Pete Campbell who's ambition is to get ahead, not because of being smart, but by blackmailing, backstabbing, and subterfuge.

Excellent acting Mr. Taylor gets from all the principals and guest stars. "Mad Men" shows why it one of the best television series in the last few years because it captures the essence of the era in which the action takes place with an eye to detail and a true account of the typical intrigues in that milieu.
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If only Television was this good all the time...
Red_Identity16 September 2010
Mad Men is by now, in it's fourth season, one of the best television shows of all time. It cannot be denied of the power and talent it holds, and episode 12 of the first season reinforces that idea completely.

The episode on one hand is light, and focuses on a lot of characters that are usually in the background for the most part. The office holds a party for the Nixon/Kennedy election, not knowing that the final outcome will not be favorable to what they want. There is a brief scene where Joan and Salvatore are acting out a play that after a kiss between both, there is a very subtle expression on Joan's face... could this mean she suspects something?

The episode also shows just how much Peggy's sense of character and the way others see her has changed since the beginning of the season. It shows how much Moss shines, especially in a particular scene. Of course, we also continue the story of Pete finding Don's old belongings. Pete Campbell is the most unlikeable character on the show, and the nerve that he has to impose such an action on part of Don's behalf in this episode is ruthless, although not completely shocking. We always knew Pete was this type of character. We also see the truth to Dick Whitman's final fate in some amazing scenes.

Overall, this episode is so far the best o the first season, and having seen the four seasons of Mad Men, one of the best of the entire series. Films rarely get this good, not to mention even in the category of television, this series is going to go down in history.
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Pete "Nixon" Campbell vs. Don "JFK" Draper
Dan1863Sickles14 April 2018
This is one of my favorite MAD MEN episodes. It's so thrilling to watch the big payoff as wormy little Pete Campbell finally confronts handsome mystery man Don Draper about the real truth of his murky past. There's no violence, yet as Pete himself points out the confrontation is just as suspenseful and just as deadly as if one mad man had a gun pointed right at the other man's chest!

I also love the way real history comments on the fictional story line. Pete Campbell is such an unappealing character -- mean-spirited, self-centered, and a born snitch. He's Richard Nixon, and yet (like Nixon) he's sincere in his prejudices and oddly pitiable at the end. Don Draper, of course, is JFK, and what makes this fascinating is that the comparison is not entirely complimentary. The writers seem to suggest that as handsome, sophisticated, and appealing as Don may appear to be, on the surface, he's merely an actor playing a part, or projecting an image. There's no real man underneath, no real identity, no real convictions. Daring stuff considering everything that JFK has come to mean to liberals and the elite in the fifty years since his tragic death!

Meanwhile, on Election Night the boys and girls at the office throw a wild party, and there's plenty of drinking and frisky goings-on. It's really striking how carefully the writers balance the cruelty and sexual harassment with genuine passion and heartbreak. The party scenes are sordid, scandalous, exciting and exhilarating all at the same time. The women at the office are really at the mercy of the men, and their bitter commentary and facial reactions when Harry and Ken are on the prowl really hit home. (My heart went out to Allison, sensationally portrayed by the stunning Alexa Alemanni!)

Others will disagree with this, but to me the weakest part of the episode was actually the "flashback" scenes to the Korean War. Jonathan Hamm is at a disadvantage having to play himself ten years younger. The sets are transparently fake. Clothes, weapons, tents, everything looks too new and clean. Even the explosion looks fake, and is almost comically abrupt!

But this is MAD MEN, not M*A*S*H. And this episode is one of the best!
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The Greatest Episode Yet
borowiecsminus11 July 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I said that about "Long Weekend." I'm changing my mind to this penultimate episode of the first season. Nixon vs. Kennedy is a truly fantastic showcase of the talent that Mad Men and the people working on the show possess.

The episode takes place within the span of only forty-eight hours. It goes from election day to the post-election day. Within the course of those forty-eight hours, all hell breaks loose for Don Draper. From PTSD, to blackmail, to a loss of an affair, to an unsuccessful election, the only problem with the episode is that you can't possibly imagine how the season finale could be better.

