Friday, August 24, 2007

Exile on Canaan Street

Last night's episode was chiefly about exile, with Israel as the thematic lens in which we can see how different characters on Mad Men are living in worlds that are not of their making. Last week we found out about Don "don't call me Dick" Draper's chosen exile from his previous life, and though he's mostly peripheral to the plot this week, the concept of exile reveals more about the series' protagonist then one might have expected.

With Sterling/Cooper courting the Israel Department of Tourism, Don's reading Exodus, Leon Uris' best-selling historical novel about the founding of Israel. The book was big in 1960, and a film would be released later that year starring Paul Newman (as Ari Ben Canaan.) Don's intrigued, so he approaches Rachel ("am I the only Jew you know in New York?") to help him his middle east conflict. She theorizes that the importance of Israel (to a non-practicing Jew like herself) is that it's more about the concept then the actual place. When Don calls it 'utopia,' Rachel explains how that really is a combination of two greek words: Eutopos - the good place, and Utopos - the place that cannot be. Utopia is the place where Rachel can be romantically involved with Don, and, I'd argue, is where Don is trying to live his life. He's got the idyllic suburban home, while in the city he's successful, sleeping with a beatnik artist, and romancing a department store owner. All this with a changed name and erased past - it's a place that cannot be and somethings got to give.

Don's not the only one having the affair, though. As we've guessed from the start, Joan (Firefly's Christina Hendricks) is sleeping with someone at the office, and it turns out to be co-founding partner Roger Sterling. Even though he's the boss, she has the upper hand here, reminding him that she sees other men (and could have anyone in the office she wanted.) But even as she refuses his offer of setting her up in her own apartment, she takes home the metaphoric gift of a caged finch. (I'm surprise we didn't get a sighting of "The Gilded Cage" painting somewhere.) Meanwhile, Peggy is in exile herself, as she's definitely not one of 'the hens.' She's part of the generation that will forge a new path for women in 60's and the line she provides at a focus group for lipstick ("no one wants to be one of a hundred colors in a box,") says more about that then it does about lipstick.

Getting back to Israel, one of the representatives of the tourism office says "there is a love affair between America and Israel" while providing background on their want to expand the scope of visitors to Canaan ("the promise land.") The notion of Israel as 'the other woman' may be a stretch for me here, but, along with the concept of 'exile,' it certainly helps tie the whole episode together. If that weren't enough, the song used through the final scene brought it all home. As Don has a drink at a beatnik bar with Midge and one of her other callers (future theater founder Roy,) they're serenaded by a trio playing a musical interpretation Psalm 137, the 'go to' passage for the concept of exile. It's the same arrangement Don McLean would perform 11 years later with the song "Babylon," which begs the question... was a 14-year old Mr. McLean in attendance taking notes that night?

We're at the halfway point in this first season, so here's a playlist to enjoy of the music so far.
Playlist: Mad Men - Ep101-106

More: I guess if we want to pretend the last scene really happened, I suppose it would more likely be that "Babylon" co-arranger Lee Hays (The Weavers) was in attendance. At the time was in an artsy folk band with actor Alan Arkin called The Baby Sitters, and it's not too far of a leap to think that he occaisonally dropped in on open mics in the village.

Previously: Let's Pretend We're Married (Episode 103)

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