There’s a little bit of Jay Gatsby in each of us. To live in America is to be surrounded on all sides by a narrative that says you can be anything you want to be. You can reinvent yourself, leave your past behind, move out West, reach for the stars, follow your dreams.
But maybe this mythology of reinvention isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Marc Freedman, founder of Encore.org, a nonprofit that supports “second acts” in life, thinks that the whole idea of reinvention is dangerous. Aiming to build a “whole new you” might mean tossing out some valuable resources. Worse yet, by focusing on some kind of idealized self you could easily miss your true potential.
Freedman advocates “reintegration” over reinvention, drawing on a lifetime of knowledge and experience to accomplish new things.
Don Draper or Nicholas Brody?
Mad Men’s Don Draper is a case study in the kind of reinvention that Freedman is concerned about. Draper grew up motherless and in poverty during the depression. Along the way he has the chance to escape his past and he grabs it with both fists. He finds his “sweet spot” distilling desire and selling the American dream.
Draper’s problem is that he has to keep his multiple selves, like the women in his life, from meeting each other. If he ever stopped to explore the complexity of his life and discovered value in telling the truth he could well lose his Midas’ touch in the ad biz.
And this brings us to Sergeant Nicholas Brody, the highly complex central character from the TV series Homeland. In the course of Brody’s three year arc he swings wildly between hero and villain. Where he finally ends up is anybody’s guess.
Like Draper, Brody’s life has become a series of lies plastered on top of each other. A prisoner of war he was “turned” by the enemy and cultivated as a kind of Manchurian candidate. But then he gets “re-turned” by the CIA. Brody’s life eventually becomes a rapid spin-cycle around the Wall of Death.
Unlike Draper though, Brody desperately looks for some kind of thread in his life to pull things together. Is he a war hero? A victim? A family man? A killer? I’ll leave you to judge for yourself how successful Brody is at pulling of a “second act” and redeeming himself but it’s clear that when he does well it is because he finds strength and stability in his past. It’s impossible to imagine Brody pulling off his fait accompli without drawing on all of his previous experiences.
The contrast between these two figures is pretty stark. In their respective stories each has reached the end of the line. But only one will be remembered for who he truly was.