This is without a doubt the best episode Mad Men has given television so far. The writing is still wonderfully subtle. The direction is fantastic. The realism is uncanny, and the acting is absolutely brilliant.

One of my few complaints is the lack of screen-time that is given to Betty and Peggy, both played by phenomenal actresses.

In the Top Twenty best episodes of TV ever.
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Election Party In The Office and Draper's Past
vivianla8 June 2020
Warning: Spoilers
The Kennedy vs. Nixon election is happening. When Donald Draper leaves the office the entire office start a party. Alcohol and the television is brought out.

They start playing a game where a man chases a girl to see what colour panties she is wearing while they guess what colour. The first couple falls down and the man pulls up her dress to reveal blue underwear.

Peggy goes home. She is not into the celebratory mood of the group. I love the scene where Don comes home to his wife and kids. His wife asks if he wants food.

The secretary who is very professional and sticks to formalities gets tipsy and kisses one of the men. She later goes to her office to apologize to him as he is a married man. He feels the heated tension and they proceed to have sex.

The next morning when the secretary and man wake up, she is lying topless. She gets up wrapping the blanket to cover her chest that is falling out. He tapes his glasses back together. She turns around and we see the outlines of her breasts as she puts her white bra back on.

Peter looks through the box of photos and things from Don's brother at home. Trudy comes in wearing a light blue nightgown.

Peter attempts to blackmail Don with the information he has of Donald Draper not being his real name. His real name is Dick Whitman.

Don goes to Rachel the Jewish girl's place and cries tearfully. They kiss. He asks her to run away with him to Los Angeles, leaving his wife and kids. Rachel sees he just wants to run away from his problems, not because of her.

Don comes into the office where Peggy is crying and he yells at her for being there as he is upset and needs space. Peggy is crying as she called security and got two men fired. Peggy thinks aloud about how she is a good person but people end up hating her while those with bad intentions get to walk around the place. Don realizes he should proceed with the blackmailing in an honest and good way.

He goes to Peter and does not follow what Peter wants. Peter wants to be head of accounts. They walk to Cooper's office and Don announces he will hire that candidate previously discussed as head of accounts. Peter tells Cooper about Don's real name but Cooper replies who cares. It does not matter.

We see a flashback of Don and his leader in South Korea. Don is the only man left. The leader gets killed by an explosion and we see his charred body. Don switches the necklaces and has a new identity. He watches his supposed body go home to his family and his younger brother sees him on the train. His bro calls out for him but his parents tell him to stop that.
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Nixon vs. Kennedy (#1.12)
ComedyFan201019 November 2018
Warning: Spoilers
As one can see by the title this episode shows us the results of Nixon vs Kennedy election. The office party was really well done. One can see so much of their personalities as well as reflection of those times in it.

A more important conflict though is the one between Don and Pete. Don facing his secret while Pete wanted to use it against him was a great scene especially when waiting for Bertram Cooper's reaction to it. And it turns out that he doesn't care. So let's see how it will affect Pete now. Was also an episode to show us how exactly Don Draper became Don Draper.
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First Season Ends Quietly
DKosty12329 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
While Pete fails to blackmail Don Draper, Drapers past is out here to come back and bite him. He avoids the bite here. There is a great sequence with Robert Morse shooting down Pete in very great fashion here. The cliff hanger is where will Don's past lead us.

As for Nixon-Kennedy, the main summary of the election is that Illinois is stolen from Nixon by the Kennedy machine. While there is some truth to that, the weak point of this is that the typical household with a husband and wife voting in this election voted 50-50, one for Nixon and one for Kennedy.

This was a very close election, and this series fails to mention the way the television image that made Nixon look bad on the television debates gets no play here. There were several things that made this election close. Another thing not mentioned is Ike Eisenhowers late campaign stump for Nixon in the final days which almost swung the election.

Nixon-Kennedy is one of the very few times this series fall a little short. I think it is writing paying so much attention to the plot line of Draper, that they go a little short on Nixon-Kennedy. Still, this series even when it falls short is better than many other series.
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